the weblog of Alan Knox


The flock of God that is among you…

Posted by on Feb 9, 2012 in elders, members, unity | Comments Off on The flock of God that is among you…

I’ve made this statement before, and I’ll make it again here: church covenants are often used to divide the body of Christ. I believe that we are already convenanted with one another due to our mutual covenant with God through Jesus Christ, and we are already in fellowship with one another through the Holy Spirit who indwells all of God’s children. Therefore, church covenants and memberships are unnecessary, and as I said above, can be a hindrance, especially to the unity of the church.

But, some argue, church covenants and membership are necessary (and even assumed in Scripture) because elders are to oversee “the flock of God which is among you.”

This kind of statement is made twice in Scripture:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you… (1 Peter 5:1-2 ESV)

[Paul to the elders of Ephesus] Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)

(Note: An unfortunate translation in the KJV has perpetuated the idea of elders being “over” the church: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers..” While other translations have corrected the preposition “over,” the idea continues.)

For this post, I want to consider the idea of being “among” or “in” the church of God. Peter says that the elders are among the church and that the flock (the church) is among the elders. Paul says that the Holy Spirit has made the elders overseers among the church (or in the flock).

Most people recognize today that “church” points to a group of people – a collective, much like the English term “crowd.” Thus, to be “in the church” or “among the church” would be similar to be “in the crowd” or “among the crowd.” The idea is being part of God’s church – one of the people who make up his flock.

So, whatever group of people Peter and Paul have in mind, the elders and the people are “among” one another; there is no sense of hierarchy in these passages. (This helps us understand how to interpret the noun and/or verb translated “overseer” or “oversee,” since these words have range of meanings that includes the idea of caring for people.)

But, what group of people did Peter and Paul have in mind? Did they have in mind the kind of “local church” differentiation that we see today? In each case, Peter and Paul are talking about multiple elders but only a single church or flock.

The only designation is in the preposition “in” or “among” (it’s the same word translated two different ways). So, which “people of God” is each elder “among”? In the traditional understanding today, the elders are “among” those with whom they share church membership or with whom they have decided to sign a church covenant. However, those same elders are not considered to be “among” other believers if they do not share church covenant or membership.

In this traditional understanding, an elder would not be considered “among” a follower of Jesus Christ who lives next door, or who is a coworker, or who attends the same community group unless that person is also a member of the same “local church” as that elder. Thus, in this traditional understanding of elders, the elder would not be responsible for shepherding or caring for that other person, and in the same way, the other person would not be responsible for shepherding or caring for the elder either.

However, there is no sense of the word “among” in which that person would not be “among” the flock of God together with that elder. If God brings someone into our lives, we are automatically “among” the flock of God together. We do not – and so cannot – choose who is or who is not in the church with us. God makes that decision. Remember that Paul told the Corinthians that God arranges the members of the body, each one of them, as he chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:18)

Imagine how different the church would be – and how much unity and fellowship we would enjoy – if we actually treated one another as the church of God… that is, if we treated all followers of Jesus Christ that God brings into our lives as “our church”… or, as I prefer to call it, “the church.”

Replay: Running and Maturity in the Church

Posted by on Aug 13, 2011 in discipleship, members, service, spiritual gifts | 2 comments

Two years ago, at the end of the summer of 2009, I wrote a post called “Running and Maturity in the Church.” Margaret (my wife) and I had decided to train to run in a 5k race, mainly to get in shape. It didn’t work out for several reasons. But, getting back into running as exercise helped me understand something about spiritual gifts. I hope you enjoy this post.


Running and Maturity in the Church

Last Summer, my wife Margaret and I decided to walk together in the mornings. I learned alot about community during our walks together (see my post “Walking Together“).

This Summer, we tried to walk together again. For some reason, we were having a difficult time remaining motivated. Some friends decided that they were going to start training for a marathon in February. I’m not ready to commit to a marathon, but I decided to start training for a 5k in October. (You probably know this already if you follow me on Twitter or read my Facebook status updates.)

So, last week, Margaret and I began training for the 5k. The difference between our 5k training and our walking last summer is that we have to run some for our 5k training. Eventually, we will only run. But, of course, we’re not ready for that yet.

When I was in middle school (we called it junior high school) and high school, I could run long distances. But, years and years of sitting behind a computer screen has taken a toll on my body. I need this exercise and I need to get back in shape, so I’m excited about the prospects. Plus, I’m more motivated now that I have a specific goal: the 5k in only a few weeks, and perhaps a 1/2 marathon in February if everything goes well.

But, I’ve learned something about the body over the last few days that I think is applicable to the church as the body of Christ. When I started running, I realized that my body is not in shape to do what it needs to do. However, it wasn’t every part of my body that was holding me back.

My arms were working just fine, and if I left it up to my arms, I could run for long distances. Similarly, my eyes and ears and nose were very happy to keep running long after I had to stop.

Surprisingly, even my legs and feet were able to carry be farther than I expected. Yes, my legs – especially my calves – would be tired after running. However, if I left everything up to my legs, I could have kept running longer.

But, my lungs would not allow me to run any longer. My breathing is not where it needs to be to be able to run long distances. Therefore, right now, I’m training my lungs and breathing as much as – and perhaps more than – I’m training my legs.

It is very interesting to me that my lungs are hidden from sight. I can’t see them, and they don’t appear to be very important from an outward perspective. But, unless my breathing capacity increases, I won’t be able to run for long distances.

I could spend hours exercising my legs and arms, my chest and abs, but unless I exercise my lungs, I will not be able to do what I need to do.

This reminded me to two specific passages in Scripture dealing with the church. First, consider this passage from 1 Corinthians:

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:18-27 ESV)

It is obvious that every part of the body of Christ is important – even those parts that may be less noticeable and may seem less important. In fact, according to Paul, these parts are even more important than we think because God has given those parts greater honor.

Second, consider this passage from Ephesians 4:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors 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. (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

According to this passage, the body grows (matures) when every part of the body is allowed to do its own work – when every part of the body is allowed to do what it is designed to do. We are not the same, but we need each other. From the negative perspective, if one part of the body is not “working properly”, then the body will not mature.

In my illustration from running, if I exercise my legs, arms, chest, etc. then those parts of my body will get stronger, but my body as a whole will not. The church is to be concerned with the maturity of the whole body, not just with their own maturity.

There are times when I need to stop exercising before my legs or arms are completely tired in order to allow my lungs to grow in capacity. There are times when those “more presentable” parts of the church should allow the “less presentable” to work, even if the “more presentable” could “do a better job”. Why? Because by allowing the “less presentable” parts to work, then the whole body is allowed to grow in maturity.

By the way, I’ve also found that when I allow my lungs to dictate how much I can run, my legs actually get a good workout. Those of us in the church who are more “noticeable” may (ummm… will) find that even we grow and learn when we allow the “less noticeable” to do the work. In fact, it is worth it to our own growth and the growth of the body for us to shut up occasionally and to encourage others to speak or serve instead – as long as we’re willing to listen and learn from them.

Replay: Church members…

Posted by on Jul 16, 2011 in definition, members | 11 comments

Five years ago, just after I started this blog, I wrote a post called “Church members…” I was just beginning to examine the common modern practice of church membership, and was beginning to recognize that this practice often works to separate from brothers and sisters from one another. I’ve written several other posts about being a member of the church since this post. You can check the category “members” if you’re interested in reading more.


Church members…

I’ve read several blogs recently concerning church membership and baptism. Most of the studies that I have read treat the subject from church history – especially baptist history. What happens when we study church membership from a biblical perspective? As I’ve studied various passages, a couple of questions come to mind:

1) How many churches are there? Certainly there are thousands of groups who call themselves a church. But, from God’s perspective, how many churches are there? I think there is only one.

2) How does someone become a member of that church? Scripturally, someone becomes a member of the church at the point of salvation – regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

If this is correct, and I’m open to listen to other suggestions, then when God commands us that “the members should have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25), He is commanding us to care for all believers, not just those who happen to associate with the same local group as ourselves. When He commands us to love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens, admonish one another, edify one another, and bear with one another, He is referring to our relationships to all members (i.e., all believers), not just those believers with whom we agree and meet regularly.

I understand that groups of believers associate together and call themselves a church. I understand that those believers then create membership requirements for their association. However, we must never blur the distinction between belonging to a local assocation of believers and being members of the church. Also, we must never assume that Scriptural mandates only apply to our local association.

When we ask the question, “Who is my neighbor (a member)?” is our answer as broad as God’s answer?

Local Church in Scripture

Posted by on Jan 15, 2011 in definition, members | 7 comments

Three and a half years ago, I was investigating the modern (and traditional) understanding of “local church.” One of the posts that I wrote about this is called “Local Church in Scripture.” Are we excluding brothers and sisters in the way we that define “local church”? Do we find this same kind of exclusion in Scripture?


Local Church in Scripture

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “local church”?

Do you think of a building on the corner with a steeple? Most believers will admit that this is not a church, but may be a building where a church meets. But, what about the people who meet there?

Is the local church a group of believers who meet regularly at a specific place and at a specific time? Does a regularly meeting define a “local church”? Again, most believers will accept that someone may be part of a “local church” even if that person cannot meet at each regularly scheduled meeting. So, what about membership?

Is the local church defined by a list of names on a membership role? Again, when push comes to shove, most believers agree that a membership list does not define a “local church”. There could be people on the list who are not believers, and perhaps there are people who are part of the local church whose names are not on the list.

So, what is the local church?

Let me ask a few questions about Scripture…

1) When did Paul “join” the church in Jerusalem, or Tarsus, or Antioch, or Corinth, or Ephesus? What about Barnabus, Luke, Timothy, Titus, etc? When did they “join” a particular “local church”? What about Priscilla and Aquila? When did this couple join the church in Corinth or Rome?

2) At what point were these individuals members of one local church or another? When did they consider themselves part of the church in Corinth, or Ephesus, or Thessalonica, or Rome? When did they not consider themselves part of those particular churches?

3) At what point did the particular local churches recognize these individuals as part of their church? When did they not recognize these people as part of their church?

4) Where does Scripture give us an example of a believer moving into an area and then being required to do something to “join” the church in that area? Where does Scripture give us an example of believers covenanting with one another in order to be a local church?

I am not suggesting that “joining” a local church is wrong or bad. It is not unscriptural to have your name on a membership list – it is ascriptural though – that is, not found in scripture. However, if we cannot find this commanded or even described in Scripture, should we make this a necessary step of recognizing someone as a part of the “local church”?

Immediate Membership

Posted by on Sep 8, 2010 in members | 33 comments

When someone becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ – when that person is indwelled by the Holy Spirit – he or she immediately becomes a member of the church – no other membership is necessary.

At the same time, all believers who are part of that person’s life become responsible for the growth and maturity of that new believer as soon as they find out that he or she is a new believer – no other membership or covenant is necessary.

Also, that new believer is immediately responsible for the growth and maturity of all believers in his or her life – no other membership is necessary.

We become part of the church – the only church of God – the only church that matters – at the same moment that we become children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. Any other requirement is man-made.

Why is one covenant not enough?

Posted by on Aug 16, 2010 in community, fellowship, members | 18 comments

According to Jesus, all of those who belong to God are now covenanted with God. For example, Jesus said that his blood represents this new covenant:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV)

In the same way, Paul recognized that he currently served people who were under a new covenant with God:

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6 ESV)

Finally, the author of the book of Hebrews explains how Jesus (as our high priest) is a better mediator of this new covenant:

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. (Hebrews 7:22 ESV)

So, all of those who are in Christ – who have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ – are covenanted together with God… not based on their (our) ability to keep a covenant, but based on God’s promises (for example, see Hebrews 10:23).

We are in a covenant with God, and are therefore covenanted together with one another. Our covenant with God includes new familial relationships with others who are covenanted with God. Just as God is our father, his children (and all of his children) are our brothers and sisters. Our familial responsibilities toward one another are included in our relationship with God.

Thus, I cannot choose how I should treat someone who is in Christ. That relationship and those responsibilities are already ours because of our joint relationship with God.

So, the question that I’ve been struggling and wrestling with is this: If we are already covenanted with God and if we are already brothers and sisters with one another, then why do we need a separate “church covenant”?

A “church covenant” can only do two things: 1) It can remind of us our relationships and responsibilities which already exist, whether we have a covenant or not. And 2) it can specify with whom we share those relationships and responsibilities.

If we are relying on a “church covenant” for reason #1 above, then the “church covenant” is nothing more than a reminder of the new covenant in Christ. We are already covenanted with God through Christ, and therefore covenanted with all other people who are part of the same covenant. Thus, this is really not a “church covenant” but the new covenant.

The problem with #2 above is that our relationships and responsibilities extend to all brothers and sisters in Christ that God brings into our lives. If we use a “church covenant” to include some believers and exclude others, then we are dividing the body of Christ and making distinctions that only God can make. We are trying to choose who to love and who to serve. (Of course, this makes life much easier, but it doesn’t make it a life that lived according to the gospel.)

So, why do we need a “church covenant”? Why is one covenant (the new covenant in Christ) not enough?

F.F. Bruce on 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14

Posted by on Mar 2, 2010 in discipleship, edification, elders, members | 2 comments

I came across an interesting quote concerning the following passage in 1 Thessalonians:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,  and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14 ESV)

F.F. Bruce wrote the following concerning 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (the instructions for “brothers and sisters” to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, etc.”):

The various forms of service enjoined in the words that follow [in 1 Thess 5:14] are certainly a special responsibility of leaders, but not their exclusive responsibility: they are ways in which all the members of the community can fulfill the direction of v 11 to encourage and strengthen one another. (F. F. Bruce, 1&2 Thessalonians (WBC 45; Waco: Word Books, 1982),122)

I think the church would be stronger and healthier if all believers would understand and function in this manner. Yes, leaders are to teach, shepherd, admonish, etc. It is their special responsibility, but not their exclusive responsibility. In fact, leaders alone cannot do what is necessary for the maturity of the church. (Ephesians 4:16)

Markus Barth on Ephesians 4:16

Posted by on Feb 25, 2010 in community, edification, love, members, service | 1 comment

Last weekend, someone mentioned Markus Barth’s (son of Karl Barth) commentary on Ephesians. During the conversation, I remembered this great paragraph concerning Ephesians 4:16 –

(1) It is Christ, the head, alone “from whom” the body derives unity, nourishment, growth – but Christ’s monarchy and monopoly do not exclude but rather create the activity of a church engaged in “its own” growth and upbuilding. (2) All that the body is, has, and does is determined by its (passive and active) relationship to the head – but this (“vertical”) relationship establishes an essential and indispensable (“horizontal”) interrelation among the church members. (3) While Christ provides for the body as a whole and makes it a unity, and while the body grows as a unit – no individual growth is mentioned here – the distinct personality of each church member is not wiped out but rather established by Christ’s rulership and the church’s community. What Christ is, does, and gives, is appropriate “to the needs” (lit. “to the measure”) “of each single part.” If the only things affirmed in Eph 4:16 were Christ’s own activity, Christ’s rule over all Christians, Christ’s relationship to the community, then this verse would have been phrased more clearly in Greek and could be more easily interpreted in a modern language. But in this verse there are several accents, not just one: the church’s and each member’s responsive activity is not only recognized or tolerated but receives an emphasis of its own: “The body makes its own growth so that it builds itself up in love.” (Markus Barth, Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters 4-6, Anchor Bible 34a, Garden City: Doubleday: 1974, 446-47)

Child of God or not a child of God. Is there a middle place?

Posted by on Feb 19, 2010 in discipline, members, unity | 6 comments

As far as I can tell, there are only two options: 1) I accept that someone is a child of God and I treat that person as a brother or sister in Christ, or 2) I do not accept that someone is a child of God and I treat that person as if they are not a brother or sister in Christ.

Unfortunately, denominationalism tends to teach a “middle ground” where we accept that someone is a child of God, but we don’t have to treat that person as a brother or sister in Christ.

Justification and the Church Meeting

Posted by on Feb 15, 2010 in definition, discipleship, members, scripture | 7 comments

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.