Jesus Christ, in His matchless grace, came into the world to die in our place in order to deliver us from the penalty, the power, and, one day, the presence of sin (Eph 2:1–10; Col 1:12–14), so that we now can develop in knowing Christ, in loving Him, in becoming more like Him, and in living in obedience to His Word (John 17:3; Rom 8:29–30; 2 Cor 3:18–20; Eph 2:10; 4:11–15; Col 3:5, 25). Christ, in His sovereignty, has chosen to use the local church as His primary means to evangelize the lost in order to deliver souls, and to disciple believers in order to develop them in their knowledge of, love for, and glorifying of Him (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18–20; Eph 4:11–15).
Thus, God’s plan for this dispensation is that the people of God regularly assemble together and associate themselves in local churches under the authority of God’s Word and for the purpose of edifying and equipping disciples of Christ to better know Him, love Him, live in obedience to Him, and disciple others toward a deeper relationship with Him (Acts 2:37–47; Heb 10:22–25). The church is governed by the teachings of God’s Word through delegated leadership (1 Thess 5:12–13; 1 Tim 3:1–7; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 13:17), and is to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples by evangelizing the lost, and training, equipping, and developing believers to become fully committed and competent disciples of Christ (Matt 28:19–20).
The one, supreme authority for the church is Christ — the head of the church (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). Church leadership, order, discipline, and worship are all appointed through His sovereignty as found in the Scriptures. I hold, somewhat cautiously, to a version of the regulative principle (oddly enough, perhaps, considering my background). This basically means that we are not at liberty to ‘do church’ in any way we see fit. We have only the authority to do that which Christ has authorized us to do. Jesus has authorized the local assembly (the church) to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom (1) (Matt 16:15–19). The assembly exercises the keys of the kingdom by declaring, upholding, and proclaiming the Word of God, by officially affirming one another’s citizenship in Christ’s kingdom by the ordinance of baptism (Christ’s ordained means of public identification with Him, and the distinguishing line between the church and the world), and by overseeing one another’s discipleship through the teaching of God’s Word, and admission to and exclusion from the Lord’s Table (Matt 16:15–19; 18:15–20; 28:19–20; Acts 2:41; 8:12; 1 Cor 5:4–11; 11:17–34).
The local church exercises this authority of the keys under the oversight and leadership of biblically qualified elders, whose qualifications and duties are defined in the New Testament. The congregation is to be led by these elders, who are commissioned by Christ to bear the responsibility of teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for the spiritual well-being of the local church (Acts 20:28–31; 1 Thess 5:14; 1 Tim 3:2, 4–5; 4:13; 5:17; 2 Tim 4:1-2; Heb 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet 5:2). These leaders are to model the servant-leadership of Jesus Christ, and should always remember that they too are sheep, and are accountable to God for the manner in which they lead (Matt 20:25–26; 1 Pet 5:2–3; James 3:1). The office of deacon can also be filled to minister to the financial, physical, and practical needs of the church, so as to allow the elders to devote themselves fully to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:1–4; 1 Tim 3:8–13). Although the church utilizes these two offices, all believers have equal access to God and are gifted and called to serve Him as ministers (Matt 27:51; 1 Cor 12:12–27; Eph 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 4:14-16; 10:11–25).
The church, then, is to commit to regularly assemble in Christ’s name for the purpose of discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances. The church is to commit to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, thereby developing one another to better know Christ, love Him and love others, and live in obedience to His Word and for His glory.
(1) For a full explanation and discussion of the keys of the Kingdom, see:
– Chapter 5 of “Going Public,” by Bobby Jamieson
– Chapter 4 of “The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love,” by Jonathan Leeman
– Chapter 6, part 2, of “Political Church,” by Jonathan Leeman
– Church Discipline: The Missing Mark by Al Mohler, in “Polity,” edited by Mark Dever
– The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline Display’d (1697), by Benjamin Keach, in “Polity”
– A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church (1743), by Benjamin Griffith, in “Polity”
– Summary of Church Discipline (1774), by the Charleston Association, in “Polity”