THE LIVING WORD TRANSCRIPT

Program Air Date - 12-16-01

LESSON TITLE: AUTONOMY OF THE LORD'S CHURCH

WELCOME

Thank you for joining us this morning for the Living Word Program. It is always a privilege to have you with us for this time of offering to God. We welcome you to this service for our Creator.

Today, we have the opportunity together to worship and praise our God. This morning we will glorify our Lord through songs of praise and through the study of His perfect Word. Won't you do your part to make this time together acceptable in His sight. Now, let's approach our Father's throne in prayer. (Prayer)

Isn't it wonderful to think of Heaven and what it will be like? One of the neatest descriptions we have in the Bible comes from Jesus, where He told us that He was preparing an eternal mansion for us there in that wonderful City of God, John 14:2. This morning let's begin by singing a song which reminds us of those beautiful mansions which await us after this life. Won't you join in the first song, as we sing together, "Mansions Over The Hill Top!"
(SONG # 1)

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHTS

One of the hardest things for us to deal with as followers of God is Temptation. Oh, how difficult it is for us to understand why we are tempted if we are striving to do the Will of God.

However, the fact is God's servants have always dealt with temptation. In fact, in the Bible it seems that the more faithful someone was - the more temptation they had to deal with. One example we are all familiar with is Job. This man had been greatly blessed by God. But because of his faith, Satan desired to tempt him, claiming that he would not remain faithful without all of the physical blessings he had been given by God. Well, we all know the story, Job does remain faithful and bows down before his God and thanks Him!

You see, we will suffer if we are living according to the ways of God, because the more we live for God the more Satan wants to cause us to fall away. In 1 Peter 4:15, we read, "if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter." James said, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him," James 1:12. Notice that these verses not only say that we will suffer, but that when we suffer and endure we will be blessed for doing so. Back in James 1:2-3, James also says we should be joyful in trials, because when our faith is tested we learn to be more patient and to depend more on God.

One final reason why we should endure temptations in this life is found in Hebrews 2:18. There we read, "For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted." Yes, we have been left the perfect example for dealing with temptations, because even Jesus Himself had to suffer like trials. In fact, this verse goes on to say that He will also help us through our sufferings if we will simply do His Will. Paul even told the Corinthians that God will "not allow us to be over tempted and that in temptation He will provide a way of escape," 1 Corinthians 10:13.

The best thing we can do as Christians is to acknowledge the fact that we will be tempted. Then we will be ready to deal with these trials when they come our way. However, we can further find confidence in the fact that God has promised to help us and show us the way when we are tempted - so that we will be able to remain faithful to His Will! Have you learned to deal with temptation as a Christian?

Our topic of study this morning will focus on the "Organization of the Lord's Church." This is the next lesson in our series on God's Church. So won't you stay with us and in a few minutes I will return with this study of the day. Now it's time to join in our second hymn of the morning, the name of the song, "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less."
(SONG # 2)

LESSON

Speaker: Ray Sullins

Thanks for staying with us this morning. We hope you've been enjoying our study on The Lord's Church, as we began just a few weeks ago and we've had a great opportunity already to look at the Lord's Church and its importance already. We've also been able to look at the worship of the Lord's church which is of utmost importance to those who want to do God's will and follow the things that He has asked them to do.

This morning we want to continue by looking at the word "autonomy" or "autonomous". The Lord's church also is an autonomous group that must realize the organization really that is laid out from scripture that it should follow according to the will of God. Now what we'll do actually is we'll take two weeks to look at this type of a study together. Next week, we will actually look at the organization of the church trying to break down some of the different individuals who work in the church, special servants, the members, the ministers, who is the head. We're going to break all of that down more clearly next week. But I would like to focus this morning really on again this concept of autonomy, this idea that really talks about how that a church is individual or independent of other groups. This is a concept that clearly is seen throughout scripture as being what God had intended from the very beginning. We'd like to prove that this morning in our discussion together.

If you were to look up in a dictionary what the word "autonomous" means, you would find the following, "not controlled by others or by outside forces, independent, independent in mind or judgment, self-directed, self-governing, able to handle one's own internal affairs." As you put all these concepts together and you think about what this word means now, "autonomy", then you see here it's the concept of self-control or self-governing. In other words, if you have this body of Christ, this group of individuals that meets as His church, we see this concept really promotes that they are self-directed. They are self- governing. There is no such type of organization or headquarters many times as we find here in the religious world today that man has derived and brought forward. The reason this is so important again is because we get back to the very same thing and that is the church and its importance, the kingdom, the church and the kingdom being the same once again. And as they had been given to us by God because of the blood that was shed on the cross through His son Jesus Christ.

Then we again need to understand what it is that God wants us to do as the church. As we saw again last week, how He wants us to worship. Well, how does He want us to govern ourselves as the church? How does He want us to organize ourselves as we again work because every facet of life shows organization. It doesn't matter whether you talk about maybe a family. A family is organized in a certain way according to the will of God and even by society. But God tells us that the man is head of the home and to be the provider and protector of the home and the wife is to be one also that nurtures and cares for the children and serves her place as a lady in society, many times also working herself as we see even in our present day times, but at the same time giving first preference to God and the things of God just as the man is required to do. Then we might also look at our jobs and think for a moment about how they are organized and there always is a chain of command that comes down maybe to where you are. You always have a boss maybe that is over a certain group, but even that boss is under someone else or maybe a board of directors or maybe someone who controls it. So again, you have clear organization in every facet of life. Why would it be strange or different to find that that organization is also present in the church? In other words, that God commanded or really showed us by example or by the inferences made in scripture that there was a certain way that the church should be organized.

Now as we then look at this concept of autonomy, again the idea that a church is independent of another group. In other words, what we mean here is that we don't mean that there are a lot of different churches that are acceptable to God. By that I would say the fact that they are all teaching different things. The one thing that we are clear about in the scripture is that Jesus always intended that there by unity. He prayed for it. He prayed even to the Father that they would be one in Him just as He was one in the Father and the Father one in Him. That is Jesus again. So in other words, the concept of oneness. Even there in the book of Ephesians chapter 4, Paul talked about the unity that was required by God once again that would bring us to believe in the one Lord, the one hope, the one faith, the one baptism, again those things that we are unified on. God requires that. Once again, that is something that we must understand as we talk about this concept of churches. For instance, you might also remember the verse there in Romans 16 and verse 16 where Paul said, "the churches of Christ salute you." Certainly there he meant that those who are followers of Christ, different groups who were all unique and similar followers in the same way of Jesus Christ were the churches of Christ. Surely, they weren't teaching and following different concepts or ideas or different plans of man because we know that the Bible tells us that we are the branches and the Lord is the vine. Now if the Lord is the vine, are we as His branches going to put out the same fruit as He bore or are we going to put out a different kind of fruit? Well obviously, a vine, a grape vine grows the kind of grape that that vine produces again through the branches.

So again, we are talking about a unity of churches being the one church, the one church that we read about in scripture that the Lord established, but at the same time that each group is autonomous, self-governing. Now by that again, we clearly are trying to organize and understand that what we see many times in the religious world today and what man claims to be over churches is incorrect. What do we see in the religious world? Well, we see headquarters. You might ask someone, "What type of a church are you a part of?" They might say, "Well, it's on this street." Which by the way would be incorrect because the church really is the people, the called-out, the saved that have obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. But if someone were to ask, "What church are you a part of?" Then you say, "Well, where did that church begin?" Well many denominations can tell you where that denomination began because it was created and begun by a man. In other words, the theologies and the creeds were written at a certain date and time and that's when actually that name began to be used and the denomination began to carry on and carry forth the things that it desired to proclaim in the name of Jesus. Now again, if you think about that and you consider that, where in scripture do we find such to be the case? Where in scripture do we find that there was a headquarters that was set up for a church or the church as a whole? Those churches that met in different areas and different regions and different cities. Where in scripture, I might also ask, do we find the concept of councils, where councils would come together and make decisions in the matters of really expediency and doctrine to tell the church what they should do or should not do in certain areas? Again, we don't find that in scripture where these types of organizations were again put together to control or rather to somehow tell people what they must or must not do. We don't need those things in the church that the Lord actually set up.

What about creed books again? Those things written by man by the things that are in their hearts and minds, not by the things of God that many times are contrary to what we find in God's book. In other words, you might read what they say and you can read a verse and scripture and it tells us two different things. We even find many churches today, religions that actually have one man who is over them. That's very prevalent and obvious by many of the groups that actually wear a man's name on the sign. I don't know about you but the Lord's church is owned by the Lord because He shed His blood for it. There's no man worthy on this earth or has there ever been a man besides the Lord Himself who is worthy of bearing the name of a church that Christ alone gave Himself to die for. So when we see these names that are confusing and they bear manmade names, again, is this scriptural? Certainly not. Is this the way that the Lord wanted His church to be governed? Certainly not. Well, what was it then that the Lord wanted? He wanted His church to again be one and to all be simply Christians, to all be of the one body, of the one family of God, the one body that again strives to do what God had asked. In fact, if you remember Ephesians chapter 4, one of those ones of unity is that there be one body. Just as you might look this morning, and I'm thankful that I only have one head and one body. It's just normal that we have only one head and one body. The church is the same. Jesus is what? The head and then we are the body. We all work together. We all share in a common mind, a common judgment and we all work towards the same things under Jesus Christ, but at the same time when we get to the individual groups, we see that they are self-governing but all are governed by what? Scripture again. All are governed by that which we find in God's word.

Now as we consider then this concept of being self-governing, I want you to look at several scriptures with me and we will begin actually in the gospel account of John and I want you to look with me at chapter 18, as we see here that really the church or the kingdom that the Lord established is different from those of this earth and the things of this earth and notice what He said there. That is the words of Jesus there in verse 36 of chapter 18 again in John. He says, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight so that I should not be delivered to the Jews but now my kingdom is not from here." Jesus said, "My kingdom is not based on earthly things." Again, "the kingdom of God, the church is a spiritual thing just as God is spirit," John 4:24. His kingdom, His church is spiritual. "Flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God," as we read in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. The things of this life, the mortality of us will not be something that God wants. It's the essence of man, the soul of man, that inner being that is good and moral and perfect according to God and presented as perfect because of the blood of Christ that was shed there on the cross. Well, it's that kingdom that is not of this world, that is not like the world that also again Paul was talking about there in the book of Ephesians. You might notice there as he talked to the church at Ephesus that he again was clarifying there in chapter 5 and verse 23 the very same points that we have already made in connection to the church. Notice with me as it says there, "The husband is head of the wife, also Christ is head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body." Notice here again church - singular, head - singular. The church being God's people. The head being over the people of God. Then in verse 24, it goes on to say, "Just as the church is subject unto Christ." The wife here being compared to the husband and their relationship saying that the Lord is over the church, over His body and the church is subject to that which is over them. So when we start talking about the authority of Christ, we start talking about the concept of an individual or group being autonomous, we start talking about those things that are clear in scripture according to the examples and the precedent that we find in scripture. There has only ever been one head, one headquarters. There has only ever been one place the church started. In scripture we find that it was the Lord who said, "I will build my church." He said that it would happen there in Jerusalem through prophecy and it took place there in Acts chapter 2 on the day of Pentecost when we see that the Lord there in verse 47 of Acts chapter 2 was adding to the church daily those that were being saved.

So yes, the church has been established. Yes, it is one that is under the Lord. But then when we get into the individual groups, what is it that we find in scripture that was taking place? Well, we see again that the autonomy was clear. There in Hebrews chapter 8 and verse 1 as the Savior is at the right hand of the Father now in heaven and reigning over the church, that He there was encouraging His apostles to do His work. What was it that they did? Well, they saw a necessity to appoint elders. We first see there in Acts chapter 11 and verse 30 that elders are mentioned. In fact, in Titus chapter 1 and verse 5, it was Paul who instructed Titus there to go and to appoint elders in every church. Why? Why? Because it was elders in each congregation that was to rule or to somehow show authority to keep people following that which was proper according to the head again, scripture which is given to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus again being the only head. The only authority being His word that has been given to us as we read there in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17. "All scripture is from God."

In the book of Acts chapter 14, verse 21 through 23, we see there that even missionary work was being carried out and there as the men, Paul and others, were doing that work, one of the main principles they were trying to accomplish was to appoint elders in every church. Why was it so important that we see that elders, plural if you'll notice in every occurrence in scripture, that elders were there being appointed? Because it was elders that were the spiritual shepherds. Next week, we're going to look at the organization of the church and dig deeper into the concept of elders, but here we see that those elders were again the spiritual leaders. In Acts chapter 20, verse 17 and 18, we see there this concept again of a plurality of elders. More than one. Why? Again, so they wouldn't become lords like Diotrophese in 3 John. So they wouldn't become control freaks, those who wanted to somehow lord over the people as if they were God, as if somehow they could control the church when really again the church is only under one master, only under one head, again that being God.

In the book of Hebrews, chapter 13 and verse 7, we find there again this same concept about elders and about how that they were governing over the congregations that they were involved in. As again, governing the group, the church of Christians, the called out again, under again the authority of scripture that still would be the guidelines.

Finally, I want to ask you this question. As we look at the churches of the New Testament, even though they were autonomous and self-governing, we still find that they worked together. They were not again under any one control, except Jesus Christ, no earthly control that is, no earthly headquarters, but we find here in the verses that there were many, many times that churches would work together. One example is in Acts chapter 11, the church at Antioch sent help to the church at Jerusalem in verse 23. One church helping another church. In 2 Corinthians that is chapters 8 and 9, we see here the Corinthians were talked about as being good givers, those who were willing to help others. In Philippians chapter 4 and verse 15, Paul talked there about a church that was willing to help and minister, not only to him but to others. In all of this again, we find clearly that these individual groups were not again controlled by anything of this earth except that which God had set up once again. Why? Because Christ has always been and will only be the head that was established. Why? Because He is the one who died for the church but it was the Lord's idea that elders be appointed and that they be appointed in every church so that each congregation could be self-governing, although working together and helping together that they might be able to accomplish all things again to the glory of God to His praise and to His adoration, working together as best possible.

I hope that all of us as Christians will strive every day to examine how we live our lives, how we follow the Lord, what church we are a part of, so that we will truly know that we are a part of only the Lord's church.

(SONG # 3 - "O To Be Like Thee!")

CLOSING COMMENTS

Let me thank you again for choosing to be with us today for the Living Word program. I hope and trust, that together we have all benefited from this service to our Lord. Let me also invite you to join us every Lord's Day morning at 7:30 as we give this time to our Creator.

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Let's all acknowledge that the only way to organize God's Church is the way He showed us in the Bible. No other way is acceptable in His sight or according to His Will.
(Program closing)