Identifying the Lord’s Church (Part 2): What Rule Does His Church Follow?

Identifying the Lord's Church

In the previous lesson, we discussed the question regarding the number of churches that Jesus built. We saw from the Scriptures that He built just one church. Yet we need to know how His one church can determine what to believe, teach, and practice. So in this lesson, we are going to ask this question: What rule does His church follow?

Jesus Has All Authority

When Jesus gave His apostles the Great Commission, He prefaced it by explaining the basis for the message. This fundamental principle was the reason why they were to faithfully proclaim it and why men were obligated to heed it.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The fact that Jesus possessed “all authority” was the reason why this commission mattered. The Greek word that was translated authority (exousia) means “the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed” (Thayer). In other words, Jesus has the right to rule us and expect us to obey Him.

Why does Jesus possess this authority? First, He is the Word who existed in the beginning. This was the point John emphasized at the opening of his gospel account: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Second, not only did He exist in the beginning, all things were created by Him. John wrote, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Paul emphasized Jesus’ place of prominence in his letter to the Colossians: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:16-18).

As Paul explained, Jesus is above all earthly rulers and – relating to our study – is the head over the church. No one else can claim this headship over the church because He was with God in the beginning, is God, created all things, and has been given all authority (John 1:1-3; Matthew 28:18).

Because Jesus has “all authority” (Matthew 28:18), there are some points that relate directly to us:

  1. We have an obligation to listen to Him. When a centurion came to Jesus to heal his servant, he demonstrated his faith by stating a principle about authority: “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9). In his position of authority, the centurion could give commands and those under him were obligated to listen and obey his word. He recognized that Jesus “also” had authority, but was in a greater position than he was. Since Jesus has authority, we are obligated to listen to Him and obey His word.
  2. He is the spokesman for these last days. The Hebrew writer said, “In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:2). Therefore, we are to listen to Him and only Him.
  3. He will judge us in the last day. “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:26-27). Since Jesus will judge us – and His word will be the standard (John 12:48) – we must submit to His will.

If we are to understand the rule the church is to follow, we must begin with the knowledge that “all authority” (Matthew 28:18) belongs to Jesus.

His Will Is Expressed in His Word

Jesus possesses “all authority” and we must follow His will. However, He is not here on the earth. He ascended back into heaven while His apostles looked on (Acts 1:9). So how can we know what His will is? Jesus put a plan in place for this.

Knowing that He was departing, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles:

But now I am going to Him who sent Me… But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:5-13).

The apostles would serve as witnesses to testify about Jesus. He told them, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). Shortly before His ascension, He said to them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The apostles were the Lord’s official spokesmen. Paul referred to them as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). They would take His will and proclaim it to others.

However, the apostles would not live forever. Today there are no living apostles and it has been centuries since they passed from this life. Because of this, the message would need to be written down. Peter explained this:

Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind” (2 Peter 1:12-15).

Because he was departing (passing on from this life), Peter knew that the message from Christ that He received by inspiration and revelation would need to be written down so that others could have it in the future. Paul told Timothy, “But in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Without these writings, we would not know how to conduct ourselves in the Lord’s church in a way that is in harmony with His will.

It is important to understand that the writings of these apostles was done by inspiration. They did not need to rely upon their fallible memories; rather, they would be divinely guided by the Holy Spirit to remember what Jesus taught them (John 14:26). Paul explained this in his first letter to Corinth:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

We cannot know the will of the Lord unless He reveals it to us. This has been done by the Spirit through the apostles. These “spiritual thoughts” have been combined with “spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13) in the Scriptures that have been “inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), which literally means breathed out by God.

Because the apostles were divinely inspired and wrote down the Lord’s will for us in the Scriptures, their writings hold the same weight as the actual words of Christ. Paul wrote, “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Corinthians 14:37). This pertained to their role as “witnesses” (Acts 1:8) and “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Through their writings, we have the will of Jesus expressed in the Word.

How We Know What Is Authorized

If we know we are to submit to the Lord’s authority because He is the head of the church (Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:18), how do we know what is authorized for us to do?

First, we have to go to the right source – the word of God, the Scriptures. “To the law and to the testimony!” (Isaiah 8:20). When Paul came to Thessalonica, he did what was his “custom” – he “reasoned…from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence…” (Acts 17:2-3).

Second, when we consult the written word of God, we must respect context and make the right interpretation. Peter warned of those who would “distort…the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). When the devil tempted Jesus, he quoted Scripture; but he did not apply it properly (Matthew 4:5-7).

Third, we need to recognize the basic rules of interpretation. This is essential if we are to make the right interpretation. How the Lord imparts His will in His word is how all communication works. Notice how this is illustrated with what the New Testament says about the Lord’s Supper:

  • He tells us what He wants. Paul restated Jesus’ command to “do this” – partake of the bread and the cup (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). There is also a statement in which Christians are told what to do: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). In these statements, we are told what to do (partake of the Lord’s Supper) and the purpose for doing it (to proclaim the Lord’s death).
  • He shows us what He wants. The example on record of Christians in the first century was that they met “on the first day of the week…to break bread” (Acts 20:7). Paul’s participation in this showed apostolic approval for the practice.
  • He implies to us what He wants. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29), it was during the days of “Unleavened Bread” (Matthew 26:17). In keeping with the Law of Moses, this meant that they would “eat unleavened bread” and that there would not even be any leaven in their houses (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, while the New Testament does not specifically state that the bread used in the Lord’s Supper was unleavened, we can necessarily infer that this was used since there would have been no other type of bread around for Jesus to use when He instituted the supper.

Fourth, we need to understand the difference between generic and specific authority.

  • When something is specified, everything else is excluded. The reason why Jesus could not be a priest under the old law was because the law specified that priests were to come from the tribe of Levi. This necessarily excluded all of the other tribes – including the tribe of Judah from which Jesus descended (Hebrews 7:12-14). When something is specified in the New Testament (the type of music to use in worship, the day on which Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper, etc.), that necessarily excludes everything else in those categories (other types of music, other days of the week, etc.).
  • When something is unspecified, we may do what is most expedient. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable [expedient, KJV]. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Therefore, in the realm of those things which are “lawful” (authorized), we are free to do what is most “profitable” (beneficial). In other words, when several different things are authorized (not one thing that has been specified), we are free to use our judgment to determine what would be the best option.

If we will follow these principles, we can know what Jesus expects us to do in His church in order to please Him.

We Must Not Follow Any Other Standard

We are to hold to those things that have been handed down by the apostles. Paul wrote, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). He showed how important this was by explaining what was to be done with one who refused to do this: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). We must “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJV) and be able to distinguish between “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

Therefore, there are certain things that we cannot do:

  • We cannot add to this pattern and still be right. When we add man-made doctrines to our teaching, we make our worship “vain” (Matthew 15:9).
  • We cannot leave out parts of the apostles’ doctrine and be faithful. Paul was “innocent of the blood of all men” because he “did not shrink from declaring…the whole purpose [counsel, KJV] of God” (Acts 20:26-27).
  • We cannot change their message and remain in God’s grace. Paul explained to the Galatians that we desert Christ when we follow a distorted gospel and that those who preach a different message are “to be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).

As we can see from the points above, this is a serious matter. In the Lord’s church, we must follow the head of the church – Jesus Christ Himself (Colossians 1:18). No one can supplant Him in this position.

Conclusion

The church belongs to Christ; therefore, it must follow His rule. His will is found in His word, so we need to be sure we are properly following that standard.


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on Unity, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Thankful.


Trackbacks

  1. […] churches are to do only those things which are authorized (Colossians 3:17; Matthew 7:21-23) – we discussed this in the second lesson. Second, churches are not to do some good things that individuals might do. Notice the following […]