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The following is my sermon transcript with a few minor changes from the sermon that I preached this last lord’s Day for the evening service.  I preached on the Great Commission and the Primary role of the Local Church in evangelism which is often neglected due to an unbalanced emphasis on individualism:

  1. Defining the Function of the Church
  2. The Primary Goal of the Great Commission (Discipleship)
  3. The Means given to the Church (Means of Grace)

1. Matthew 28:16-20, “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”[1].

In order for us to understand what God requires of the Church (its function) in the Great Commission (Matt.28:16-20), we must first have a biblical definition of the Church because Christ commissioned the Apostles who are the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20) giving them the Imperative of the Great Commission, which is a duty of the Church.  Benjamin Keach, a particular Baptist and a pastor who signed the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, gives the following definition of the Church and its function as ordained by God,

“A Church of Christ, according to the Gospel-Institution, is a congregation of Godly Christians, who as a Stated-Assembly (being first baptized unto the profession of Faith) do by mutual agreement to the Will of God; and do ordinarily meet together in one Place, for the Publick Service and Worship of God; among whom the Word of God and Sacraments [Baptism & the Lord’s Supper] are duly administered, according to Christ’s institution[2]”.

Our Confession (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith) also gives a useful explanation of the Church as it relates to different offices and the duties of members of a local Church:

1689 LBC Ch. 26 Paragraph 8: “A particular Church gathered, and compleatly Organized, according to the mind of Christ, consists of Officers, and Members; And the Officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the Church (so called and gathered) for the peculiar Administration of Ordinances, and Execution of Power, or Duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the World, are16 Bishops or Elders and Deacons[3]”.

1689 LBC Ch. 26 Paragraph 11: “Although it be incumbent on the Bishops or Pastors of the Churches to be instant in Preaching the Word, by way of Office; yet the work of Preaching the Word, is not so peculiarly confined to them; but that others also1 gifted, and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved, and called by the Church, may and ought to perform it[4]”.

A Church consists of officers & members, and because God has gifted believers to different degrees in different areas we do not all have the same obligations for evangelism i.e. all members of a church are not expected to preach from the pulpit.  In the historical doctrine of vocation, Martin Luther describes 4 spheres of the responsibilities believers have: vocation in relationship to the Church, Government, Family, and Occupation.  All believers who are members of a local church, have a responsibility to the local Church, but all members are not gifted in the same areas. As a result believers who are members of a church have different responsibilities according to what God has gifted them to do.  Some God has gifted for the task of preaching & teaching while others help by prayer, service as deacons, and other means.  Different roles don’t imply that these tasks are less significant as Paul makes clear with the different task of members of the Church being compared to different parts of the body, all of which have a crucial role together (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).

2. The command to make disciples in the Great Commission is a function of the church, evangelism is not collecting ballot votes, after someone is converted by God’s grace he needs to be baptized and become a member of a local church to be discipled and grow in faith by the means that God has given to the church, the Means of Grace. In fact in the Greek text of Matthew 28:20 the only imperative in the Great commission is the command to make disciples, “Therefore after you have gone out[5] (Participle), make disciples (Imperative)”.  It is already assumed that the Apostles will go out in obedience to Christ’s command, so the emphasis is on making disciples, the necessary component of evangelism following after the conversion of sinners.  We must remember as believers that we represent not only ourselves, but our local church when we do evangelism, so we must be discerning for example starting a Bible Study apart from the local church without receiving counsel from the elders of the local church may appear to be a useful way to get people into the church.  But it cannot replace the function of the local church, and there is also the danger of a lack of faithful teaching by placing those in a position they are not qualified to lead in for teaching as well as a lack of accountability.

Dr. Jim Renihan explains how the function of evangelism was closely connected to the local church by the early reformed Baptists rather than viewing the Great Commission as only a task for individuals and for the goal of seeking converts.  In contrast to this mentality the 17th century reformed baptists perceived the goal of evangelism as not being limited to conversion, but that those who professed faith became members of a biblical local church.

“The formula for church planting was at the front of this action.  Evangelism was not carried out simply to seek after conversions.  Churches had to be planted.  This is an essential part of the latter Confessional doctrine of the church.  Those who received the gift of salvation were expected to become a part of a well-ordered church.  The Baptists could not conceive of evangelism apart from church planting[6]”.

3. The means that God has ordained for the church to fulfill this role of discipleship is through the Corporate Means of Grace observed on the Lord’s Day.  This is in contrast to current trends to be “popular” and “relevant” in the church to unbelievers by seeking “innovative” and “radical” means,

Michael Horton, “American Christianity is a story of perpetual upheavals in churches and individual lives. Starting with the extraordinary conversion experience, our lives are motivated by a constant expectation for The Next Big Thing.  We’re growing bored with the ordinary means of God’s grace, attending church week in and out.  Doctrines and disciplines that have shaped faithful Christian witness in the past are often marginalized or substituted with newer fashions or methods.  The new and improved may dazzle us for the moment, but soon they have become “so last year[7]”.

What are the Means of Grace and why do they matter?

By affirming the Means of Grace we acknowledge God’s Sovereign role in the Church and the Means he uses to accomplish his will by sanctifying believers.  The Means of grace help believers to not lose focus in our sanctification as we focus on Christ who not only purchased redemption on our behalf, but also the benefits of redemption.  Christ is not only sovereign for our Justification, but for our sanctification as well.  As we seek to be conformed to the image of Christ and grow in our faith we cannot neglect the primary Public means which have been ordained as functions of the Church for the sanctification of believers.  It frees believers of an unnecessary burden of individualism and trying to be radical and outgoing in faith that burns out because it lacks a wholistic view of the Sovereignty and sufficiency of Christ.  We must seek contentment in Christ through the Means that He has ordained for the Church and not seek to sanctify ourselves through other means foreign to Scripture.

Pastor Barcellos, “I define means of grace as the delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace– that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings – to needy souls on earth.  Grace comes from our Father, through the Son, by the Spirit ordinarily in conjunction with the ordained means.  The means of grace are those conduits through which Christ alters, modifies, changes, transforms, and develops souls on earth… The means of grace, then, are God’s delivery systems through which that which was acquired for us gets distributed or delivered to or in us [8]”.

The Means of grace were viewed as an essential part of saving faith and spiritual growth by our Baptist fore-fathers in the 1689 LBC and also by the other reformed confessions such as the WCF.  The Preaching of the Word is viewed as having a primary role among the means of grace since it is used by God both for the salvation of souls and for the sanctification of believers:

1689 LBC Chapter 14 Paragraph 1 “Saving Faith”: The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts[9], and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word[10]; by which also, and by administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God, it is increased and strengthened[11]”.

R. Scott Clark’s book makes a similar observation commenting on the WCF’s discussion of the means of Grace,

“In WCF [Westminister Confession of Faith] 1.7 we confess that despite the truth that “all things” in Scripture are not equally clear or easy to understand, nevertheless, everything “necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation” is clearly revealed in Scripture; and “in a due use of the ordinary means, [we] may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”  The phrase “due use of ordinary means” is at the heart of our piety.  The Standards return repeatedly to the notion that it is God’s will to use means to accomplish his will (e.g., WCF 3.6; 5.3; 17.3; 18.3; WSC 88).  WLC [Westminister Larger Catechism] Question 154 says: “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?”

Answer: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments [Baptism & The Lord’s Supper], and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation… The Spirit works a mystical union through the preaching of the gospel by which he creates faith.  He strengthens that union through Word and sacrament[12]”.

The Means of grace remind us that there are no great radical heroes of the faith, who in and of themselves serve as a model of faith since they all had deficiencies and were imperfect, yet they all pointed towards the culmination of the only true hero and redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.   Through the Preaching of the Word, Christ is actively performing his office of Prophet via the Preacher to give his prophetic Word revealed in Scripture to the saints.  Through the Lord’s Supper we not only recall Christ’s work as our perfect high Priest and mediator, but have the present hope as he currently intercedes at the Father’s right hand for us, and we have a future hope as we eagerly await the promised state of entering into glory.  May this serve as an encouragement to the saints to be content with God’s ordinary Means of grace, trusting in God’s sovereign and perfectly sufficient Means he has given the Church through Christ by which the Church fulfills its duty to the Great Commission.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 28:16–20.

[2] Benjamin Keach, The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline display’d (London: n.p., 1697), 5-6, cited in James M. Renihan, Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock & Paternoster, 2008), 44

16 Act. 20:17, with v. 28; Phil. 1:1.

[3] W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 266

1 Act. 11:19, 20, 21; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11.

[4] W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 267

[5] NASB 1995 Update footnote translates this participle as: “Having gone; Gr aorist participle”.  This is an attended circumstances participle, so it takes the mood of the main verb, which is why it is often translated as an imperative, but the main verb is still to make disciples and not the action of going out.

[6] James M. Renihan, Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock & Paternoster, 2008), 60

[7] Horton, Ordinary, 16

[8] Richard C. Barcellos, The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More than a Memory (Ross-shire, Scotland; Mentor, 2013), 23-24

[9] 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8

[10] Romans 10:14, 17

[11] Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32; ibid, 30

[12] R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R Publishing, 2008), 333-334