It is exciting to discover what are sometimes called “the doctrines of grace,” i.e., the teaching that even though by nature we are dead in sins and trespasses, we came to faith because God loved us in Christ from all eternity and the Holy Spirit powerfully brought us to new life and to true faith. It is exciting to know that God the Son loved us and laid down his life intentionally for me and for all his elect, that we are saved by God’s free favor (grace) alone, through faith alone and that faith, in salvation, is nothing but resting, receiving, and trusting Christ and it is a free gift of grace. It is thrilling to learn that through faith the Holy Spirit has united us to the risen Christ, that we are adopted as sons, and that our Savior shall never lose any of those for whom he laid down his life. It is wonderful to learn that our sanctification, i.e., our gradual and gracious conformity to Christ, our dying to sin and living to Christ, is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. These are glorious biblical and Reformation truths. We rightly celebrate God’s abounding grace. AGR is devoted to making known these wonderful truths as far as the Lord carries the good news across the globe.
The Christ-Confessing Covenant Community
As marvelous as these truths are, however, they are only the beginning of the Christian life. Our new life in Christ must be lived somewhere and Christ has graciously provided even that. He calls that place where we live out and enjoy all these benefits “the church.” In Matthew 16:18 he promised to build “his church” and that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church. He gave the “keys of the kingdom” (16:19) to Peter as a Christ-confessor an anticipation of his office as apostle. In Matthew 18 our Lord instituted a process for dealing with sin in the church. In v. 17 he commanded “tell it to the church.” When he used this noun churchhe assumed that we all knew what he meant. He assumed a certain knowledge of the Old Testament, where the idea behind the church was first revealed and developed. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX), which influenced the language and thought of the New Testament, the word church (ἐκκλησία) is used. The noun is the very same one that is translated “church” in Matthew 16 and 18. In Deuteronomy 9:10 Scripture says that the Lord gave two stone tablets, on which were inscribed by the finger of God, and on which were written all the world which the Lord spoke to us on the mountain “on the day of the assembly” (ἐκκλησία).1 “The assembly” is the formal, official covenant assembly gathered at the foot of the mountain, at the foot of the Lord, as it were. This expression or a parallel occurs many times in the LXX (see Deut 4:9–10; 18:16; 32:1; Josh 8:35).
In other words, the idea of a formal, public assembly of the Lord’s people before the face of the Lord was well known and well established long before the New Testament. The Apostles continued this way of thinking and speaking. Much of Acts concerns the establishment and practice of the visible, institutional church established by Christ. There was even a synod in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to discuss and sort out some thorny theological and practical problems. The same Jesus who was crucified and raised for our justification poured out his Spirit upon his Apostles and thereby empowered them to serve in his name, in his place, as his ambassadors. Paul described his pre-Christian mission as a persecutor of “the church,” i.e., the Christ-confessing covenant community (Phil 3:6). In Acts 5:11 Luke records that the entire church was afraid after the Holy Spirit put to death Ananias and Sapphira. Many places in the New Testament the noun church refers to the visible assembly, governed by offices, gathered in assembly (e.g., Acts 20:17). The Apostles established the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon to serve the Word, to govern the people, and to serve their basic material needs during difficult times.
No Homeless Christians
We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone to be a part of this visible covenant community. Read more»