Rogue River Fellowship
June 10-11, 1991
1. The church is far more than a useful expediency designed to facilitate personal sanctification. She is not simply an auxiliary motor which "kicks in" whenever personal zeal wanes; she is its seed-bed. She is its necessary precondition - its indispensable "processing agent." It's not just that sanctified individuals produce a sanctified church, but that a sanctified church produces sanctified individuals. No individual Christian can hope to properly mature without availing himself of the gifts and ministries God has sovereignly bequeathed to the church - most especially the "gift-ministries" of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The church protects him, nurtures him, corrects him, and equips him.
2. All the gifts God has sovereignly distributed to the redeemed are meant to establish and build up the church. The gifts are not meant simply to edify individuals or produce specialized, but largely independent ministries - however powerful or anointed - but, instead, are meant to cultivate (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) the church, the Body of Christ. The gifts are meant to promote not only personal growth but the incorporation of the individual saints - forging relationships between them and encouraging and promoting both their integration and their mutual esteem and love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
3. The church is far more than the mere sum of her parts. She's not a simple aggregation of discrete and wholly atomized believers. She boasts an identity of her own - an identity which transcends and subsumes the individuals who comprise her. No single Christian can possess or reflect the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 1:23); instead, he is called upon to live interdependently with others - in loving fellowship - mutually edified and incorporated. He is called upon to nurture a sense of corporate wholeness. Certainly, he's not expected to abandon his own unique identity; however, the scriptures do indeed encourage him to abandon his autonomy - to yield himself to the love, care, discipline, and counsel of others.
4. The integration of the believers - their incorporation - should be tangible and palpable. It should be more than merely an abstract and somewhat esoteric truth. We are called upon to build relationships with one another that transcend a simple Sunday morning liaison. The scriptures call upon us to be "fitly joined together" - to the point of pressing in upon one another - of actually "crowding" one another (Ephesians 4:16). Inevitably, conflicts will arise; and in the process of working our way through those conflicts, we grow spiritually - both personally and corporately. Conflicts are not resolved by sacrificing the truth; nor are they resolved by sacrificing love; instead, we are called upon to "speak the truth to one another in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Love without truth cannot change us; and truth without love cannot be embraced.
5. The line between personal identity and corporate identity is not easily drawn; nevertheless, its difficulty does not excuse our failure to try. We're encouraged by the scriptures to avoid moving to either extreme - drawing the line too far on the side of a laissez-faire individualism or too far on the side of a mindless absorption into the whole.
6. The value of the church does not transcend the value of any individual believer. The shed blood of Christ establishes each believer's personal worth - and that value is infinite. The key issue here is not value, but identity.
7. The local church - beset with short-comings, blemishes, and frailties - is the only existential, tangible, and wholly substantial embodiment of the church. The "Church Universal" lies beyond the realm of actual experience - and cannot provide an individual believer with the nurturing fellowship so necessary for his personal growth. Christian television, Christian radio, and even Christian study tomes do not constitute adequate substitutes for a local church body. The "Church Universal" exemplifies a truth which helps to discourage elitism and insularity; but it should not be considered a "higher truth" which justifies disdain for and aloofness from a local body of believers.
8. The Church is the Body of Christ; and Christ is its glorious head. We are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Ephesians 5:30). We are partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) - which guarantees that we will share his utter holiness, live eternally in his presence, and will forever enjoy his perfect love. However, neither the church corporately nor the believers who individually comprise her partake of God's eternal and infinite attributes. We do not share an ontological union with the Godhead. We do not share nor can we employ, on our own, God's omniscience, his omnipresence, his omnipotence, or his total sovereignty. Sanctification does not transform individual believers into self-sufficient demigods nor churches into divine "man-child companies" or "Joel's Armies" - able to create "ex nihilo" - able to strike out on their own - to overcome spiritual wickedness and create a whole universes for themselves. The church is never lifted into nor incorporated within the Trinity - to become a "fourth person" of the Godhead. She is not the "continuing incarnation of the Son."
9. The power and authority of the church is critically dependent upon her unity. Whenever her unity is undermined, her witness is diminished. However, unity is not the only pillar sustaining the church's authority. Other factors are equally significant - including right doctrine, holiness, godly zeal, compassion, exuberant worship, and a willingness to evangelize. No single factor should be compromised for the sake of any other. Church unity should not be pressed to the point of compromising right doctrine; a rigid narrow-mindedness should not be permitted to threaten church unity; nor should compassion be sacrificed for holiness or holiness for compassion. Each is vital - and all should be pursued with equal vigor. Church unity is not a panacea - and it alone will not enhance the power and authority of the Body of Christ nor bring glory to her risen Head.
10. Scripture does not suggest nor provide any basis for believing that apostolic and prophetic authority is the key to church purity and church unity - nor that God will send forth apostolic and prophetic bands to prepare the way for Christ's Second Coming. The Second Coming is not contingent upon either the purity of the church or the unity of the church - nor is it linked to the ministry of either apostles or prophets. The church is simply warned to be prepared - implying that it's possible that many will not be adequately prepared - but that Christ is coming nevertheless.
11. The church has been endowed with sufficient authority to discharge her mission - including especially the edification of believers and the evangelization of the lost. Whatever demonic multitudes may resist the full deliverance of believers from the grip of the devil - and whatever evil hosts may be arrayed against the salvation of the lost, the church is able to overcome it all. However, the mission of the church does not yet extend to effecting cultural reformation. Judgment upon the nations - and the social fabric which comprises the institutional framework of those nations - has not yet been committed to her (Revelation 2:26-27): it awaits the personal return of her Lord. Consequently, her authority to exact authentic political, social, and economic justice - and thereby engender permanent cultural change - is decisively restricted. She may protest - and indeed she ought to protest - however, her protest should not be founded on the basis of her mission, but solely because of her aggrieved moral sensitivities. Furthermore, though she may struggle to expunge and ameliorate social iniquity, there is no guarantee of any lasting success - until, of course, the Second Coming.
12. The church has not and will not (1) be endowed with the power to crush the nations and (2) be sent forth a "Joel's Army" to judge the wicked - at least not until Christ returns. Until then, she is commissioned and empowered only to preach a message of forgiveness - though, of course, she often sets that message against the backdrop of an impending judgment upon every man and woman who spurns the message of forgiveness and refuses God's offer of reconciliation.
13. The inability of the church to instigate lasting cultural reformation or effectively judge the wicked is not attributable to the defective holiness of either the saints individually or the church corporately. Though all of us should be continually seeking to perfect our holiness, striving more and more to be conformed to the image of Christ, that enhanced holiness will not transform the church into a vehicle of God's judgment. The issue is not holiness; it's the timing of God.
14. There is absolutely no scriptural warrant for believing that an "End Days" apostolic ministry will be ordained by God to "purge the tares from the wheat" - and that once purged, the church will be unified and anointed with "Joel's latter rain" - and then commissioned to seize control of the earth.
15. It's not that before the Second Coming Christ's reign is restricted to the church: evangelism certainly exhibits and reflects the triumphant reign of Christ - and evangelism is extended well beyond the sphere of the church: it's a knife plunging into the very heart of the devil's realm. The church is even now pillaging the kingdom of darkness - spoiling it, robbing it of its goods, the souls of men and women. And, furthermore, the church will not fail; she is assured of the ultimate success of her mission: the gospel will be preached unto all the nations - and the full number of the elect will be gathered. The church's success should not be measured in terms of cultural reformation - a mission she has not yet been assigned; instead, her success should be measured only in terms of souls saved, the gratitude and adoration she is able to express in her worship, and, lastly, the maturity she is able to produce among the saints.
16. No local church - or network of local churches - has ever been imparted a special mission from God. The mission of the church is plainly and unambiguously declared in the scriptures - and is meant to be embraced and discharged by all. Certainly each local church reflects a distinct "personality" - and each evinces a slightly different emphasis; however, the general mission of the church is changeless.
17. Believers who comprise a fully "communalized church" - as much it may reflect the scriptural ideal - should be especially wary of falling into the trap of elitism and insularity. Furthermore, continued commitment and obedience must never be equated with salvation; nor should anyone who departs the church be subtly persuaded that his departure puts his salvation in jeopardy.
18. Charismatic endowment alone never justifies church leadership. Church leadership is based upon the scriptural qualifications delineated in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 - qualifications which point more to an approved character and long experience than to any special gift endowment. "Communalized churches" must be especially wary of installing leaders who may be highly charismatic, but who do not reflect the profound, but rather simple and pedestrian qualifications outlined in the scriptures. Though church leaders should be highly respected and their authority honored, no leader should ever be accorded absolute authority. No leader can ever justifiably sustain the claim that he is God's unique oracle.
19. Individual believers should be very suspicious of church leaders who continuously criticize the larger Body of Christ, who are unable or unwilling to reach out to other leaders and establish loving and meaningful relationships, who press their congregations toward insularity and elitism, and, finally, who claim a unique kinship with God.
June 11, 1991 Draft
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