The Church - One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic by Richard D. Phillips, Philip G. Ryken, and Mark E. Dever was a great read. The book itself was derived from sermons given at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology, in April 2003. It is based on the 4 adjectives used to describe the church in the Nicene Creed (AD 381). It is a short book (145) but very enjoyabel and encouraging to read if you see a future in the church. This blog is really long so if you are not up to reading it, at least read the quote at the end.
Richard D. Phillips starts of the book with an explanation of Matt. 16:13-20. His overall thrust is that Christ is going to build His church on the profession of the word concerning Himself (Gospel), and no matter what the gates of hell will not prevail against her. The word concerning Christ is explained to be found in the word of God alone, based on the apostolic description of who Christ is and the message concerning Him. Then Richard does a wonderful job esplaining that the church will sometimes be defensive it it's efforts to keep the gates of hell from prevailing against it; but at other times, the church will be offensive in their efforts to keep the gates of hell from prevailing (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
Chapter 2, "One Church" by Richard D. Phillips, was extremely encouraging. It was an appeal to the realization that the Church is ONE (Eph. 4:1-6). We are unified in Christ to the fullest extent that we could ever realize; we are ONE. Whether you are a methodist, baptist, any denomination; if you stand firmly upon the Christ we know from the scriptures and believe in His work, than you are a member of the one true church. In doing this, he shows that denominations are not such a bad thing; in fact, they are a good thing. Denominations don't compromise the unity of the church because the church is one. Rather, denominations allow people to stand firm in their doctrinal beliefs, worshiping with likeminded brethren, without the constant arguments about non-salvific doctrinal viewpoints. Throughout the chapter Phillips described the boundaries that we must set in order to discern Christian unity. The gospel is the key here. You must maintain an orthodox view of the gospel if you want to be in the one true Church. Any other docrine that is disagreed upon is not one to break unity. Denominations do good things to define who people are in the one true church.
Chapter 3, "A Holy Church" by Philip G. Ryken, was an insightful look at the righteousness of Christ credited to the Church as a whole. She is Holy in the sight of God because He views her through the lens of Christ. BUT, if you look around at the church today, you don't see a holy church. This is another example of the already, not yet tension that is evident elswhere in the Word of God. Ryken takes a good look at 1 Cor. 6:11 "washed, sanctified, justified." As a church we were one thing and now we are another. The emphasis was on the fact that this holiness comes by faith through grace, right now it is a process, but in the future we will be glorified with Christ. This left me with hope. As a preacher in the make, I know I will need to think on this often as I try to shepherd a flock of God toward pastures of holiness.
Chapter 4, "A Catholic Church" by Mark. E. Dever, introduced the most thought provoking information in the entire book (Gal.3:26-29) This use of the word "catholic" has to denominational strings attatched to it. In the context of the Nicene Creed the word "Catholic" meant whole, entire, complete, general, universal. So the church's catholicity means that the church is not confined to any one place, time or people. Dever does a great job giving the historical background of the word "catholic." Historically the term "catholic church" developed a grew to mean several things. The "Catholic Church" originally meant that it extends to every land and people regardless of class or race. It then developed to mean what we would call "orthodox" today. It was a term used for exclusion and definition of the true church; like "evangelical" and "cult" today. Ultimately it means that the church extends through all time to all people who stand upon the true Christ of the scriptures.
With an exegetical look at Gal. 3:26-29, Dever shows that the Catholicity of the church helps us combat 4 things. 1) Contra Provincialism (narrow mindedness). This is referring to the phrase you hear so often, "but we've always done it that way." Maybe so, but that doesn't mean that we must do it that way or that your way is the most biblical. We must have a comprehensive view of the church throughout all time to examine how we are to conduct ourselves in the present age. 2) Contra Sectarianism - denominations and distinctives should never become ultimate. 3) Contra Racism - every person regardless of race or heritage is welcome to the church. 4) Contra Churches becoming Parachurches - This argues against churches becoming consumed with one focus group (college kids, elderly, widows or orphans), and calls for a balanced approach to ministry, evengelizing all people regardless of distinctions.
"The Church's catholicity is rooted in and bounded by the gospel's catholicity. Anytime, anywhere, anyone can be forgiven his or her sins by faith alone in the one and only Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the true catholic doctrine of the true catholic church(pg. 92)."
Chapter 5, "An Apostolic Church" by Philip G. Ryken, was an appeal to the five sola's of the reformation. He defended all five sola's from the apostolic teaching arguing that this is what the apostles taught and that we should continue to teach them today. The apostolic teachings of the church can be summed by saying that the church comes into existence by grace through faith in Christ alone, understood from the scriptures alone, for the glory of God alone. Ryken also showed that the apostolic teachings are the foundation for the church today. But Christ is the conerstone; even more important than the foundation because it keeps the foundation square. So the apostles were commisioned by Christ, Christ sent His Helper (Holy Spirit) to lead the Apostles into all truth, which the Church is built upon.
Chapter 6, "Christ and His Church" by Richard D. Phillips. Ahhhh, this was a good chapter. An exegetical look at Eph. 1:20-23 that gives great hope and satisfaction. First, with a view to Christ's exaltion to the right hand of God which displays God's satisfaction with Christ's work; we know that Christ is exalted in dignity and dominion. He reigns at His Father's right hand, far above all rule and authority. Secondly, Christ is exalted for the church, His body. Christ, who rules at the Father's right hand, does not rule over us, but in us. And Christ who is greatly exalted is given to us as a gift. And what a gift that is!!! Third, the Church as the fullness of Christ. " There cannot be a Redeemer without a redeemed, a Shepherd without sheep, a Bridegroom without a bride, a living Head without a body. He is her fullness as the Lord of life and grace; she is His fullness since by means of the glory He has put upon her He will hereafter be magnified (A.W. Pink, pg. 130)." Fourthly, God cares about the beauty of His bride, and will promote holiness in her and preserve her till the end.
This book offers a good foundation for understanding the Church, where she came from and where she is going. At first I was a bit worried that this book would focus on the creed more than the scriptures but I was wrong. Each chapter had an exegetical view of the Nicene creed as well as a historical view. This book is extremely balance and offers a wonderful explanation of the essentials for Christ's church.
I'll leave you with one loooong quote:
"There is therefore no greater privelege than membership in the church. There is no greater calling than the Christian's calling to offer his gift's and talents, time and money to the work of the church. A Christian who gives all his energy to his job, or uses his or her talents only for personal gain, or spends his money all on himself, neglecting the the work of the church, which will last forever, is simply a fool. Such a person does not recognize that the church is the body, the temple, the bride of Him who is exalted on high. In the end it is what Christ has done through the church that will matter most, will most shine in glory, and will have been most worth the offering of our lives. Therefore a Christian who is not involved in a church's ministry, who does not pray regularly for the work of the church, who is taking but never giving to the church, should seriously ask if he really understands what this life is all about, if she really sees this Christ who is exalted, and if so, what kind of response is appropriate to that faith. (Phillips, pg. 128-9)"