February 8, 2018 Chapel Service — Dr. Josh Buice
Posted On February 12, 2018
It is a joy and privilege to be with you on this occasion for the purpose of chapel here at the Reformation Bible College. I want to thank Dr. Nichols for the kind invitation and for most of that introduction. At least the part about the whole getting lost in Worms was not-it wasn’t quite as bad but it was certainly a good memory to say the least. We did have the privilege to see that statue in more detail in the night hours and look at all the details and so it was a wonderful opportunity to be there; to consider our place in church history.
If you would take your Bibles this morning and open with me to Ephesians 4. And as we look to God’s word on this occasion, the purpose that I want to drive home in the next few minutes as we’re together in the word is to strengthen our understanding of the importance of the local church; the local church. Some of the most powerful words that Jesus ever said were these, “I will build my church and the gates of hell,” the authority of hell itself, “shall not prevail against it.” And, as we turn to the letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul writes under Holy Spirit inspiration in chapter 4. And I want to read verses 1 through 16. Hear now the word of the living God.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
May God add blessing to the reading of His word.
As we look to God’s word and consider again the local church, I want to encourage you to think about life in general in your place in church history. You see, many people set out on a goal, they have different goals and different places in life and they want to strive to attain these goals. Many people like to think about goals in the sense of physical goals. One of the most physically challenging goals that there are, you might say, on planet earth is the goal, or the ambition at least, to try to make it to the summit of Mt. Everest. Mt. Everest is the highest mountain peak on planet earth; extending 8,840 meters. That’s 29,020 feet above sea level. The cost just to make it to the top involves quite an undertaking. Again, you have a team of people to help you make the trek, but many believe an estimated cost upwards of $25,000 per person to make it to the very top and stand on the top of the world. Again, the mountain peak itself is there in a very strategic location between different countries. And, it’s extremely difficult to make it to the top in certain seasons so it takes, it takes a team effort to make it possible. As you reach the 26,000 foot marker that’s the place where you call base camp and then to go above that you have this area known as the Death Zone because it’s very low oxygen for the next 3,000 feet and it’s extremely dangerous, extremely difficult; you have to be really skilled to make it to this very level. And so, as a result, in recorded history from 1921 into our present day, there’s only been about 8,000 people that have been able to make it to that very spot. But 8,000 people in all these years of recorded history have made it to the top of the world, but get this; not one of them made it alone. Not one of them made it alone. No one ever woke up and just put on their little backpack and a nice pair of hiking boots and decided that they were just going to make it to the top of Mt. Everest. It was a team effort. And, as we read this passage here that was written under Holy Spirit inspiration by the Apostle Paul to a church that he loved and that he labored for their joy in Ephesus, he was writing to encourage them. To help drive home this very point, that God never intends for us to make it to glory on our own. From the very beginning the faith, the faith, the once delivered to the saints is indeed something that-is not something that we do on our own. It’s not a lonely path, it’s not a lonely journey. In other words, God’s will for your life is the local church. God’s will for all of us in the faith is the local, tangible, visible, New Testament church. God never saved anyone and purposed to send them out on a Lone Ranger journey, so-to-speak.
So what’s the background to this text? Well, very quickly, the author we know to be the Apostle Paul. It was written somewhere about AD 61 to 62 and he’s writing from a Roman prison to this church that he loved. The audience, again, was the Ephesian church. He did not write the letter to the city of Ephesus, he wrote the letter to the church that was in the city of Ephesus. Again, this particular-this particular city was often known as the gateway to Asia. It was there at the intersection of some very important Roman roads. And again, this particular area, again, was known as the vanity fair of the ancient world, and why do you say? Well, the reason was because it was known for its trade. It was known for its athletics. Ephesus was a very urbane city. It was known for its worship. Again, you have the very famous temple of Artemis, this multi-breasted goddess where there was all types of vile idolatry and temple prostitution. The trade surrounding the city was very much engaged and focused on the very idols that were pointing to the multi-breasted goddess that was in that very temple. And so it was that in God’s providential plan, He placed a church in this very wicked city. If you ever think that we look at Las Vegas as a city of sin, Las Vegas has nothing in comparison to the ancient Ephesus.
And yet, there was a church there. And, there was a church there that God loved. And, a church there that the Apostle Paul loved. A church that he labored for the joy of these people. And so as we consider these very words, we need to think about why it is that the apostle Paul wrote this very letter and wrote this very section in this letter; Chapter 4 to this church. Again, the definition of the church, ecclesia, called out, called out from. And, all through the word of God we have this word, this word ecclesia, this word that means, or that we know as church in the English. Called out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Called out of paganism, called out of idolatry. And yet, we see that there are different terms that are used for this called out assembly. Different metaphors that are used in the Bible. For instance, we see the church in 1 Timothy as pictured as a family. We see that, again in 1 Corinthians, we see the letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul, he pictured, again, the church as a body. In this very letter to the church at Ephesus, in this very section that we’ve just read, four times he references church with the imagery of the body. The body so as to think of a human body; to think about all of the body parts. Many different parts, diverse in nature making up one body. And again, we know this as the body of Christ.
Again we see the church is sometimes referred to as an assembly; in Hebrews Chapter 10 verse 25. We see in 1 Peter the church is referenced as a flock. And, in 1 Corinthians, once again, the Apostle Paul references the church as a building. Dr. R.C. Sproul has rightly stated the following, quote: “The church in the New Testament is made up of those who are called out form the world, from darkness, from damnation, from paganism to become members of the body of Christ.” Notice how D.R. Sproul employed the language there-The body of Christ. But, unfortunately today, the church has been repackaged into a self help center, if you will. A spiritual shopping mall, a social networking opportunity for business owners to gather and expand their business horizons, psychological treatment centers, and entertainment stages, and so on and so forth. Almost anything that you can imagine today in evangelical Christianity, you can find in what is called, at least, a local church.
The context here, once again, we see, in verses 1 through 6 we see the Apostle Paul is laboring, he’s driving towards unity. He is understanding the importance of the local body, the local church being unified together and so he’s driving at those very words. He, speaks about maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There’s one body, one spirit and he labors this emphasis of unity. But in verses 7 down to verse 16 we find, again, references to the gifts of the church and the purpose of the church. And so for the next few minutes I want to engage in this text and drive home this emphatic point that the church of Jesus Christ, the local church is not plan b for your life. It is not plan c. It is not plan d. It has always been plan a and it will always be plan a. The local church is God’s will for your life.
The gifts of God’s church are referenced in verses 7 through 10 and 11. But, if you notice again he speaks in verse 7, he says, “but grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Again, he’s speaking here of the fact that all in God’s church have been the recipients of grace. It is a gift of God not of works so that no one can boast. But we also see he’s speaking of the diversity of all of the gifts. All of God’s children have been given gifts to use in the context of a local church according to the measure of Christ’s gift, you see at the end of verse 7. And then again, we see he goes on in quotes. Therefore, it says, “when he ascended on high He led a host of captives and He gave gifts to men.” Again, he’s quoting here from the Old Testament pointing to the fact that God is the one who is the giver of the gifts. Specifically here in this context he’s pointing to the fact that Jesus has gifted His church. And again, Paul is bringing the local church together, Jew and Gentile together, bond and free together, male and female together, rich and poor together. This idea of being many different body parts making up one body; there’s this togetherness he’s driving towards. But he speaks about the gifts. And, in verse 7 we see that he references Christ’s gift. Verse 8 he speaks again quoting from Psalm 68, he references the fact that God is the giver of all of the gifts to men. Verse 10, “that he might fill all things.” Verse 11, “he gave.” So you see, the emphasis is pointing us back to the giver Himself who is Jesus Christ. And so, the point that Paul continues to drive home is that every single body part matters. And, I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that God has saved you and called you out of darkness and called you to be apart of His global church, the universal church.
But, let me ask you a question. How does that global universal church, how does it make itself visible. And, it makes itself visible in local, tangible, visible, New Testament churches. God has saved you and called you to not be just a Lone Ranger Christian on the journey of faith headed to the Celestial City all by yourself. He has called you to identify, publicly identify (through how?), through the ordinary means of grace in the context of a local gathering, a local assembly. And so, we do that through baptism. We do that through the Lord’s Supper. We do that by being under authority. We do that in various different ways in the context of a church. But, we have people today that want to have this attitude, “well I can be a Christian, I can worship God at Starbucks. I have my my iPhone and I have YouTube and I have some really good Bible teachers there. Pastor Josh, don’t you know about Ligonier and all of the media technology that’s right at our fingertips? Why do I need a local church?” When was the last time you’ve seen someone baptized in Starbucks? When was the last time you’ve seen the Lord’s Supper served at a coffee house? When was the last time that you’ve seen anyone excommunicated from Starbucks except for the time that the guy walked in with a Dunkin Donuts empty coffee cup? When was the last time that you’ve seen anyone there preaching a sermon there in Starbucks? Every body part matters in the local church is more than an iPhone or a small gathering at a coffee house. Every body part matters.
My wife has been sick for the past 90 days. She has ran a perpetual fever for 90 days. They can’t find out what’s causing the fever. She has some underlying infection in her body. We’re now at a point where we’ve gone through so many different blood tests that we’re with an infectious disease doctor there in the Atlanta area where we’re trying to pinpoint the exact cause. The fever ranges from about 99.5 to 101 and over these 90 days there have been about 4 different spikes up to 101 or 102 and when it gets to that level it feels like she has the flu. Just a small fever makes the entire body feel as if it’s sick. The energy level is depleted. And, the point I’m driving home is that just something small, some area in her body that they’ve yet to determine the cause of the infection is sick in her body and its affecting the whole body. Every body part matters. When you neglect the local church, you neglect yourself and you hurt that local congregation that you’ve identified with.
Donald Whitney has rightly stated the following, quote, he says, “as wonderful and sophisticated as the heart is it, it was never made to be just a heart but a part of the body. It has no value to the body outside the body and the heart itself can’t thrive outside the body. As incredible and wonderful as you are, Christian,” he says, “you were never made just to be an individual Christian but a part of the body. As every organ and every cell is God created to be an active member of the human body so every true Christian is God created to be an active member of a local body of Christ. The heart can’t function without the body. The body can’t function without the heart. Every body part matters and that’s what he’s driving at in this very section when he speaks about the diversity of the gifts, that God has given gifts to all according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
A few weeks ago during the Christmas season I was on the sofa late in the evening with my youngest son, who’s four years of age, and we were there on the sofa and I put on the Chromecast on our television screen an old rerun of the Lone Ranger. Now I know that that is greatly outdated and many of you in this room have absolutely no clue as to what I’m talking about. But, it’s an old black and white western styled film that was popular years ago. And, I wanted to show my son this particular, just a clip of it at least, and so at four years of age he’s seated there and when the Lone Ranger came riding on his white horse and his cowboy hat and this little black mask over his eyes, my son Judson pointed at the screen and said, “Batman on horse! Batman on horse!” And, I had to explain to him, “no son this is not like the old fashioned Batman that was like a cowboy Batman or something of that nature. No, this particular guy is different.” And then I went on to explain to my other children, I went on to explain to them who the Lone Ranger was and the whole makeup of the story. And, how we come to this very phrase, “The Lone Ranger.” You see, the point is, is that we’re not saved and called out of darkness and paganism to be a Lone Ranger Christian just sort of going about life on our own. Isolation is a dangerous and sinful thing. Isolation creates distance from the church body. Isolation kills community. Isolation makes a person or a family vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Isolation can cause a person to make improper decisions. Isolation from the church opens up the mind for influence from the world, the flesh and the devil. Isolation can lead a person to depression. Isolation prevents ministry from taking place in various other things such as worship. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 10:23-25 said, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful. And, let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” When you neglect the church, you hurt the church. When you neglect the church, you hurt yourself. You hurt yourself.
So, if you find yourself more excited about giving your passions, your desires, your interests, giftedness, your intellect to some other group or organization, or perhaps, some business venture but you find very little passion in giving yourself wholly to God in the context of a local church; for His glory. Then friend I question the sincerity of your faith. Could it be that that describes you and could it be that you find yourself in the context of a wonderful college, Reformation Bible College, under really capable professors on the campus of Ligonier Ministries and in this very Chapel but yet you yourself you’re unconverted? Could it be? The local church is not plan b.
He speaks in verse 11, he speaks about the diversity of the church leaders that he equips. Again he speaks about giving apostles and prophets and evangelists the shepherds and teachers. Again, apostles and prophets, those original gifts that were given to the church in the very beginning stages of the berth and the outgrowth of the church, you see. But, no longer given because we have the completed canon before us today. But, there are gifts here that are still applicable and still very much given to the church in our present culture. We see the gift of the evangelist and we see the gift of the shepherd teacher, the pastor teacher. And, what is, again, this purpose? Again, this purpose is for the preaching and the teaching of the word of God. It was Martyn Lloyd Jones that once said, “any true definition of preaching must say that that man is there to deliver the message of God, a message from God to those people.” So, the role of the pastor teacher, his job is not to be an entertainer. He’s not to engage in just personal advancement, he’s not there to just be talking head on the Lord’s day and he’s certainly not there to just be a comedian. He is there to deliver the message of God to God’s people.
We see the giftedness that God gifts His church. But then, again, we see the purpose of this, the purpose of the local church is found in verses 12-16. He gifts the church with the evangelists, with the shepherds and the teachers, to what? To equip the saints for the work of ministry. One of the most damaging ideas that has perpetuated its way into our own church context, if we’re honest today, is that the role of the pastor, the role of the professionals, the paid staff in the church; they are the ones that are supposed to be doing ministry. That’s not what the Bible teaches. You see, the purpose of the church is for those gifts to be poured out in the life of the church so that the people, the individuals, so that you and so that I, so that we would be equipped. So that we would be equipped to carry out ministry.
This past week, I was with a young man at Starbucks for coffee. We had connected at the G3 conference and he wanted to get coffee with me and we met for two hours. And, here’s what he’s telling me, he said, “I was sent out from my church years ago. I went to Ireland and I served on the mission field for a couple of years and when I came back as a result of my theological advancement and growth theologically, my positions are now far different than they once were from the sending church where I was once a member.” And, so I said, “well then tell me about the church that you’re currently in.” And, as he lives in the very center of Atlanta Georgia, a major city in America he says, “for the past two years I haven’t been attending church.” He said, “I can’t find the right church and I feel like I just needed to take this season off.” And, as I sat there with my coffee in front of me, he went on to describe his current situation. He’s been battling severe anxiety over his soul. He’s been struggling with the legitimacy of his faith. He’s been struggling with his own calling and his giftedness. And, then he asked me what I thought about that. And, I said, “well, I have no ability whatsoever to speak into your life and tell you what my honest opinion is because I’m not your elder and I have no authority over you and I certainly have not seen you in the context of a local church. But here’s what I think. I think that if you are indeed a believer then the condition that you find yourself in is very normal. Because, it’s in the context of a local church that we find accountability that keeps us from sin. It’s in the very context of a local church that you find authority, elders exercising authority to shepherd the souls of people. It’s in the very context of a local church that you find that there’s affirmation of calling and giftedness and the reason that you have these doubts and struggles is because you’ve been, for a season, without a local church and you need to find yourself a local church.”
That very day I went back to my desk and I received an email from someone in South Africa who read an article that I had published. And, his message to me was this: “an excellent article, sobering assessment of the present bride sadly.” Where is your church? I’m not attending church because there is no, quote: ‘river flowing,’” signed Kevin, from South Africa.
Some people are holding on to this idea that joining a local church is something that they need to hold off on until they find the best one or the perfect one; and it’s damaging. But, on another note, you have people that actually are in a local church, but they’re not engaged. They’re not engaged in the singing. They’re not engaged in the preaching. They’re not engaged in the service. They’re more like spectators. And, we love to be spectators in America so this is a very common thing. We have major stadiums, in Atlanta we built two new stadiums and neither team won the Super Bowl or the World Series but we have some really nice stadiums and domes. You see, a lot of people like to watch the preaching, and watch the singing, and watch attending, and watch the giving, and watch the going, and watch the sending, and watch the learning. But, Jesus did not save us and He did not bring us into the life of the local church to engage in what’s called ecclesiastical spectatorship. He called us into church membership. The work of the ministry. And, there are many different organizations we could give ourselves to. There’s many different clubs that we could join in America. We have the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, the Kidney Foundation, if you live long enough you can join the AARP. The NRA, the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Ronald McDonald Foundation. We have the National Military Family Association, the Special Olympics, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, we have the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, we have chess clubs, bowling clubs, we have dancing clubs, running clubs, bird watching clubs, yacht clubs, horse riding clubs, dog training clubs, and every other club that you can possibly imagine.
Meanwhile, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in local, tangible, visible locations is there vacant. In need of help, in need of service, in need of volunteers, in need of people who take the faith seriously. And then, within the evangelical culture we have this thing called para-church ministry. Parachurch, “para” come along side the church but, often it is, that the parachurch ministries become so strong and so robust and so healthy that there are limping, weak local churches. Where you have young impressionable believers who are there and they say, “well if I really want to spin my passions for the glory of Christ then I must leave the context of my local church and go and invest in a parachurch ministry.” Now I know the context in where I stand today. I understand that Ligonier Ministries is a very robust, healthy, I believe to be one of the best parachurch ministries on planet earth. But, Ligonier Ministries can not be your local church. Over 91,000 parachurch ministries in America. Revenue exceeding over 2 billion dollars per year and assets over 4 billion dollars per year. And yet, there’s many people that are engaging in ecclesiastical spectatorship rather than church membership. They’re engaging in parachurch ministries and neglecting the local church ministry. And so, we must go beyond.
Again you see here, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ. For the building up of the body of Christ. And then again, you’ll notice here, the calling. The calling to be unified in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, verses 13 down through verse 16. Unified in the faith. Again notice, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.”Again the unity of the speaks about what we know to be the faith. The content of the Doctrine, the content of Christianity. And, make no mistake about it, doctrine matters. I want to encourage you to think like this just for a moment quickly, is that you can’t just give yourself to the knowledge of God in the context of a Reformation Bible College and then not think that you can give yourself to the knowledge of God in local church ministry for the rest of your life. Don’t be a snobbish Christian thinking that you have a degree from a very wonderful college one day but you can’t learn anything from a 90 year old farmer who has no degree whatsoever. Put yourself in that context. Again, to the knowledge of the Son of God, this is experiential knowledge, experiential knowledge. Again, it was James Montgomery Boice years ago who looked at the Evangelical culture of his day and said that, “we are living in mindless times and so we need to give ourselves to the mind and worship God with our minds and to serve Him faithfully.”
But, then we see this idea of maturity. In 13 through 16 we see this idea of spiritual maturity and I’ll move very quickly at this point but it states that, again, this is the building up to mature manhood. “To the measure of the fullness or to the stature of the fullness of Christ. So that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the ways and carried about by every wind of doctrine.”
Five years ago we planted a church in Ecuador. I was there with a team of four of us on the exploratory trip. We had connections with a Quichua Indian who was going to be serving as the pastor of the church that we were planting there in the Andes mountains. Within four years, one of those team members that was with us on that very journey, as he saw me stand and preach at a soccer complex at the very beginning of what we were hoping to be the planting of this church. The Roman Catholics gathered on the other side of the road and they shot their bottle rockets across the road at us in protest. He saw this, he stood and embraced justification by faith alone in Christ alone for the remission of sins. He stood shoulder to shoulder with us. Within four years he had completely abandoned Christianity and embraced the doctrines of Rome. Don’t think that you’re beyond a fall, to be swept away by every wind of doctrine by human cunning and craftiness and deceitful schemes. Don’t be so prideful to think that you could not fall. And, he stresses this idea of maturity.
One of the most difficult things in our present culture is this idea of perpetual adolescents in the faith. This lack of growth. This lack of pursuing God. May it not be said of you that that would be where you are in 30 years. And, you say, “yeah yeah I know Jesus. Yeah yeah I’m a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus.” Tell me about your sanctification. Tell me about your pursuit of holiness. And yet you’re still a babe in Christ thirty years later. Talk to pastors, they will tell you. Talk to your pastor. Talk to your elders, they will tell you story after story of people who claim to be walking with God for forty or fifty years but they are spiritual babes. Don’t be that type of individual. But rather, verse 15, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up (grow up) in every way unto him who is the head and to Christ from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped; when each part is working properly makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Many of the people who have made it to the top of Mt. Everest, they certainly did not go alone. It took a team effort. When you see Christian on His journey to the celestial city in Pilgrim’s Progress you see John Bunyan making it very clear that he’s not going on his own. Yet, the people who have stood at the summit of the top of the world, they have seen on their journey, in the death zone off the steep peaks they can see: cell phones, helmets, ice picks, garments, and buried in the ice beneath are bodies of people who never made it. They are the stats of the nearly 300 in recorded history who never made it to the top and never made it home. And, I’m standing here today to challenge you that in the journey you would give yourself fully to God in the context of a local church knowing that it’s God’s will for your life and that you would not be one of those stats. That you would not be one of those falling stars. That you would not be one of those individuals there on the side of the mountain side when people are sitting in your very seat years down the road and they pass by and hear about: your story, your fall, how you capitulated, how you were swept away by some wind of doctrine. So therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor in the context of a local, tangible, visible New Testament church is not in vain in Christ Jesus.
Transcripts are lightly edited.