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TableTalk – The Church #2


The Church that We See. 

Text.  1 Corinthians 1:2  

Savoy: The whole body of men throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel and obedience unto God by Christ according to it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are, and may be called the visible catholic church of Christ; although as such it is not entrusted with the administration of any ordinances, or have any officers to rule or govern in, or over the whole body. ( 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:20-22 ) 

Notice again that the confession speaks of the world-wide church.  How can we describe the ‘visible church?’

  • The Professing Church.  Is:-
    • Professing the faith of the gospel.  Everyone who claims to be a Christian…
    • Professing obedience to God.  cf Commandments/Law?  So, people who know that they are sinners, and who are striving to live righteously in the sight of God.  We know that our works cannot save us, we know that Christ has already died for us, and by his death we are forgiven, justified and saved, but because we are his children, and we want to please him, we strive to keep his law, and it delights us when we do so.   – so, can a person be considered a member of the visible church – a ‘Christian’ if he openly and wilfully and knowingly lives in a manner that will break the law of God? 
      • A murderer? A rapist? A shoplifter?
      • An abortionist? A man or woman living in a same sex ‘marriage?’
    • Professing Christ.  They want to testify of Christ in their life – their work life, their home life, their church life…
  • The Credibility of That ProfessionNot destroying their own profession by:
    • Fundamental errors.   What’s the bare minimum basis of faith?  Read 1st Corinthians 15:1-4.  
      • The need to be saved, because we are sinners, by nature and practice.
      • The person and work of Christ.
      • The cross, vicarious atonement – that Christ died FOR me.
      • The resurrection of Christ – and with it the promised resurrection of the dead.
      • The doctrine of the Scriptures. Their authority, – their inspiration and inerrancy. 

Any ‘church group’ or alleged professor of Christ who does not believe these basic common beliefs, cannot be considered as part of the visible church.   

  • Ungodly lives.  Can a person profess to be a Christian and at the same time live a life that is ungodly?  A life that neglects church attendance, prayer, bible study, – ungodly conversation?
  • The Visible Church has no Sacramental Authority.  The authority for administering the sacraments does not rest with a church or a denomination, – it rests with CHRIST, and within His BODY – the invisible church.  What does this mean for the sacraments offered in heretical churches?
  • There are NO Universal Church Officers. Here the Savoy differs from the WCC, for obviously, the Savoy is Congregational, and sees every local church as an entire church, not part of a bigger denomination.So it doesn’t allow for church offices that are above the level of the local assembly, moderators, bishops, popes etc.   

Matthew 18:15-20  

  • What is a local Church?  Calvin had a good definition of a church.  “A place where the Word of God is proclaimed, where the sacraments are correctly administered and where Church discipline is preserved.”  In a Congregational context, we have always thought of a church as being as Jesus described, in Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 

So, when we speak of belonging to a church, in this context, we are not speaking about membership of the INVISIBLE CHURCH that is the true Body of Christ, for membership of that church is by way of the new birth alone – we are referring to the VISIBLE church, or a denominational, or local expression of that church.   

  • What is ‘Church Membership?’ That’s been a real debate in local congregationalism.  We have a two tier type of membership in some churches, where you can be a ‘member,’ (an ‘adherent’) or a ‘Communicant Member.’  It’s a kind of formal way of giving expression to the fact that the church consists of a mixed multitude!  Of course it’s abused.  Now, we’ll exclude those people from our definition, and we shall assume that to be a member of a church is as follows: Membership in a local church involves commitment to worship the Lord corporately, edifying brothers and sisters through mutual exhortation and service, cooperating in mission, and holding each other accountable to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord as a witness to the truth of Christ in the world; a wise and helpful path for those who desire to walk together in obedience to the Lord and in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ Accessed 30th December 2019. (Philippians 1:27 ).

So let’s summarise:  

  • All true Christians are de-facto members of the Universal, invisible Church, the Body of Christ on earth.
  • That church is visible on earth in the form of groups of Christians, meeting together in churches, imperfect in many ways.
  • Formal membership of the Visible church is usually an identification with a local assembly or a denomination, usually with distinctive doctrines and practices.
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