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“The Importance of Local Church Order”
by Ian Kurylyk   
March 21st, 2014

This is the first in a series on, "The Importance of Church Order." It was published in March Edition, but in error it was only partially given. Consequently we are reprinting it again in its entirety.

"For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ" (Colossians 2:5).

This verse in Paul's Epistle to the Colossians is an excellent introduction to a study in the order and ordinances of the local church;  Paul cites the "order" that is God's plan for the church, and considers it with reference to the underlying "faith" life of God's people.  This presents to us the balance and interrelationship of inward spiritual life and outward practical concerns of order.

There are those that try to champion one side without the other.  Some, claiming a concern for spiritual life, diminish the importance of what they call external or institutional concerns.  As a result they lapse into either worldliness or mysticism.  Others err on the opposite extreme of preaching only rules and  outward conformity - to the exclusion of spirituality or matters of heart.  This imbalance gives rise to dead orthodoxy, externalism, and often empire building.

Nevertheless, Biblical order in the local  church is essential for its spiritual health, testimony, and effectiveness of ministry.  Order is part of the individual life of holiness, and it is also key to corporate security and blessing in the church.  Before searching out the specifics and details of church order prescribed in the Word of God, it is a worthwhile exercise to pause and reflect on just how important these matters are.

The Visible Expression of A Spiritual Reality.

The local church is the present, visible expression and focal point of the work God is doing in this Age of Grace.  It has been well said, local churches are God's business.  A very quick survey of the New Testament will confirm this analysis and convince that God's program has changed from that found in the Old Testament to one in which we speak of the primacy of the local church.  This does not mean we fall into the grave errors built into some large religious systems that would claim for their church the power of salvation.  This is vested in Christ alone and appropriated by faith alone.

To sort out the confusion that exists, it is necessary to understand the two Biblical senses in which we speak of the church.  The concern of order and ordinances have to do with the local church, but there is a sense of the word church that applies to the new spiritual identity of a person immediately realized at the moment of salvation.  Some speak of this aspect as the "universal" church, some the "invisible" church.  Then there are some who preach against such terminology, fearful that the life of the local church will  in some  way be weakened.  Call it what you will, there is a spiritual prerogative, position, and privilege that is an accomplished fact for every born again New Testament believer in Jesus Christ (irrespective of his local church life).

These "invisible" new things of the spiritual life for a Christian, in fact, underly and give reality to participation in God's plan for the local church.  Without the spiritual changes brought about by personal salvation, activity in the local church is simply dead religion that brings no profit to the individual and is not recognized by God.  This is what we call nominal Christianity; Christian in name only.  "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Revelation 3:1c).

Further, local church life as laid out in the New Testament is designed by God specifically for the embodiment and expression of  the spiritual life imparted at salvation.  A Christian could not, for example, engage in the order and ordinances of the worship program of the Mosaic covenant in the Old

Testament and experience God's acceptance or blessing.  Only local church order is exactly matched to present spiritual realities for New Testament Christians.

Living without God's prescribed local church life robs the believer and disables him from realizing the fullness of God's plan for his redeemed people in the present age.  Wilful refusal of God's Biblical program is sowing disobedience and rebellion, and will reap accordingly.  In those situations where there is no real New Testament church to participate in, God must be appealed to for grace.  Many in prison have testified to the experience of true worship while cut off from the normal program of God.  Yet neglecting the provisions and benefits that accrue through local church Christianity is tempting the Lord thy God and pitching your tent toward Sodom.

The question of whether to go to church or not when the only available choice appears to be succumbing to error, disorder, or sin is not an easy one to answer.  Clearly, departure from the fundamentals of the faith brings about an organization that no longer answers to the Biblical definition of a church.  How can a true Christian stay in what has become the congregation of the wicked?  And it is no doubt true that there are other problems coming into the churches of these last days that are so grieving to the spirit that edification is impossible and the spiritual life is better as a result of separation than it could be by identifying with the disobedience.  Yet, every difficulty and problem in a church is not a reason to leave.  No churches are perfect, and no individual Christians are either.  The decision to leave a church should be carried out with much prayer, Biblical consideration, and the counsel of other faithful Christians.  Likewise for the decision to remain.  If one determines to stay in a troubled church, there should be no capitulation to errors or sins - no matter who else has given in to them - but rather testimony against them as led by God.  Faithfulness to the Word of God, not playing the game of church politics, leads to the experience of God's deliverance.

We can sum up this fact of spiritual reality and New Testament practice in a few words;  The normal situation for this age should be that one who is part of God's church (in that sense of the word that applies to the spiritual transaction at salvation) should also diligently apply himself to the practice and order of church life in the local sense of the word.

The Church Is the Body of Christ

The importance of the order and ordinances of the local church asserts itself also when we reflect on the fact that the Bible teaches us the church is the body of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a fundamental truth as to what constitutes and defines the church in God's plan of the ages.  Again, the significance of this starts with God's plan for the church as we consider it from the perspective of its spiritual position.

Receiving Christ as personal Saviour brings about a "package deal" of instantaneous operations of the Holy Spirit of God on the behalf of the new believer.  The spiritual transaction in particular that joins us to Jesus Christ, the risen spiritual head, is called Spirit baptism.  "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:13).  The inescapable conclusion of this verse is that every truly saved person has been formed into the body of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit of God.

It is just as evident that the Scriptures consider the local church also as the body of Christ, the present expression and visible embodiment of an invisible salvation reality .  The local church is the Lord's vessel for carrying out His will in the same sense that our physical bodies function as a group of

interconnected, harmonious members to accomplish the will of the head.  Seen in this light, all the New Testament instructions for the church are basic to our present calling as God's people.  That is to say, the body of Christ should look, act, and order itself like the pattern set forth in the apostolic pattern of the Bible.  What else could be the fulfilment of the will of the one who is the risen head of the church?

Of course a consideration as broad as the will of the Lord for His people today includes many elements of the Christian life beyond the scope suggested by a study of the "order and ordinances" of the local church.  And yet, while some downplay the importance of how a church is constituted and regulated, these things are matters of authoritative apostolic patterns to be obeyed.  Their significance reaches far as providing a framework structure that facilitates the complete program of New Testament obedience.  God knows what is best for His purpose, and for our good too.  The clear Bible teaching that Christ is the risen head and the church is His body is a compelling reason to see to it that we function in accordance with the patterns given in the Word.  A body that does not function according to the will of the head is suffering from some kind of disorder or disease.

Further, the rule of faith precludes us from inventing and substituting a program to fulfil our Christian calling  in some way different than the church revealed in the New Testament.  The situation is parallel to that of Israel's when God gave ordinances and order to them through Moses.  "Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:5).

We believe in the primacy of the church as God's simple program for the present age.  God warned the Corinthian church severely not to substitute any man-made innovation that takes the place of God's order.  "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are"  (I Corinthians 3:16-17).  Now this applies to any kind of defilement, no doubt.  But the context of the following verses warns that human ideas (perhaps meant for good) should be rejected and the pattern from God humbly adhered to for true purity of worship and service.  "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness" (I Corinthians 3:16-17).

Any departure in our thinking or practice from the plain New Testament pattern for local church primacy, authority, and function is detracting from the foundational principle of the headship and lordship of Jesus Christ.  It is perhaps anticipating a bit, but this means that even innovations such as denominational infrastructure, often erected to achieve seemingly worthwhile purposes, easily becomes a monster, empowering new authority instruments that take the place of the Lord and Saviour of the church.  The end result is apostasy.

The Local Church is God's House

Another consideration that helps us put our subject into perspective is a recognition that the church is also spoken of in the Scriptures as the ultimate scaffolding of truth.  The local church is a structure that gives testimony to and holds up a visible expression of the truth in this world.  "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).  In opposition to this is the world system that is Satan's framework for his lie.  God is building a house of truth and Satan is building a house of lies.  Each structure bears testimony of its architect and builder.

Who could fail to see the importance of close adherence to God's New Testament blueprint of order and ordinances in the great cause of holding up a testimony to the truth of the Gospel.  The local church is, in fact, God's great masterpiece of the New Testament as the Tabernacle served a similar function under the law.  Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the Truth incarnate.  The local church in its ministry, its new life in Christ, its doctrines, and its order displays His portrait for the benefit of God's people and for the needy world round about.

Use and Abuse

It's true that purpose of order in the church, when divorced from its underlying spiritual life, can be misunderstood so that it becomes a matter of self-congratulation while the heart is far from God and worship toward God is at low ebb or even non-existent.  The Pharisees are our warnings against this particular path of failure and apostasy.  In this kind of thinking a few selected teachings (Biblical or non-Biblical) are lifted up above all other matters of righteousness and cobbled together to form a new sect.  They become the passwords of orthodoxy and spirituality and the hobby horses of the pulpits.  At the same time many areas of truth and Biblical obedience are trampled under foot.  "But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone" (Luke 11:42).

Nevertheless, abuse of something is not a sound argument against its use or its necessity.  The orderly life and structure of the church is the occasion of privilege, blessing, stability, opportunity, and prosperity.  Order, like a hedge, limits Satan's access and brings preservation to God's flock.  Consider the practice of New Testament Baptism.  New believers are immediately confronted with the expectation of their Saviour to get started in a life of obedience, testimony, and discipleship.  Baptism does not contribute to one's justification, but those saved in a setting where it is neglected are "disadvantaged" and left to pick up important areas of Christian growth on their own without proper guidance by their elder brothers and sisters in Christ.

We conclude then that church order is not intended to be a fuel for pride, but it is to be highly regarded, maintained, and preserved like all areas of the faith.

All Christians should also understand that there is a standard from God, a blueprint given by inspiration to direct us to the will of God for our churches.  Church order is not a matter of denominational dogma, personal preference, or the leadership of influential human teachers.  It is a matter of faith.

It is a surprise to some that there is a detailed blueprint for God's house, addressing details that much of professing Christianity lives in ignorance of and in disobedience of.  The question is often asked as to why there are so many denominations and sects that call themselves Christian.  Part of the answer to this is the failure to give careful consideration to the one Bible standard.

Anyone can know what is right and practise it by God's help.  The terms for this are the same as in any area of Christian teaching - the willingness to obey the Bible.  "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17).  We need to study the Scriptures with an absolute determination to be through-and-through Biblicists and to have churches where the Lord's presence will not be hindered by matters of disorder or sin.

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