Let’s Go to Theology Class: What Difference Does it Make?

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

What difference do heaven, the second coming of Christ, and Hell make to you right this very moment? The emphasis, as it was for Paul in 2 Thessalonians, is on “right now.” Be honest, appropriately personal, and conversant with course sources – including Scripture – in formulating your post.

Reflecting on the above query, I immediately think of the purpose of Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians. Interestingly, Paul had visited this church only a few months prior, only to learn of lingering questions among the new believers. More troublesome, some new Christians were deliberately misleading others. Paul wrote in First Thessalonians, “…remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

Paul noted also that new converts were initially led by the Holy Spirit, which provided them with the “gospel truth” that should have remained undeniable.  Paul said, “…when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (2:13). Paul heard of the good news from Timothy of the faith and love of these new believers. This made his distress and affliction worth enduring. Paul was most pleased, and he encouraged these new believers to “do just as you are doing” (4:1). Of course, he was speaking here of those who had remained faithful to the gospel.

It is fitting, then, that Paul also informed the new converts in Thessalonica to not pay attention to the murmurings of sudden travail and destruction at the second coming of Christ. He said, “For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness” (5:5). Paul provided some key guidelines for the last days: give thanks in all circumstances; avoid quenching the Holy Spirit; do not denigrate prophesy; abstain from evil; hold fast to that which is good. Moreover, Paul reminded the Thessalonians in his second epistle (as he first told them) the day of the Lord will not come until the unleashing of a great rebellion and the coming of the son of perdition, who will seek to be worshiped; he will take his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Paul told them to warn even their greatest enemy of the coming of the son of perdition. Kind of reminds me of the platitude, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

For me, much of what Paul warned the church about in his two letters to the church at Thessalonica is prevalent today. My “right now” has to do with the responsibility of us believers to not merely sit idle and wait for Christ, nor to close our eyes to travail and destruction and hide in our “ivory tower.” Many of today’s challenges to Christianity come from the halls of academia—in our high schools and our universities. Christianity is no longer the predominant religious influence over academia or culture it once was. The proliferation of secularism, scientism, naturalism, and moral relativism (I find most isms to be bad news) has blinded non-believers with a catch-all “just do good and you’ll be fine” vibe for life on earth. Theism (especially Christianity) is attacked as a backward, elitist belief in a fairytale invisible “God.” Atheists and agnostics shout from the rooftops that there is no absolute (ontological) truth. It is difficult today to discuss religion in the public forum as it has been relegated to a private, personal belief that should be kept to one’s self. I consider this the first wave of unbelief.

The second wave relates to an attack on our Christian sons and daughters who enter post-secondary education only to have their beliefs eviscerated. Militant atheism is determined to outlaw all discussion of religion in public, including in our high schools and universities. These “last things” (the eschatology of Christianity) carry an intense importance. Right now, we are facing a tall order: explaining what is meant by heaven, hell, and the second coming of Christ. Government officials and university professors and deans continually tie our hands and tape our mouths shut. Tertullian wrote, “And so we are also ridiculed because we proclaim that God is going to judge the world. Yet even the poets and philosophers place a judgment seat in the underworld.” [1]

Grudem says we should eagerly welcome Christ’s return. Because we long for this wonderous event as believers without knowing when it will occur, many have the tendency to procrastinate relative to sharing the gospel. But modernity has dulled our “spiritual senses” about the final days. It has served to distract us from the paramount importance of Christ’s great commission. Most believers agree on one major fact: Christ is coming back for His bride. Some even possess knowledge about what the final days will be like. Still, many Christians today remain silent. Grudem asks, “Could Christ come back at any time?” [2] Scripture says, “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming… be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:42, 44b). We do know first the gospel must be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10). Jesus said we’d be hated for His name’s sake; regardless, we are commanded to go forth and preach the gospel no matter the obstacles or personal costs.

I believe the Church must speak unequivocally, honestly, and emphatically about the reality of heaven, hell, and the trials and hardships of the great tribulation during the final days. There are times when I feel overwhelmingly guilty for squandering decades of my life fulfilling the pleasures of the flesh while walking in near-complete apostasy despite what I knew to be true. Through my outrageous behavior while in active addiction, I brought shame to my family and detracted many from becoming a Christian. Today, my “right now” entails studying the doctrines of Christian theology and becoming comfortable with the absolute truth of gospel (indeed, I must present a “living” theology), then stepping into this fallen world and sharing Christ, defending to anyone who asks me what is the hope that is in me concerning Jesus Christ and Him crucified (see 1 Pet. 3:15).

Our eschatology, as Grudem notes, provides a great motive for evangelism. Grudem writes, “In fact, Peter indicates that the delay of the Lord’s return is due to the fact that God ‘is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).” [3] As Christians, we believe hell is a real place, reserved for eternal conscious punishment of those who have refused to repent and believe in Christ Jesus. As noted in the parable of Lazarus and the certain rich man, there are no second chances for believing the gospel; nor can the departed unbeliever warn his family about what is to come for those who reject Christ. There is only the right now.


[1] Tertulian, “On Hell and Heaven,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 534.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1095.

[3]Grudem, 1148.

Children Suffer in Families of Addicted Parents or Siblings

Kids of Addicted Parents

One group that doesn’t get the robust advocacy it needs is young children experiencing the impact of addiction in their family. Kids can be profoundly impacted by a parent’s or sibling’s addiction, and they grow up at greater risk of developing addiction themselves. And yet, insurance doesn’t cover care and prevention efforts for such children or the family, and children and families generally get scant mention in policy plans like the 2020 National Drug Control Strategy or relevant federal budgets (see here and here). That’s why advocates like our Jerry Moe and Sis Wenger, the CEO of the National Association for Children of Addiction, say children are the first hurt and the last helped.

National Children of Addiction Week just wrapped up, and we spent the week advocating for “kiddos,” as some of our Children’s Program counselors like to say. Jerry spoke in Ohio and did interviews with media from nearby West Virginia, two states hit hard by the addiction crisis. Lindsey Chadwick and our Children’s Program in Colorado hosted an art show featuring the drawings and paintings of young children growing up in families affected by addiction, and discussed it on a Denver TV station. And, Jerry fielded online, anonymous questions in real-time during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) hosted by NPR. That Q&A lives on—please help advocate for children by sharing it with others who may have questions about how to support kids affected by addiction in their family. Jerry will continue to answer questions over the next couple of weeks.

Find Help Near You

The following can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Also, a step by step guide on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on our Treatment page.

 

Narcotics Anonymous National Hotline: 1(877) 276-6883
Alcoholics Anonymous Website: https://www.aa.org
You can also visit https://www.allaboutcounseling.com/crisis_hotlines.htm

Colors Other Than Gray

A glimpse inside, riding the
tide of my emotions, until a
wave knocks me down near
the side of a stone jetty.
The lifeguard blows her whistle
and signals that I’m in danger;
I’m at risk;
too near injury to be left alone.

It’s sunny today, with
blue skies.
Background music of baritone
teens imitating the Ramones,
down the shore, just a quarter mile
from Barnegat Light.

I might, for the first time
in a long time,
be seeing life again as
it’s meant to be seen.
Feeling the warmth of our
giant solar orb on my face,
and catching glimpses of pretty young girls
in bikinis, clad in
colors other than gray.

© 2017 Steven Barto

Up Here

I originally published this original poem under the title “The Roof,” but decided it was not about a rooftop experience; rather, it is about allowing yourself to rise above the craziness for a few moments and see what’s really going on. I welcome any feedback, especially if it sparks a dialog about the current atmosphere in our beloved country.

Up here
on the roof,
I am tall,
taller than all,
at the apex:
not of height,
nor of stature;

just here
at the edge
where anything
is possible:
creativity,
destruction,
enlightenment,
apostasy;
whatever I choose
begins up here
at the edge
of heaven and hell

where God waits,
and angels watch;
where birds soar
without awareness
of my struggle,
or my questions,
or my potential,
good or bad;

below, a community
ekes out its
existence,
parading
up and down
the streets
and avenues,
with no inkling
of what comes
next;

life in
pieces, its
very blood spilled
on the macadam
of tomorrow
by the handguns
of a thousand
angry, disenfranchised men,

rudderless,
willing to take
everyone
with them
into the
crevasse where
not even light
can escape.

©2017 Steven Barto

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Hierarchy of Church Functions

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

After you read Grudem and McGrath, as well as any appropriate Elwell articles, determine a hierarchy of church function. Your post should classify church functions into primary/essential, secondary/important, and tertiary/optional categories of importance. For example, baptism would be a primary/essential function. Cite a source or give a good justification for those functions which may be contentious, in terms of which category you place them. For example, be prepared to defend your (questionable) decision to place worship in the tertiary/optional category. In last session’s discussion we dealt with what the church is. Here we discuss what the church does, based on what it is.

Over the centuries, hierarchy and structure of the Christian church has become somewhat cumbersome and convoluted at times. Scripture is not silent on proper organization and governance. Christ is the Head of the Church; its chief cornerstone; the First Apostle. Arguments over church operation have included whether women should teach or lead a church congregation. Consider Grudem’s conclusion as an indication that these types of concerns are open for discussion without compromising church hierarchy. He indicates that the form of government adopted by a church is not a major point of doctrine.

Proper church function is vital to the success of a local congregation. Regarding authority, Christ is the “head” of the church. To deviate from this is to risk losing the true mission of the Church: to go forth into all nations, teaching, and making disciples of all men. New Testament churches should operate according to the Greatest Commandment—love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. The bulk of primary/essential functions at my church include evangelism, pastoral teaching, water baptism, Sunday school teaching, and corporate worship. Secondary/important functions include outreach ministry (visiting the sick, shut-ins, inmates in local prisons), AWANA (a nationwide program directed toward children K through 5th grade); teen outreach; charity programs (including our benevolent fund), marriage ceremonies, memorial and funeral services, and liaison with other local churches and faith-based radio stations. Our tertiary/optional functions include holiday and other celebratory activities, operation of a church library, coffee meets between Sunday school and worship service, support of our parochial Sunbury Christian Academy (K-12), housing for visiting speakers and guests.

I also prepared and submitted the following definitions relative to church hierarchy:

Pastor (Pastoral Theology)

To me, it is quite revealing to understand the scope of a “pastor.” The Greek word used in the New Testament for pastor (poimēn) is not used elsewhere to identify elders or other church officers. Typically, pastor is a verb, meaning “to act as a shepherd.” For example, the apostle Paul instructs elders to shepherd the church of God (see Acts 20:28). Additionally, believers are often referred to as the flock. This is a good lead-in to pastoral theology. J.A. Lyon says pastoral theology incorporates all the key doctrinal components of ministry as they relate to shepherding the Church. [1] Admittedly, this guideline is a bit too broad for defining pastoral theology as it deals specifically with the office of pastor as shepherd. A pastor has many responsibilities. How he administers them has a lot to do with the call God has placed on him. The so-called five-fold ministry indicates the following gifts given for ministry: apostles; prophets; evangelists; pastors and teachers (see Eph. 4:11).

Leading biblical scholars believe the last of the gifts (pastors and teachers) should be referred to as pastor/teacher. Perhaps the answer lies in the Greek Interlinear translation. The Greek word for “pastor” in verse 11 indicates “shepherds,” which is distinct from the Greek word that clearly means “teachers.” Clearly, pastors teach; they shepherd and lead. Obviously, not all teachers are pastors or shepherds. The head elder in my home church assumes a great deal of responsibility whenever our pastor is ill or away for a seminar or vacation. Several other elders have also given the message, but none have ever presided over the Lord’s Supper when our pastor is away. This has always fallen to the head elder.

Whenever “pastor” refers to shepherding in the New Testament, it is in relation to the congregation, and usually encompasses preaching, counseling, care, prayer, evangelism, worship, corporate leadership, ecclesiology, and all other practical responsibilities that lend themselves to leading and teaching a congregation in the ways of Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is for this reason that a “universal” definition of pastor is difficult to determine. Admittedly, pastoral theology is a new term; however, the New Testament contains numerous examples of the duties typically performed by a pastor. The role of one called to the office of pastor is multifaceted, but it is always specific to his relation to and responsibilities for the “flock,” his congregation. He is the head of his congregation as Christ is the head of the Church.

Elder

Specific to the Old Testament, “elder” was often used to identify “elders of the people” or “elders of Israel.” As such, Moses was considered an elder. The office of elder went through several transitions under the Old Covenant. Joshua 20 provides a detailed guide for how to properly deal with a person who has killed a man by accident (without malice aforethought). The individual who killed a man in such fashion was to present his case to the elders of any city designated as a refuge. He was then provided asylum and the avenger was denied access to the offender. Elders had a hand in political and governmental decisions (see 1 Sam. 4:3; 8:4; and later in Ezra 5:9-17). Under society in the Old Testament, elders were given authority relative to their age and experience. R. S. Wallace also notes in “Elders” that during the Maccabean period “elders of Israel” indicated membership in the Sanhedrin. [2]

In the New Testament, elders are most often associated with scribes and chief priests. Elders were also identified as “presbyters” (Gr. Persbyteroi) who worked alongside apostles, prophets, and teachers. In this regard, “elder” does not refer to a specific “office” or separate ministry; rather, they are adjunct to ministry. Elders often assumed the role of church governance in the New Testament. For example, when Paul and Barnabas “and some of the others” were called to Jerusalem to debate the theological impact of circumcision for non-Jewish believers in Christ, they presented their argument to the apostles and the elders. The Greek “apostles” is different from the word for “elders.”

Elders today frequently perform oversight of the business and spiritual operation of a local church. My home church has a board of seven elders, which features a head elder and six others. The head elder does not have single authority or “veto” privileges over the others. Rather, he is charged with maintaining order whenever the elders meet, and he provides the board and, ostensibly, the congregation, with guidance. In addition to his oversight duties with the board of elders, our head elder is “second” in line of teaching duties to the congregation on Sunday mornings, in individual Sunday school classes, and at Wednesday night Bible study. One of our elders has extensive experience in banking, finance, and budgeting, and is responsible for advising the board of elders accordingly. He also prepares and present a semi-annual financial report to the congregation en mass. Another elder oversees our benevolent fund.

Deacon

The term “deacon” typically indicates a helper or servant of a ministry or church. I could find no reference to deacon in the Old Testament. The office of elder in the early Christian Church was based on the same office in Jewish synagogues as described in the New Testament. In Philippians 1:1, Paul writes to the church at Philippi, addressing the saints in Jesus Christ, together with the bishops and deacons. A notation regarding deacons in The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) identifies them as “overseers or helpers.” [3] The Greek word for “deacon” (diakonos) translates as “server.” The position seems to have morphed from server of meals at church (see John 2:5, 9) to care for the home and/or personal help. In Judaism, service was accomplished through alms.

In the Greek interlinear Bible, a literal translation of John 12:26 says, “If me anyone serves [sic], me let him follow [sic], and where Am I, there also the servant my will be [sic]; if anyone me serves [sic], will honour him the Father [sic].” [4] The word “serves” in the Greek is diakonia, which translates “service” or “to serve,” and the word “servant” is from the Greek word dianonon. Acts 6 provides a perfect explanation for the debut of a formal diaconate, or office of deacon. The disciples had become quite busy with their ministry, saying it was not effective for them to take time away from their official duties to wait on tables (providing food to the poor and the widowed). Acts 6:3 says, “Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” The original seven deacons referenced in Acts 6:1-7 are identified as the first deacons by later tradition, but they held no ecclesiastical office. “To wait tables” literally meant to feed the hungry.  

Deacons at my home church are typically involved in greeting, collecting the offerings, serving communion the first Sunday of each month, and are usually on the serving line during church meals. Men appointed to the position of deacon in the Early Church were brought before the apostles, who laid hands on them (see Acts 6:6). My home church accepts annual nominations for the office of deacon, and a “blind” election is held wherein the congregation is given ballot forms with the names of the nominees. We merely check “yes” or “no” without putting our names or any indicating marks. The votes are tallied and announced before the congregational meeting is adjourned.

Footnotes

[1] J.A. Lyon, “Pastoral Theology” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 644-45.

[2] R. S. Wallace, “Elder” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 266.

[3] The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), 5th ed., Michael D. Coogan, editor (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 1702.

[4] The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament, Alfred Marshall, translator (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1976), 420.

 

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Reduces Opioid Addiction-Like Behaviors in Rats

From the blogpost site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Original Posting Date January  13, 2020

By Stacey C. Tobin, Ph.D., ELS, NIDA Notes Contributing Writer

This study reported:

  • The dopamine D3 receptor antagonist VK4-116 reduced oxycodone self-administration in rats, as well as drug-seeking behaviors after oxycodone reinstatement following withdrawal.
  • VK4-116 did not interfere with oxycodone’s pain-relieving effects.

Medications to prevent and treat opioid use disorder (OUD) as well as to prevent relapse are urgently needed. In animal studies, dopamine D3 receptors have emerged as potential therapeutic targets for reducing addiction-related behaviors. Dr. Zhi-Bing You and colleagues from NIDA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) and Johns Hopkins University now show that a novel agent called VK4-116, which blocks dopamine D3 receptor activity, can reduce a variety of addiction-like behaviors related to oxycodone administration in rats. “We are very excited that our highly selective D3 receptor antagonist, VK4-116, was effective in a multitude of behavioral models associated with OUD, providing preclinical data to support further development toward the clinic,” says NIDA IRP’s Dr. Amy Hauck Newman, the study’s senior investigator.

Dr. You and colleagues trained rats to self-administer oxycodone by pressing a lever. The investigators then conducted several experiments modeling different aspects of addiction-like behaviors. In these tests, VK4-116 counteracted oxycodone’s effects. For example:

  • Pretreatment with VK4-116 reduced the number of oxycodone infusions the rats pressed the lever for, and this effect lasted for several days after treatment (see Figure 1A).
  • Once the rats self-administered oxycodone, VK4-116 pretreatment decreased lever responses for oxycodone (see Figure 1B).
  • Pretreatment with VK4-116 did not affect sucrose self-administration (see Figure 1C).
  • VK4-116–treated rats that were given a single injection of oxycodone to trigger reinstatement of drug use after extinction were less likely to seek out more drug (see Figure 2).

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Graphic Fig 1

Fig. 1

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Graphic Fig 2

Fig. 2

Additional experiments found that VK4-116 may also be useful in ameliorating naloxone-precipitated withdrawal symptoms in oxycodone-dependent animals. Naloxone, the drug used to counteract opioid overdose, will induce severe withdrawal symptoms in humans who are dependent on opioids. Oxycodone-dependent rats too will experience withdrawal when given naloxone and will avoid locations where they received that medication. This conditioned place aversion is thought to represent the aversive aspects of withdrawal. Dr. You and colleagues found that VK4-116 reduced the naloxone-triggered conditioned place aversion, suggesting that the compound may dampen withdrawal symptoms.

Oxycodone is a highly effective pain reliever, so the investigators also tested if VK4-116 interfered with analgesia. They found that pretreatment with VK4-116 did not reduce oxycodone’s analgesic effect and even enhanced it at the highest VK4-116 dose tested (see Figure 3).

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Graphic Fig 3

Fig. 3

Although all of these preclinical findings are promising, further evaluation will be needed to reveal their translational potential. Nevertheless, the research team hopes that D3 receptor antagonists may one day help prevent addiction in people prescribed opioid medications or that they could be combined with behavioral therapies to mitigate withdrawal and reduce relapse risk in those being treated for OUD. “Demonstrating that VK4-116 is safe for human use and that our preclinical models actually predict treatment potential in OUD patients is critical,” says Dr. Newman. “In the meantime, our lab will continue to develop the tools needed to further elucidate the role of the D3 receptor in OUD and pain management.”

This study was supported by NIDA-IRP grant DA000424.

Sources

You, Z.-B., Bi, G.-H., Galaj, E., et al. Dopamine D3R antagonist VK4-116 attenuates oxycodone self-administration and reinstatement without compromising its antinociceptive effects. Neuropsychopharmacology. 44(8):1415-1424, 2019.

Find Help Near You

The following can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A step by step guide on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on our Treatment page.

Narcotics Anonymous National Hotline: 1(877) 276-6883.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: What is the Church?

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

After reading in Grudem and McGrath, and any appropriate Elwell articles, critique Grudem’s definition of the church. Here are your guiding questions: Is this definition adequate for what the church is, in its essence? If so, why? If not, what else should be written for a proper definition of the church? Is there more detail or are there some biblical images which would make for a better, more appropriate definition of the church?

Grudem’s definition: The church is the community of all true believers for all time.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Indeed, Matthew 18:20 is a perfect starting point for examining the essence of the “church.” Many have quoted this verse throughout church history. Jesus says whenever two or more gather in His Name “[T]here am I among them.” A great secular example of this concept is stated in AA literature, indicating all that’s required to hold a “meeting” is two or more alcoholics coming together to discuss recovery. I am particularly impressed with Miroslav Volf’s statement regarding appearance of the Spirit of Christ (in an “ecclesially constitutive” way) when two or more believers gather. “Constitutive” generally indicates having the power to establish or give organized existence to something. Many theologians throughout church history have started with this concept when defining the essence of the church. Volf warned about the tendency toward individualism in Protestant ecclesiology, saying constitutive is instrumental in understanding what Matthew 18:20 truly means. Volf wrote “there is no reign of God without the church.”[1] He further claims there is no church without the reign of God. This indicates “church” is not merely an institution, location, or building.

Community of Believers Hands Raised

Grudem identifies the basic definition of church as “the community of all true  believers for all time,”[2] aligning the Old Testament and New Testament context of “church.” The Septuagint often uses the term qāhal to identify church as “congregation” or “assembly,” which can also be used to indicate a summon to assembly. Dispensational theologians hold divergent views on the relationship between Israel and the church. For example, Grudem notes that Lewis Chafer believes God has two distinct plans for His people: (i) Israel for earthly blessings, and (ii) the church for heavenly blessings. The rub here is that God does not have separate purposes for Israel (OT) and the church (NT), rather a single intent—establishment of His kingdom in which Israel and the NT church will share in all His blessings. Grudem says many NT verses describe the church as the new Israel. Stanley Hauerwas addresses the aspect of the church as a community, separate from the world. Emphasis is placed on discourse and interpretation and the sharing of the Christian message with the world. Hauerwas believes “the whole body of believers therefore cannot be limited to any one historical paradigm or contained by any one institutional form.”[3]

Ephesians tells us that Christ loves “the church” and gave Himself up for her (5:25). Obviously, Christ did not suffer and die to protect a building. Paul provides a non-dispensational definition of the “old” and “new” church in Romans 2:28-29, stating, “For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God” (NRSV). God’s promises to Abraham apply to the entire church or community of believers regardless of historical period or dispensation. The only distinction is “forward looking” faith under the OT and “backward looking” faith under the NT. In support, Paul wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29).

The essence of church is not merely institutional or physical; it is spiritual—a continuation of God’s overall plan for salvation and adoption for those who believe in Christ Jesus. As Grudem states, “Abraham is not only to be considered the father of the Jewish people in a physical sense,” but He is also “the father of all who believe.”[4] P.L. Metzger says the church is, “The community of the Triune God, serving as the concrete manifestation of God’s eschatological kingdom in the world.”[5] It is fair to consider “church” to mean a gathering. It is chiefly the “community” of believers gathered in a pattern somewhat similar to political and other gatherings. However, this is not the only meaning of church in the Judeo-Christian religion. Jesus did not reveal a new God but a new way of worshiping the same God. For example, Paul describes the church as a whole and as each local church body. Despite dispensation, denomination, or geographic locale, wherever and however the church meets, it is the whole church. It is holy, in that it is sanctified by God, set apart for a specific purpose; however, it is never to “withdraw into a religious ghetto no longer concerned to save the world.”[6]  The church is catholic in that it is full, complete, and lacking nothing. It is apostolic relative to being entrusted with ecumenical teachings of its apostles and establishment of a global set of doctrines that are taught and handed down in a consistent manner. Metzger expresses the importance of “the whole church’s true oneness, holiness, and catholicity, not as an end in itself.”[7] It is responsible for determining proper church governance and for globally mediating the ministry of Christ.

Be Well Grounded and Rooted

Grudem delineates various metaphors for the church. It is a family—we are brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Tim. 5:1-2); it is branches on a vine—and we are grafted in (Jn. 15:5); it is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:32); it is an olive tree (Rom. 11:17-24); it is referred to as a field of crops (1 Cor. 3:6-9); it is a new type of temple, not build from stone but comprised of believers who are living stones (1 Pet. 2:5); it is a new group of priests (1 Pet. 2:5); believers are referred to as God’s house (Heb. 3:6); it is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-17). Christ is the head, and the community of believers is the rest of the body (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15-16). The church is witness to the kingdom of God (Acts 8:12). Grudem notes, “The church is the custodian of the kingdom (for the church has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven: Matt. 16:19).” In fact, John Calvin states that the church must possess the “marks,” i.e., the true and accurate Word of God and observance of the sacraments.

In conclusion, I believe the descriptions provided by Grudem are adequate for defining the essence of the church. Grudem provides well-delineated aspects of the church: form, regardless of dispensation; the nature of its ecclesiastic duties; metaphors for the various “operations” of the church; its function under the Old and New Covenants. The apostle Paul smartly explains why the entire church consists of believers under both covenants. Calvin identifies the main “marks” to be demonstrated by the church. Volf warns of the risk of “individualizing” Protestantism if the church is bifurcated in any manner. Jesus assures us that when two or more gather in His Name, He is present among them. Finally, there is no reign of God without the church, and there is no church without the reign of God. [8] The church is, in every way, a demonstration of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One of my classmates raised an interesting question: Do you believe that some of our Churches have strayed waway from the message of Christ? By this I mean unifying and doing the work commanded for us to do or do you believe that Christ is the head of all churches no matter how they perform as a community?

My response:

You’ve raised an interesting question. My first reaction is simply this: I agree that many churches have strayed from the systematically assembled doctrines of Christianity. This is more a failure of human proportions, of course, that it is a chink in the armor of God’s church. When “churches” stray from doctrine and Scripture, it is the people themselves who stray, and not the Body of Christ. “Church” is the manifestation of God’s kingdom, centered in Christ. The Greek word for church does refer to “assembly,” or “sacred gathering.” Services include liturgy and ritual, grounded in sound doctrine. In its missional capacity, it celebrates and participates in sharing the salvation of Jesus Christ

Chosen Generation

The Church is a temple, a “chosen people,” a “royal priesthood,” a “holy nation.” We read in the Nicene Creed that the church is one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic (formed and grown according to the teachings of Christ as handed down through the apostles). Perhaps any congregation that fails on a number or, sadly maybe, all of these levels is not part of the church—the Body of Christ. P.L. Metzger said, “For preserving unity, growing in holiness, and accomplishing its mission, the church has drawn from episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational forms of government. No matter the version, most important is determining how the form of church government highlights and mediates Christ’s authority as head of the church to the entire body.”

Because of the foregoing, I do not believe Jesus could be considered the “head” of any body of believers that has drastically strayed from mission, ministry, Scripture, canon, and proper church governance and operation. If it could be (or, worse, had to be) said that Jesus Christ is the head of all churches, even ones that are simply not fulfilling the Great Commission, edifying one another, following church canon that has been systematically developed throughout the history of the church from the Day of Pentecost to today, as handed down through the apostles, then no, I do not believe such a church or congregation is truly a part of the Body of Christ no matter what it says on the lighted sign in the front yard.

Footnotes

[1] Miroslav Volf, After our Likeness (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), x.
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 853.
[3] Stanley Hauerwas, “On the Church and the Story of Faith,” in The Christian Theology Reader (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 436.
[4] Grudem. 861.
[5]Stanley Hauerwas, inThe Christian Theology Reader,Ibid, 436.
[6] P.L. Metzger, inThe Christian Theology Reader,Ibid, 183.
[7] John Calvin, “On the Marks of the Church,” inThe Christian Theology Reader, Ibid, 416.

References

Calvin, J., “On the Marks of the Church,” in The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed.    (Chichester, West Sussex, UK), 2017Grudem, W., Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Hauerwas, S., “On the Church and the Story of Faith,” Ibid.

Metzger, P. “Church,” Ibid.

Volf, M., After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing), 1998.