This is the first in a series of blog articles from Pastor Cade titled “Essentials of Ecclesiology,” which will examine crucial issues and practices for the life of the local church.
The first non-negotiable, absolutely essential, fundamentally necessary truth for the local church is the primacy of the Bible for the community of believers. The Bible, the living Word of God gives life to the church, the church does not give it life. The Bible creates the church, the church does not create the Bible. The Bible does not receive its authority from the church, instead the church lives under the authority of the Bible.
The Bible, and the pulpit from which it is proclaimed and taught, is the earthly throne from which God rules his people.
Everything we say, do, and believe is to flow from the truth of Scripture. In all things we are to be wholly devoted to what God is saying to his people through its pages. The Bible sets the agenda for our mission and ministry. The Bible establishes the parameters and the directions of our mission. The Bible exercises absolute authority over all things in the life of the local church. Where this truth is upended or ignored, chaos, confusion, and ultimately catastrophe lies waiting.
The Jews of Berea, spoken of in Acts 17:10-15, still remain an example for our life in this regard. Paul and Silas had been evicted from Thessalonica by an angry mob, and so continuing their mission they journeyed to the next town, Berea. As always, they gathered with the local Jewish community at their synagogue for worship on the Sabbath, and as a visiting rabbi Paul was given the opportunity to teach. So Paul proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ.
And notice how the Bereans responded:
1. “They received the word with all eagerness.” (v. 11)
2. “…examining the Scriptures daily…” (v. 11)
3. “…Many of them therefore believed.” (v. 12)
Notice how the Bereans responded to the Bible at the birth of the local church in their city:
First, they received the word eagerly. The Bible (at the time for them, The Old Testament) was not a burden. It was not an inconvenience. It was not just one portion or aspect of their worship time together; it was the defining heart of their worship together! They were eager, longing, desirous to hear the Bible. They wanted it taught and explained and proclaimed. They gathered together to hear Paul not just because they were longing for relationships in community, or enjoyed really cool programs, or thought the song styles and service ambiance was to their liking. They gathered together because they wanted the Bible! They wanted to know it. They wanted to understand it. They wanted to live in the light of it.
Second, they examined the Scriptures daily. The Bible was not regulated to being opened for only one hour a week. Not only was the Bible the heart of their corporate worship, but it was the essential lifeblood of their life throughout the week. They understood the truth that Jesus had quoted to Satan in the dusty desert east of the Jordan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Far more than hungering for their daily bread, the Bereans knew that true nourishment existed only by digesting the Bible daily.
And third, they therefore believed. Notice the progression and the wording here. It does not merely say that “many of them believed.” That is true, and that in itself is a glorious truth. But don’t ignore the connections that the words are bound together with. It says, “many of them thereforebelieved.” The Bible, the Word of God, proclaimed and studied was powerful to open blind eyes and transform those who encountered it. The Bible is not a dead and dust-soaked book. It is living. As Spurgeon said, it is a living lion that’s on the loose. Many believed in response and as a result to being eager for the Word and diligent in reading and studying the Word. The Word of God spoke life into a vast void of nothingness at the creation, and in Berea it spoke life into the vast void of nothing and created a community of believers, a local church, living and breathing under the life-giving authority of the Scriptures.
The reading, preaching, teaching, and studying of the Bible is the heart and soul of everything we are and hope to be. Everything else that we do flows out of this passion to obey the Bible, know the Bible, and believe the Bible. Why do we feed the hungry? Because the Bible tells us to. Why do we gather weekly for corporate worship? Because the Bible tells us to. Why do we preach the gospel? Because the Bible tells us to. Why do we disciple believers? Because the Bible tells us to.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, takes the place of or precedence over the Bible for the life of the church. At First Baptist we begin our Sunday morning worship gatherings with a public reading from the Bible. Why do we do that? Is it just a tradition? Is it just a way to get people to quiet down so the worship service can start? No. It is not merely the means by which our service starts, it is the first and agenda-forming act for our worship service. We begin by hearing the Bible read and placing ourselves under its authority. Everything we do flows from that.
Let me be very clear, where the Bible is not preeminent, worship is not practiced.
No matter how entertaining or engaging the service may be, no matter how moving or impactful the music may be, no matter how gifted the musicians may be, no matter how engaging the “preacher” may be, no matter how welcoming the congregation may be, where the Bible is not joyfully proclaimed and taught, believers are not worshipping. Literally everything we do in a corporate service is under the authority of God’s Word.
Why do we pray in our services? The Bible tells us to. (1 Timothy 2:1)
Why do we sing in our services? The Bible tells us to. (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16)
Why do we give offerings of money for the work of the ministry? The Bible tells us to. (1 Corinthians 16:2)
Why do we preach and teach? The Bible tells us to. (1 Timothy 4:13)
What do all of these regular and regulative components of an ordinary service have in common? They all exist under the authority of and in obedience to the Bible.
I can remember singing as a child the old hymn, “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.” It was usually one of the songs that was a part of the ongoing cycle of invitation times at the end of the service. We would stand and sing and respond to the preaching of the Word by singing those words, “Wherever he leads I’ll go, Wherever he leads I’ll go, I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever he leads I’ll go.” The point is this. However loudly we might sing those words, a church that is not committed first and foremost to treasuring, hearing, teaching, proclaiming, and obeying the Bible is not willing to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus leads his church through the power and authority of his word. It tells us where to go, and if we are ever to be faithful to him, we must live and follow obediently in response to it.