As I’ve been studying ecclesiology (the study of the church), especially the church meeting in Scripture, I’ve found that our understanding of the church touches – and often demonstrates – our understanding of other scriptural teachings (doctrine).
For example, our understanding of God as Father, Son, and Spirit will affect the way we think about the church. In other words, it is impossible to separate the various teachings of Scripture from one another.
In this post, I would like to consider the doctrine of justification and how it affects our understanding of the church and especially the church meeting.
The doctrine of justification is a way to express the scriptural teaching that some are made right (justified) with God. Here are a few passages that deal with this concept:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:21-25 ESV)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7 ESV)
Now, there is much talk in the church about justification. Who is justified? How are they justified? How are faith and works related in justification? And many other questions. But, in this post, I’d like us to consider the concept of justification and it’s relationship to the church.
Those who are justified – who are made right with God – are also filled with the Holy Spirit. They are recognized by God as part of his family… children of God and brothers and sisters of one another. Those who are justified gather together with others who are justified, not because they are ordered or commanded to do so, but because their recognize their dependence on God and their relationship to one another. Just as a physical family desires to be together, God’s family wants to gather together as well.
The church meeting then – by definition – is primarily for those who are justified, who are children of God. This does not mean that others are excluded from the church meeting, but that the church meeting is not specifically for them. The church meeting is for the church – for those who are God’s children, who are justified.
Similarly, as the Scripture passages above indicate, we are made right with God by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are not only justified, we are also indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Again, the Scriptures indicate that all who have been baptized (indwelled by) the Holy Spirit are members of one another. They are also given gifts by the Spirit. Thus, the Spirit works through those who are justified.
As we gather together with brothers and sisters in Christ – i.e., those who are justified and are part of God’s family – we also recognize that each one of us have been gifted by the Spirit. In the context of the church meeting, the Spirit gifts people so that they can benefit others. This is not true of only some who are justified, but of all who are justified.
Notice that we have not discussed the idea of sanctification at all (that will be my next post). Neither growth nor maturity are a requirement for someone to be indwelled by the Spirit and gifted by the Spirit.
So, as we meet together, drawn together by our common relationship to one another through God and drawn together by the Spirit who indwells each of us, we recognize each other as brothers and sisters based on our common justification by God through Jesus Christ, not based on what any one of us has said or done or failed to say or do in the past. Similarly, we come together recognizing that just as the Spirit has indwelled each of us, he also desires to use each of us for the benefit of the entire group.
So, our understanding of justification greatly affects how we treat one another when the church meets. Similarly, how we treat one another when the church meets demonstrates what we truly believe about justification.