11-05-17 Lesson 2
Let’s pray. Father, we’re thankful for this morning and we’re thankful the fact that this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice it. And I just pray You’ll be with us this morning in our different Sunday School classes and in the main service that follows and as we take communion and as we gather around the Word and fellowship lunch afterwards. And I just ask for Your Spirit to be doing something special today. I ask that we would leave eternally changed in some way. So I ask that You’ll do this great work this morning. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen.
Good to see everybody. Did you guys remember to “fall back”? I like falling back better than I like springing forward. Does anybody need a handout? Just put your hand up and we’ll send one around. And let’s take our Bibles if we could and open them to Ephesians 1:20-22 and we are in part 2 of a study on ecclesiology which is the doctrine of the church. And I want to thank Jim for filling in last week; I appreciate that Jim. I was actually in Canada last week; you guys must have prayed for me because I got through the border people, in and out with no problem. And we had a great conference, we had a thousand people show up. This is a first time conference by this group, just stepping out in faith. And we had a one day conference just on Bible prophecy so there were four speakers, I was one of the four along with Bill Koenig and Eric Barger and Bill Tsfarti. So we hear a lot of bad things about Canada but let me tell you something, because of their hate speech laws and their new Prime Minister but there wasn’t a bad thing that I could find. First of all it’s a beautiful country and secondly they were just starving for Bible prophecy. So they gave me the story that most of them don’t get Bible prophecy in their churches so we had a thousand people show up. That was a neat thing.
And they couldn’t find a sponsoring church to host the event, this group, because most of the churches over there believe if you’re into Bible prophecy you’re psychologically imbalanced. And there are people like that so I don’t know if I’d really argue with them totally on that. I feel I’m semi-psychologically balanced. But they couldn’t find a host church to host the event and it was actually the work of God because they rented this place called the Trade Ex, where they have swap meets in Abbotsford, British Colombia, and they needed a building that size to house the people that wanted to come. You guys must have prayed for me? Did you guys do that? If you didn’t you don’t have to admit it but your prayers were definitely felt.
So I’ve got a new gismo up here that I’m using, speaking of antichrist technology, I’m doing everything now through the church’s laptop. I’m using and IPad so all I need is a little microchip in my right hand or forehead and I will have arrived. But thanks to the guys in the… the tech guys for setting this up, so we’re dragging Sugar Land Bible Church kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Amen!
So we’ve started a study the week before last on Ecclesiology, which I have underlined there, which is what the Bible reveals about the church. And there is sort of our outline that we’ve been working through. We just started it the last time I was with you. We looked at the definition of the church; the church is the Greek word ekklēsía (ἐκκλησία) and does anybody remember what ekklēsía means? The called out ones. Acts 15:14 talks about how God is calling out from among the Gentiles a people for His own name. [Acts 15:14, “Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.”] And that’s a pretty good definition of the church. You add the word “ology” which means study of and ecclesiology is what the Bible says about the church, which is important to us because the church age is the time period that we’re currently living in.
And we saw also that the church consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in the very Messiah rejected by first century Israel. So anyone who has placed their personal faith in the Messiah that national Israel turned over to the Romans in the first century for execution, for the forgiveness of our sins, we are part of this new man that started on the day of Pentecost, called the church age.
So that moves us away from the definition and we’re going to move into a couple of things today. Number 1, the difference between the universal church and the local church. And number 2, if time permits we’ll be talking about word pictures of the church because a picture paints a thousand words. You can reveal something in picture form that would take you myriads of volumes of books to describe. So the Holy Spirit, in the New Testament, has given us seven word pictures of the church. So as time permits we’ll be getting into those.
But let’s move away from the definition of the church and let’s take a look at the difference between the universal church and the local church. One of the things that I’ve been sort of surprised to discover is there is a vast segment of Christendom that only believes in local churches. They don’t believe in what’s called the universal church. And I’ll try to draw the distinction between the two in just a moment. But they believe, you know, Paul wrote to the Romans so he wasn’t talking about principles that apply to the church over 2,000 years; he was only talking to Rome in the Book of Romans. And so there is this sort of denial amongst people. I’ve noticed it sort of prevalent in not all but in what I would call very fundamentalist Baptist churches where they believe in a local church but they don’t believe in a universal church.
So that’s why I had you open up to the Book of Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 20-22, which says, “which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”
Now according to this verse in the Book of Ephesians, the church started after Jesus ascended and was seated at the right hand of the Father. As that happened God the Father put, under the authority of God the Son, the church. Now does anybody remember when the ascension gook place, what chapter of the Bible. Acts 1, and the church formally comes into existence in Acts 2. So Acts 1 and Acts 2 are written during a time period when the church of Rome hadn’t even been founded, nor had the church at Colossae, nor had the church at Ephesus, nor had fundamentalist Baptist churches been founded at that point, nor had Sugar Land Bible Church been founded at that point.
So this statement is made of Christ before any local church existed and when you start to understand it that way you begin to understand that there’s a difference between the universal church transcending over the last 2,000 years versus just a local church. So we believe here at Sugar Land Bible Church that there are local churches as there have been for the last 2,000 years but there’s also something called a universal church which started, really before any local churches came into existence, going all the way back to the ascension of Christ, Acts chapter 1 and Acts chapter 2.
Let’s take a look at this and I’ll just kind of talk you through this. This chart, what it’s supposed to represent is the difference between the universal church and the left column and the local church in the right column. So over there on the far left you see a number; how many universal churches are there? There’s only one. How many local churches are there? There’s so many you can’t even count them. Think how many local churches exist in the Scripture. Colossae, Ephesus, Laodicea, Smyrna… someone told me that there are 4,000 churches in Houston alone. Do you believe that? That’s pretty amazing. So the universal church is one; local churches are many.
The second category: membership. Who are the members of the universal church? It’s everybody that has placed their personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation from the day of Pentecost to the rapture. That’s a lot of people. But who are the members of a local church? Whoever happens to show up on Sunday morning, amen! So you can have within a local church a local gathering that they can tangibly see; that’s the local church. Then at the same time there’s something called the universal church consisting of members that we haven’t even seen yet, that we haven’t even met yet.
Which takes us to the third category, what is the spiritual status of the universal church. The universal church consists of believers only. The only way you can become qualified to become a member of God’s universal church is you have to believe in His provision, which is Jesus Christ, His Son, for the sins of the world. You have to trust in His provision for salvation and if you’ve done that at any point in history from the day of Pentecost until the rapture then you are automatically inducted, if you will, without even filling out a membership application. You are automatically inducted or placed by the Holy Spirit into the universal church. So the only people in the universal church are believers.
Now how about the local church? Well guess what? In a local church you can have believers and unbelievers, so it is completely possible to come in here and fool us all; you could be carrying your Bible, you could be quoting lingo from the latest Christian movie, you could be quoting Bible verses and the fact of the matter is you could be unregenerate having never trusted in Jesus Christ, and still become a member of Sugar Land Bible Church. Now we, I’ll talk about the interview process to become a member of our local church in just a second, but I guess what I’m trying to say it’s completely possible to go to a church, to become a member of a church, to be a very card-carrying religious person on the surface but never be part of God’s universal church because you’re religious on the exterior but you’ve never trusted in Christ and Christ alone for salvation.
So when people want to join our church here at Sugar Land Bible Church we have an interview process where we try to figure out is this person really saved or are they not saved. And that’s why when we have people fill out membership applications and go through our interview process basically the main question is can you give us your testimony, because we’re trying to figure out are you saved or not? But it’s entirely possible, is it not, to fool everybody and be in a church and be a member of a church locally but never be regenerated and never be part of God’s universal church. So the most important church you could ever be a member of is God’s church, the universal church by faith alone. But a local church it’s very possible to have believers and unbelievers mixed together although we try to kind of preempt that possibility on the front end.
In fact, Jesus had a little group of people, didn’t He, the disciples. How many disciples were there? Twelve, and yet one of them Jesus says in John 6, is a devil, “having never been saved. Jesus said of him it’d be better for him if he had never been born,” because he was a betrayer of Christ. In fact, the expression “son of perdition” John 17:12, is used of this unbelieving disciple. [John 17:12, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”]
And that title, “son of perdition” is only used of one other person in the Bible. Anybody know who that one other person is? The antichrist. So “son of perdition” is used of Judas, who I am referring to, John 17:12 and also the antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2:3. [2 Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,”]
And so when Jesus, in the Upper Room said one of you is going to betray Me everybody didn’t point to Judas and say yeah, it’s got to be him? What did they all say? Is it me? Is it I? and so forth. In other words, Judas just fit right in with everybody else. He was unregenerated. And so you can have that reality in a church. How do I know this? Because I was just like that for the first 16 years of my life. I was basically a card carrying member of my particular Protestant denomination; I was even an acolyte, which is sort of like an altar boy kind of thing; they gave me this big cross for my service and for the first 16 years of my life I had all that stuff, and yet I was not a member of God’s universal church because I’d never been saved. See that?
So that’s sort of a great tragedy, people who think that going to church makes them a Christian and that doesn’t make any sense any more than sitting in McDonalds makes you a hamburger. A lot of people go to church, particularly in the Bible belt, because that’s sort of the cultural thing to do and that’s what our family did and these kind of things but the reality of the situation is a person has to become under the conviction of the Spirit and respond by way of faith to a clear proclamation of the gospel. And if that has never happened it doesn’t matter what their denomination is, they’re just a member of a local church but they are not part of God’s universal church. So a local church could conceivable, we try to preempt it on the front end here but it could conceivable have believers and unbelievers in it. That’s why here at Sugar Land Bible Church at the conclusion of all of our services we give the gospel. Now why do we give the gospel? Because we’re part of a local church and we acknowledge that it’s possible for someone to be part of our community but never saved so we give the gospel every single week just to make sure people, in fact, are saved. We don’t want people to become a member of a local church without being a member of God’s universal church. What a tragedy that would be.
And people can fool you I was talking to one pastor friend of mine and there was a guy there that was running his whole AV department, not casting any aspersions on our AV guys up there, I’m not questioning their salvation, except Dan, I’ve always had issues with Dan [laughter] but the rest of them I think are okay. But this pastor was running his whole AV department and then he goes off to come camp somewhere where the gospel is explained and then he comes back and says I’m saved, I got saved. So how is it possible that you could be running a whole AV department and not be regenerated? That’s the Judas example, so that kind of thing can happen. And so it’s a tragedy to be a member of a local church but not a member of God’s universal church.
Going to the next category down, this takes us to the fourth one, living or dead; the universal church consists of living Christians and who else? Dead Christians. Where do the dead Christians go? “To be absent from the body is to be” what? “present with the Lord.” And this is why the Apostle Paul says, at the point of the rapture, over in 1 Thessalonians 4 and verse 16, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God” and notice what it says, “and the dead in Christ will rise first.” And who are “the dead in Christ”? I said well, that’s got to be the Methodist Church or the Episcopalian Church or the Presbyterian Church. But “the dead in Christ” are the people that have trusted in Christ, they are part of the body of Christ and yet they’ve passed on and so they are in the presence of the Lord.
And you see, that’s the glorious thing about the rapture, is when the rapture happens we who are alive, and I’m hoping that this happens in our lifetime, the rapture, I can’t guarantee that, but it says, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds.” Who’s the “them”? It’s the deceased Christians who are now in the presence of the Lord. So the rapture is a reunion between the living Christians and the deceased Christians. Why is there a reunion between the two? Because in the universal church you can have people alive on the earth and people that have passed on.
Now how about the local church? The local church consists of only living people, no dead people (although sometimes as a pastor you look out at your flock and folks look kind of dead but maybe the pastor looks semi-dead too when he gets more gray hair. So essentially what you have in a local assembly is if you have a heartbeat you are a part of a local church but that status is removed the moment you die. But not so the universal church; the universal church consists of deceased saints in Christ and living saints.
Now how about assembly, that would be one, two, three, four, fifth one down, assembly. You cannot assemble the universal church at one time and one place this side of eternity. I mean, why can’t you just get everybody together? Well you can’t because most of them have passed on. So it’s impossible to assemble the universal church this side of eternity in one time and one place. And you see, that’s the significance of Revelation 4 and 5, following the rapture it talks about a great assembly in heaven; it talks about people worshipping the Lord from every tribe, nation, tongue and so forth. So that is going to be a glorious scene, Revelation 4 and 5, following the rapture because that’s the first time in the history of the church the universal church will be assembled at one time and place. See that? But until that happens, because most of the universal church has passed on it’s impossible to assemble everyone at one time and place because you’ve got dead people and living people.
Now compare that to the local church. Can you assemble everybody in your local church at one time and one place? Yes you can, theoretically although it’s kind of hard I’ve noticed. A good incentive is to offer food, that brings everybody out of the woodwork. But it’s very difficult to get people, all the member of your church at the same venue at the same time at the same place. Yet it’s at least a possibility, isn’t it. So hypothetically a local church could all be assembled in one spot but not so the universal church.
How about visibility? The universal church is what I would call invisible and what I mean by that is God and God alone knows which people are saved and which ones are unsaved. I can get a pretty good sense people are saved based on what they say, based on their testimony, but the reality is you can conceivably have an unbeliever in your local church. But related to the subject of visibility God knows everyone who is regenerated and everyone who is not and God and God alone can see that.
The Book of Ephesians tells us that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. So what is a seal? It’s imagery that comes from Greco-Roman times, in which the New Testament was written, I brought in my props today, let’s pretend this is a letter scrolled up like a scroll, now you don’t have UPS back in Bible times, so how do I know that this scroll that I’ve sealed up is going to reach its intended destination? Well, they would put a melting wax seal here which sealed it up, and then as it was melting they would take the signet ring of the…they usually had some sort of replica of the Roman Emperor on it, and place it into that wax that’s melting and it dried there. So when you saw this seal you were told through that imagery that you cannot break the seal and you cannot open the seal; the only person that can open it is the person to whom the letter is intended. You see that? So that seal guaranteed that this letter would arrive at its final destination.
And you see, that’s the imagery that Paul uses in Ephesians 4:30 and other places to describe what has essentially happened to us. [Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”] We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit so just as the seal guaranteed that the letter would arrive at its destination, because if you broke the seal and you weren’t the intended recipient you did so under violation of Roman law which means you could be executed. So the seal is a big deal (pardon the rhyme there).
So the seal on us, spiritually speaking is basically a guarantee that we’re going to arrive at our final destination. That’s one of the reasons we believe here very strongly in the doctrine of eternal security because that imagery is not going to allow a person to be unsealed before they reach glorification of heaven. And that’s why when you study the Gospels, I think it’s around Matthew 27, I want to say verse 66 but I’m not sure if there are 66 verses in that chapter, but it’s in Matthew 27. [Matthew 27:66, “And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”] Some of you are looking there right now to check me on that, which is good, it’s good to be a Berean, basically what they did is they put a seal, now this wasn’t wax obviously but it was an insignia or seal over the gravestone of Jesus Christ, because they were afraid that the disciples were going to steal the body and fake the resurrection.
So that seal was a guarantee, at least in their minds, that no one would tamper with that body and so again that’s the imagery of the seal. That’s why it’s such a big deal that Paul tells us that we have been “sealed,” Ephesians 4:30, with the Holy Spirit. [Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Now where am I going with this? I’m not teaching on eternal security today, we’ve done many, many lessons on eternal security. My only point is who can see the seal? Only God can! I can’t see if you’re sealed and you can’t see if I’m sealed so in this sense the universal church consists of people who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit so the universal church is in that sense invisible. Compare that with the local church, the local church is very visible, isn’t it? We have a membership roll and I can look on it and see who’s a member and who is not. So the universal church has an invisibility idea that the local church does not have.
How about jumping down to the fourth from the bottom there, New Testament material. The vast majority of New Testament material is aimed at local churches. The biblical writers don’t sit down and say hey, I’ve got some random theological thoughts I’d like to share with you today. That’s not how the biblical canon came into existence. The biblical canon is what we call crisis literature and basically what that means is it’s written to resolve a crisis involving real people in New Testament times.
So virtually every book of the Bible you can identify some kind of crisis going on in the background and the Holy Spirit used that particular crisis to pen God’s message to those people locally and also to the universal church. So Corinthians was written to resolve the issue of immorality, 1 and 2 Corinthians, sometimes called 1 and 2 Californians. The Book of Galatians was written to resolve a very real problem taking place in Southern Galatia which is the issue of legalism. The Book of 1 and 2 Thessalonians was written to resolve confusion that new believers had about end time events.
So with all of these books that are being written you can sense a crisis in the background, therefore most of the New Testament was written to resolve local church problems. So most of what you read about in the New Testament, particularly the letters or the epistles, is written to local churches. A minority of Scripture, on the other hand, relates to the subject of the universal church. Most of the Scripture deals with the local church and yet a minority of Scripture deals with the universal church. The key book that deals primarily with the universal church is a book written to the church at Ephesus but in chapters 1-3, particularly chapter 2 and 3, and particularly chapter 5, deals primarily with the universal church. So the Book of Ephesians, even though it’s written to the church at Ephesus is dealing with universal church issues and that’s why earlier I quoted from Ephesians 1:20-22 to defend the idea that there is such a thing as a universal church.
[Ephesians 1:20, “which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,  which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”]
What you have to understand is most of the New Testament was not set up that way. Most of it is addressing real local church problems and concerns and every time you read a New Testament book you’re reading about a problem that has to be solved. That’s why I always get a kick out of churches that promote themselves on their marquee and they say we are a first century church. And I’m like oh Lord, I wonder which one it is? Is it Corinth? Is it Laodicea? I don’t know if it’s such a great thing to be a first century church when you look at all the problems that are being addressed.
But the Spirit of God is superintending, He’s designing the Scripture as these crises are unfolding and this is how the New Testament canon was developed. So most of the New Testament material is dealing with the local church problems; a minority of the New Testament space is devoted to the subject of the universal church and most of that you can probably find in the first three chapters of the Book of Ephesians.
How about joining the universal church? How do you actually join the universal church. Any suggestions? You trust in Christ alone for salvation. Paul says everyone that has placed their faith in Jesus Christ is part of the universal church, part of a body, starting on the day of Pentecost and being completed at the rapture. In fact, Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized” past tense, this is not talking about water baptism here, it’s talking about Spirit baptism. All water baptism does is it’s an outward symbol of an inward reality. But water baptism doesn’t get anybody into the universal church. The only thing that gets people into the universal church is the Spirit of God taking them and baptizing them into Christ’s body. Baptism, the Greek verb baptizō simply means identification.
So at the point of faith the Spirit of God takes a human being that was once lost but now is saved and baptizes them or identifies them into Christ’s body, the church, and here I’m speaking of the universal church. Water baptism doesn’t get the job done. Water baptism is just an outward testimony of the inward reality that that has happened in a person’s life. But if a person has not been baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body then they are not part of the universal church; they are an unsaved human being. It doesn’t matter how religious they are, it doesn’t matter what religious ordinances and rituals they’ve submitted themselves to. The only thing that gets you in the door is faith alone in Christ alone. And at that particular point in tome something has already happened to you where the Spirit of God at the point of faith takes you and identifies you into Christ’s body, the universal church.
So that’s how you become a member, that’s how you join the universal church. It’s something God has already done. Now I run into many, many people and what they tell me is they want to get baptized in the Spirit. And I always say well, are you saved? Are you a Christian? Oh yes, I’m saved but I want to go on further and get this extra work of God where I’m baptized in the Spirit. That doctrine is very popular amongst charismatic Pentecostal Christian circles.
When you look at 1 Corinthians 12:13 what tense, just even looking at it in English, what tense is the verb “baptized” in? Past, present or future? “For by one Spirit we were all” what? “baptized,” what’s the tense there? Past, it’s already happened. So as a New Testament Christian you don’t have to go out seeking for some kind of extra work of God where you’re going to be baptized in the Spirit, it is a work of God that has already happened to you at the point of faith alone in Christ alone. [1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”]
In fact, you don’t have to go on with God and start pleading and begging for additional blessings. Why do I say that? Because the Book of Ephesians, Ephesians 1:3 says, of the universal church, what? “Blessed” is that past, present or future? Past, it’s already happened. We have been … “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed” past tense again “us with” how many spiritual blessings? All spiritual blessings, “with every spiritual blessing” God doesn’t say I’ve given you about 95% now you grovel before me and I may throw a few more crumbs your direction so you can have a full blessing. The reality is everything God wants to give you in terms of spiritual blessings have already been transferred to your account. You read these stories about these people that are living under a bridge and yet they’re millionaires because someone has died and through the will or the trust they’re millionaires, they just don’t know how to access what they own. They don’t have the understanding, they don’t have the education so they’re living in poverty yet they’re maxed out in terms of their wealth.
That is a pretty good description of how many, many Christians are living today. They’re looking at themselves incomplete and they’re groveling before God when in reality God… and we’re saying Lord bless me and God is saying what else do you want? I’ve blessed you with every blessing in the heavenly places. It’s just a matter of opening His Word and finding out what you possess. You see? You have to be a Bible reader to understand these things. You have an advantage if you’re in a Bible teaching church explaining these things to you. It’s like the person that’s poor who has a bunch of money but they don’t know it, they don’t need money; what they need is an understanding of what they already possess. They need an education on how to access what’s already theirs. And that is a pretty good description of what we have in Christ Jesus; we have all of these wonderful blessings because we have been baptized or identified with His body.
Now a body has many parts, doesn’t it; some are hands, some are feet, some are ears, some are a mouth, I didn’t really know God was going to make me a mouth in His body but I’m happy with the choice. I hope He’s happy too. But we all have different roles that we play in the body of Christ because a body has different facets working in harmony with other facets and you receive that status at the point of faith alone in Christ alone. That’s how you join the universal church, faith alone in Christ alone puts the mark of the Holy Spirit, the sealing mark of the Holy Spirit, which is invisible, on you and it inducts you automatically into the body of Christ. And you have already been maxed out in terms of your blessings.
Now this is important because a lot of people when it comes time for the offering plate to be passed and here at Sugar Land Bible Church we don’t pass the offering plate, and I think that’s one of the things about Sugar Land Bible Church, one of the many things that I really, really like, we don’t put an emphasis on giving. There are boxes in the back and as you have been blessed by this church and through the teaching of the Word of God our experience has been that people, naturally, without being pressured or harassed like to contribute to a church like that and this church, because of that policy and the blessing of God on this church is completely debt free. And you don’t see people pressuring you for money constantly. There’s no big mortgage payment we have to meet so we’ve got to get people to give more and more and more.
There’s a lot of churches that will not tell you what your blessings are. Why is that? Because they want you to think that you give to get blessed. See that? This is very, very popular in what’s called prosperity gospel, you put in a quarter, God is obligated to give you a dollar. Or the ten-fold blessing. And it’s a powerful fund raising tool; you tell people you give to get blessed. That is not our philosophy here. We do not tell people you give to get blessed; we tell people you should give because you are already blessed. See, if you recognize you’re already blessed then something natural happens in the heart where you give graciously and generously and Paul is very clear that we should give, 2 Corinthians 9, not under compulsion. [2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”]
So it’s a tragic thing when people think they have to give to get blessed. That’s putting people under compulsion and that’s not the New Testament model. You give because you already have been blessed. How have you been blessed? You have been baptized already into the body of Christ and spiritually speaking your bank account has already been maxed out. So that’s how you join the universal church, faith alone in Christ alone.
Well how do you join the local church? Every local church has its own manmade, and just because it’s manmade doesn’t make it wrong necessarily, but they have their own manmade path to joining. So the way it works at Sugar Land Bible Church is we simply ask you to fill out an application, which I think is one page or two pages; on that application we ask you a few things, what is your testimony and there we’re trying to figure out are you saved or not. If a person says well, I’m saved because I did 100,000 good works that would raise a question mark that the person is not saved so in our minds we don’t think they need to join the church at that point, they need to get saved, they need to hear the gospel and respond to it. So you’ll be asked about your testimony, you’ll be asked on there at some point what are you spiritual gifts, what do you think they are, because we, at Sugar Land Bible Church think that people become members, not to get, you get a lot, but also to give. That’s the New Testament model. God has given to each member of His church at least one spiritual gift, 1 Corinthians 12:7 indicates that through the use of the word “each.” [1 Corinthians 12:7, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”]
So we want to know where is your giftedness and we’re sort of trying to figure out where you could fit in with the body, which is just good knowledge for the elders to have. And we also ask you have you read our statements of faith; we have statements of faith that all members must comply with and then what we have are teaching positions. The statement of faith is basically the bare minimum requirement of what you have to believe to be a member. The position statements reveal to you the angle that the church will teach from, from the pulpit and all its Sunday School classes and all of its small groups. So the position statements get more specific.
For example, we believe in pretribulational, premillennial dispensationalism. You say what in the world is that? Well you don’t need to know what that is right now, I’ll explain that to you as you become more and more familiar with our teaching ministries. Now does that mean that every person who joins that church has to believe that? A lot of people don’t even know what that means, so it would be sort of unrealistic to force people to believe in that when the function of the church is to bring the saints to maturity. So you can have question marks in your mind about our position statements and as long as you agree with the statements of faith, which is the lower threshold requirement, then you can become a member of Sugar Land Bible Church.
So then what happens is, after you fill out the application you’re interviewed by two elders and again the emphasis is are you saved, have you read our teaching positions and statements of faith because we don’t want people to come in here to build a parallel society. We see that in the immigration debate, don’t we. There are people that want to come into the United States, they don’t want to adhere to the values of what the United States is about because they want to change the United States from within. And people do that theologically all the time. People come in with their own ideas and their own doctrines and they kind of see a church like this as a way to promote or propagate those doctrines. So that’s basically why we’re trying to figure out do you basically agree, at least with our statements of faith, and do you also understand that when the church teaches it will teach from the angle of our position statements. So that’s part of the process, well, are you saved, we sometimes ask have you been baptized, because we do baptize people in water, only God can baptize people in the Spirit, Amen.
So we’re trying to figure out are you saved, do you need to be baptized, do you agree with the angle that this church is coming from in terms of its doctrinal statement and then part of it is are you going to submit to the authority of the elders. The elders here, and I’m one of them, are not perfect people. God doesn’t use perfect people because there aren’t any perfect people. So we’re going to make some mistakes along the way, we’re going to goof up, hopefully those goofs will be minimized. But there are a lot of people that simply do not, particularly in the society that we’re living in, which is very anti-authoritarian, they don’t want to be under anybody’s authority. The problem is the Book of Hebrews, chapter 13 and verse 17, to the sheep, says what? “Obey your leaders and submit to them for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief for this would be unprofitable to you.”
So if you join Sugar Land Bible Church are you going to submit to the authority of the leaders or are you going to sort of come in in with an anti-authoritarian mindset. And lately what we’ve decided to do, this policy is I don’t think retroactive but pretty much from this point on what we’re trying to do is look, you need to be here for at least six months because only after about six months understanding where this church is coming from, sitting under the sermons, can you in your mind make an educated view, are you going to submit to the authority of this church. A lot of people just want to come in and join just like that. And we’ve discovered that the people that are fastest in are usually the fastest out the door because it’s like a fast marriage, you haven’t had a chance to even get to know each other. So we’ve extended that to at least six months.
What I’m trying to get at … well, let me continue with the process. You fill out the application, you meet with the two elders, the two elders will then go to the elder board and say so and so has applied for membership, we as the two elders that did the interviewing think that such and such a person would fit and be a good member. And so we, as the elder board, take a vote, up or down, whether to admit such a person. There’s not too many people that I can think of that we turn down. The only people that we would turn down would be unsaved people or people that have sort of a rebellious attitude towards leadership and towards our doctrinal statement.
So then once the elders vote and say such and such can be a member then in the congregation, the next meeting (this is all spelled out in our Constitution if you take time to read it) in the very next meeting the person that has gone through the process is announced that they are now formally a member of Sugar Land Bible Church.
So what’s my point? My point is to join a local church involves some manmade steps. Now we maybe do things a little bit different than the church around the corner or the church down the street. They may do things their own way but God has given liberty to each local church to establish their own unique requirements for membership. So becoming a member of a local church is contingent on manmade requirements; I’ve just sort of explained what our manmade requirements are.
But that is not how it works with God’s universal church. The only thing you have to believe in is Christ alone for salvation and then at that point you receive a gift of the Holy Spirit called baptism where He identifies you with Christ’s body. Denominations… you have denominations in the universal church. I mean, is Jesus a Baptist or a Methodist or a Presbyterian. The reality is God’s universal church has no denominational requirements. The local church, on the other hand, can that have denominational affiliations and requirements? Sure it can. But it really doesn’t matter where you go to church in terms of membership to be a member of God’s universal church. God’s universal church, I am convinced, is made up of Metha, Catha Bapterians, or Bapticostal Fundamatics, or whatever denomination people are in. God has got people saved that have been sealed by the Holy Spirit that are across the denominational spectrum. So the universal church has no denominational affiliation or requirement but the local church can.
Now at Sugar Land Bible Church we are basically an independent Bible church. What does that mean? It means we don’t have any denominational head over our church but if you were to join a Baptist Church, Presbyterian Church, many of those function differently where you’ve got several churches under some kind of denominational label. So I hope that helps a little bit. The distinction between the universal church and local church, the universal church is a very real thing. We know that because Christ was placed head over the church at His ascension, which occurred long, long before any local church came into existence.
So we believe there are local churches but we also believe in the universal church. The universal church is one, the local churches are many. As far as membership, everybody that’s a believer from the day of Pentecost to the rapture is part of the universal church; they are members of that church. But members of a local church depends on that local gathering. In the universal church the only people that get in are believers; but in a local church it’s possible, although we try to mitigate this, to have believers and unbelievers. It’s possible to have believers and unbelievers there. The universal church consists of the living and the what? The dead. The local church only living people are obviously there.
Can the universal church this side of eternity assemble at one time and place? It cannot. The first scene that happens is in Revelation 4 and Revelation 5. But it is possible, it’s not easy, but it is possible to have everybody at a local church assembled at one place. The universal church is invisible because we don’t know; only God knows who has the Spirit’s sealing, but a local church is very visible; you just look out and see who’s there, you look at a roster. Most of the New Testament material, is that aimed at the universal church or the local church? The local church. A very small minority of material is aimed at the universal church.
How do you become a member of the universal church? Faith alone in Christ alone. How do you become a member of a local church. You have to submit to certain manmade requirements. And finally, is the universal church denominational? It is not. But a local church can be affiliated with a particular denomination.
Anyway, I hope that adds some clarity to a subject that can be sort of confusing. Do you guys have any thoughts or questions. [someone says something] She’s asking what is the Biblical support for the doctrine of the second blessing? The biblical support comes from Acts 8 and Acts 19. In Acts 8 the Samaritans believed that they did not receive the Holy Spirit right away until the apostles from Jerusalem could come and lay hands on the Samaritans. And in fact when Simon, the Sorcerer, a man steeped in the occult, saw this he wanted that power. Remember that in Acts 8? Now what is going on in Acts 8? Acts 8 and the Book of Acts is a transitional book. There are things happening in the Book of Acts that are not normative today in the church. Paul very clearly explains what’s normative in Romans 8:9, he says if you don’t have the Spirit of Christ you don’t belong to who? Christ. [Romans 8:9, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”]
What’s normative is when you trust Christ, you receive the Holy Spirit immediately at the point of faith. So then why did God delay the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8? To understand that you have to understand the Jewish Samaritan conflict. The Jews hated the Samaritans, a half-breed race who set up their own rival system on Mt. Gerizim. And the Samaritans, the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews. In fact, you remember what the sons of thunder said when Jesus came to a Samaritan village and they did not respond to Christ’s message. They said Lord, shall we not call down fire from heaven and nuke these people? “nuke” is my translation, microwave them, whatever word you’re going to use.
Why would they say that? Because they hated the Samaritans and this is what blows everybody’s mind when Jesus is ministering to the woman at the well in Samaria…what are you talking to her for? We can talk on and on about the hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, and if the Holy Spirit had come immediately upon the Samaritan believers in the church age there would have been two churches right out of the gate. There would have been a Jewish church and there would have been a Samaritan church. Now what do we know about the church? There’s neither Jew nor slave nor free, we are all one in Christ. The Samaritan had to see that they now belong to Jerusalem and those in Jerusalem had to see, physically or tangibly that they now belong to Samaria because they are all one in Christ. So what is happening in Acts 8 is a transitional issue that is not normative today.
Now my professor, J. Dwight Pentecost wrote a little book on this just before he died, called Transitional Problems in the Book of Acts. And he surfaces a number of issues like this where things are happening in the Book of Acts that are not normative throughout the church age. So the Pentecostal movement takes their authority from the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts in the charismatic, Pentecostal movement is almost everything.
Here we look at the Book of Acts as a historical book where things were happening that may not be normative today. One of the things they were doing in the Book of Acts is they were selling their homes; I don’t see any of these rich prosperity preachers doing that so it’s sort of selective. So to establish something as normative in the church you cannot locate it only in the Book of Acts. You’ve got to find it also in the epistolary literature. So why do we practice communion? We’re getting ready to do that this morning. Because I can find it in Christ’s teaching in the Upper Room, I can find it in the Book of Acts and where else can I find it? In the epistles, 1 Corinthians 11, many other passages I could go to. And if you understand what I just said that distinction between the Pentecostal movement and our movement, we’re viewing the Bible differently in that sense. So I hope that helps. I’m way over time.
Father, we’re grateful for the doctrine of the church, I just ask that Your Spirit will be at work to make these things clear to us so that we don’t walk in confusion. And I just ask that You’ll bless the worship service that follows. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said…. Amen!