The Church Order

Matthew 5:23-24
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, July 17, 2011
Copyright © 2011, P.G. Mathew

In the British House of Commons, it is the responsibility of the speaker of the house to maintain order. When disorder exists, he cries out: “Order! Order! Order in the house!” and order prevails. There is order also in the house of God. Today we want to speak about church order.

“The Church Order” may seem to many to be a strange title for a Sunday sermon. Many people would say the church should not have any order. They would agree that the state needs law and order, but not the church. In their view, the church should be a place where people can go to relax and be entertained by a hired minister. They say the church should be like a movie theater, a place of escape.

The truth is, Jesus Christ is given all authority in heaven and on earth, and this authority is exercised in every realm, especially in the church. God the Father has seated Christ at his right hand, “far above all rule and authority, and power and dominion,” and “placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph. 1:21, 22). God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee of every man and every woman, whether great or small, should bow, and every tongue confess and must confess that Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).

The people of certain underground churches in China are even now being imprisoned and punished for not agreeing that the highest authority in China is not Jesus Christ but the state. These Shouwang Christians believe that Jesus Christ alone is the highest authority in heaven and on earth, as the Scripture teaches.

If the Lord Jesus Christ is the ruler of the universe, then this is a moral universe and, therefore, there must be law and order in every part of his realm. Christ is the head of all three of his institutions-the family, the church, and the nations-which he rules through his delegated authorities. Question 11 of The Shorter Catechism asks, “What are the works of God’s providence?” The answer is, “The works of God’s providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all his creatures and all their actions.”

God’s Order in the Family

First, let us look at Christ’s rule in the family. The father is the authority in the family, and he is accountable to Christ. If there is no father in the family, children have a greater tendency to grow up to be criminals. One and a half million children are born in this country in homes without a father, and most criminals come from this group. A family should have both a father and a mother.

In a Christian family, the Lord rules through the father in accordance with the word of God (Eph. 5:22-6:4). If individuals don’t want to conform to that law, they will be dealt with by God’s law. The father is to obey the Lord, the children are to obey their parents, the wife is to submit to her husband, the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, and so on. The blessing of the Lord rests upon a Christian family when each person loves the Lord and keeps his holy laws. There is order in a Christian family.

God’s Order in the State

What about government of the nations? The state also receives its authority from the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:1-7). Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). All authority flows from God to the family, to the church, and to the state, and they are all accountable to him.

The state is to govern based on God’s law that is both revealed in the Scriptures and written on every human heart. We are especially referring to the moral law called the Ten Commandments. These are not suggestions, but commandments of the eternal God. If we violate them, we will pay.

The power of the rod is given to parents to discipline their children. The power of the sword is given to the state to punish wrongdoers. The state exists to promote righteousness and punish wickedness. The Lord raises up nations and in due time destroys them, bringing them down when they become arrogant. Just study the histories of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and God’s own country, Israel.

A state cannot function without law and order. Even today, disorder and disintegration are escalating, especially in the so-called Christian nations of Europe and the United States of America. The reason is that these nations have rejected God’s law, the Bible. In due time, they also will be brought down.

God’s Order in the Church

There is also order in God’s house, the church. Jesus Christ is especially the Lord and head of the church. That is why when two or three are gathered together, Christ himself is present in the church to observe, to bless, and to curse. He will even kill people, if necessary. Paul told the disorderly Corinthians, “For this reason many of you are weak and sick, and many have died” (see 1 Cor. 11:30). He has done it before and he will do it again. I hope we get rid of our arrogance, pride, and wickedness, and have reverence for the church of God.

The constitution of the church is the Bible. Christ gives authority to pastors to shepherd and govern the church. Pastors are Christ’s gifts to the church for her blessing and edification. They are not hired hands to whom you can give two dollars and they will serve you and do whatever you say. True pastors listen to God and do what he instructs them to say and do.

Paul counseled the Ephesian elders, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [episkopous]. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). A pastor must first manage his own family. His children must respect and obey him, unlike Eli’s children. A pastor’s children should not be wild and disobedient, but believe in God. If the pastor does not manage or govern his own family, he will not be fit to govern and care for the church of God. Paul is speaking about the local church. It is called here the church of God. This church is God’s church. Christ presides in this church to bless as well as to punish.

Paul appointed elders to govern each local church he established. He exhorted the Thessalonians in this way: “Now we ask you brothers to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” Notice, Paul is speaking of thoseover the people, not under. That is the aspect of being a bishop, an overseer. What is their work? It is not to entertain the sheep; rather, it is to feed them with the word of God, to protect them, to counsel them, and if necessary, to put them out of the church through excommunication. The highest possible punishment one can experience in the church is to be put out from God’s presence and thrown to the devil.

Those who entertain people and do not preach the whole Bible are not true shepherds. Those who preach a different gospel, a different Jesus, and a different Spirit are ministers of Satan. Such pastors must be opposed and themselves thrown out.

Concerning true ministers, Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Peter says, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder. . . . Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Pet. 5:1-2). In this passage, along with Acts 20, notice that the elders, pastors, and overseers are the same people.

The Hebrews writer exhorts, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account to God. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). It is a litotes, meaning to disobey the leaders will result in pain.

So the God of the church commands believers to obey, submit, and respect his delegated authorities. These are not suggestions to do when you feel like it. We are not to act like autonomous beings, doing what the authority says only if it is in agreement with our own idea of things and in our own time. No. God appointed pastors who work hard for the spiritual welfare of the flock. Jesus said his ministers are to teach the disciples to obey whatsoever he has commanded them. In the Scripture are Christ’s commands, which God’s people are to obey.

Such teaching is not found in many of today’s evangelical churches. In fact, many seminaries do not teach it either. To that degree, they have become abnormal.

The pastors, bishops, elders are given the power of the keys of the kingdom of God. In the family, the father is given the rod. The state is given the sword to execute a criminal. (PGM) That authority comes to the state from God. In the church, the power is given in terms of the keys of the kingdom of God. So Jesus tells us, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). Elsewhere he says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23).

Church leaders are given the power to bind and loose, to prohibit and permit, based on a person’s response to the gospel. If someone refuses to believe, he is bound. If he believes the gospel, he is loosed. If he refuses to believe, he is not forgiven. If he believes in the gospel, he is forgiven. If he refuses to believe the gospel, the gate of the kingdom will be locked for him. If he believes the gospel, the gate opens and he is admitted into the kingdom of everlasting life.

The sins of believers are forgiven so that they can see and enter the kingdom of God. But unbelievers are bound. They are excommunicated from God’s church and cursed. By the keys, the ministers open or shut the gates of God’s kingdom of everlasting life. Think about these things the next time when you feel like doing what Jeshurun did. “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked. . . . He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior” (Deut. 32:15).

The Normative Life of Order in God’s Church

The church loves God because God first loved the church. Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her in his death on the cross, paying for all our sins. Everyone born of God lives by love. We love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, which includes our money. And we love our brothers as ourselves. In God’s church, love rules. That is the order of love.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). We must love one another. John writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:16-17).

Sacrificial, self-denying love is the hallmark of a true Christian. If a person does not sacrificially love God’s children in the church, he is not a Christian. He is not born of God and has no understanding of the cross.

Listen to John: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. . . . Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well” (1 John 4:7; 5:1). We cannot love God the Father and not love his children.

In the church, love, joy, and peace-the fruit of the Spirit-should prevail, and every believer must do his utmost to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the bond of peace. Satan comes to destroy love, joy, and peace through sin and selfishness. But where there is self-denial, there is true sacrificial love. How can a Christian whose infinite sin has been forgiven by the atoning sacrifice of Christ refuse to forgive the finite sin of his brothers and sisters? If we do not forgive them, we are not Christians. This truth is clearly taught by Jesus in Matthew 18.

If you have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, he commands you to forgive, be reconciled to your brother, and follow the way of peace. Jesus brought us peace by his death on the cross-peace between God and man, and peace between man and man, Jew and Gentile.

Therefore, we live in God’s church in love, joy, and peace. And because we love the Lord, we keep his commandments. Let us look at a few scriptures that describe the life of order in the church.

1. Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”This is a command from the Lord Jesus Christ. Suppose you have come to the church to offer spiritual sacrifices, but you have not repented of a sin, or you have forgotten that you sinned against your brother. During worship, the Holy Spirit graciously reminds you of this matter, and now you remember. Jesus himself said to the church of Ephesus: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:4-5).

There is power and authority in the church to wipe us out. But God comes first to us in grace and mercy, and reminds us of our problem by his Holy Spirit. What then should we do? This scripture tells us we must not worship if God reminds us of a problem or disorder in our life. Instead, we must first go out go and seek out the brother that we sinned against, or who has ought against us, and be reconciled to him. Repent, confess, and ask his forgiveness for the specific sin we committed against him. Hug him, that there may be peace. When our hearts are pure, we will have confidence to come to God and worship. Then return to worship God. Our spiritual sacrifices will now be accepted and blessed. The Lord will bless us and keep us.

2. Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “˜every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. . . . This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:15-17; 35). We do not have the luxury to not forgive someone in the church. If your brother sinned against you, as the offended party, you are also under obligation to go and be reconciled to the offending party, who is your brother. And when the offending party confesses and asks forgiveness, you must forgive from the heart as God has forgiven you. God forgives us fully, not remembering our sins anymore.

Both the offending party and the offended party are under obligation to straighten out matters and be at peace with each other. They both must strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Each one must go to the other so they can be reconciled. The Holy Spirit grieves when sin exists in the church.

3. Mark 11:25: “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” This is a command. If we do not forgive, we are not Christians. If we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven, and our prayers will not be heard. Our worship will be a curse and a sham. If we do not forgive, God will deal with us severely. Paul writes, “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. . . . That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 11:17, 30).

The Head of the church deals with his people. Do you say you don’t want to forgive? At the point you say that, cancer can come in, and it will do its work. Not forgiving someone is serious business.

4. Isaiah 58:6-9a. The Lord begins, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” He had already said in verse 4,“Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”These people were trying to worship without being right with each other.

I grew up in a church at a time of great revival. But the revival eventually ended, and I remember that at the end of one service, people were hitting each other. God punished that church, and now it is full of adultery, greed, and other sins.

But God says, That is not the worship I ordered. This is the worship I ordered: “To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” And then he gives a wonderful promise: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
5. Ephesians 4:26-27, 32: “”˜In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. . . . Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” If we have a problem with someone, we must deal with it quickly. This is an order from the Head of the church, who has the power to humble us and even kill us. Take care of issues quickly. Reconcile and ask forgiveness. Acknowledge, confess, and receive forgiveness. Otherwise, Satan will deal with you, God will not hear your prayers, and you will suffer psychologically, physically, and spiritually.

In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel was troubled that he had made Saul king. Every pastor grieves when a sheep sins. But Samuel was not the only one who was grieved. “And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Sam. 15:35). The pastor grieves, the Lord grieves, and the Holy Spirit grieves. From that point on, Saul lived a life of grief and misery. The Holy Spirit departed from him, and an evil spirit came to torment him. We cannot sin and be happy. It will not happen. And, finally, Saul committed suicide.

6. Colossians 2:13, 3:13. In Colossians 2:13, Paul says, “[God] forgave us all our sins.” That is what justification is. When we come and believe in Jesus Christ, God forgives all our sins. Then he writes, “Forgive whatever [sins] grievances you may have against one another” (Col. 3:13). That is an order. Satan says, “Don’t forgive,” but God says, “Forgive.” Satan comes to destroy us; God comes to bless us. Notice, it says “whatever grievances,” or sins. This includes murder. God forgave the murder of his Son by his people. Paul concludes, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” This is an order from God. There is order in God’s house.

7. Luke 17:3-4: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “˜I repent,’ forgive him.” Our responsibility to our brothers is to rebuke, admonish, and confront them. Judaism said one should forgive three times in one’s life. The apostles were very generous. They asked Jesus, “What about seven times?” Jesus said, “No, there is no limit to forgiveness.” Because we are still sinners, we need forgiveness from God every day. But forgiveness cannot come to us without repentance. That is also God’s order.

However, God does not require us to get into the mind of the offender to see whether he truly repented. That is not our business. If someone has asked our forgiveness, we must forgive, and we do so for our own physical, psychological, and spiritual health.

8. 1 Peter 3:7 and Psalm 66:18. Both of these verses tell us that if we come into God’s presence without forsaking sin, we will not be blessed. Peter says,“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives . . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” If you do not love your wife, your prayers will be hindered. The psalmist declares, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18). When we cling to sin, God refuses to answer our prayers. “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (Hab. 1:31). Our sins must be covered by the blood of Jesus. Then God will not see them.

When you do not love your spouse, your prayers will not be answered. When you do not love your brother in Christ, your prayers will not be heard. Instead, you will wither and die, and everyone will see it. Your arrogance, hardness of heart, and insensitivity to God will increase.

9. 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” God’s people must do four things-humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways. When they do so, God promises to do three things: hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

God’s people called by God’s name means believers in Jesus Christ. Such people must live according to all of the divine constitution, the Bible. When they sin, God will bring about various punishments like famine, plague, defeat, and sickness.

We became people of God by confessing Jesus Christ as our Lord and King. We agreed to worship him and serve him all the days of our lives. He is Lord, and we are his obedient servants. When we sin, therefore, he chastises us. What should we do? We should repent, and he will forgive us and heal us.

We are to do all things decently and according to God’s order (1 Cor. 11:34; 14:40). God will not tolerate the disorder of sin in his holy church. So there are four conditions. First, humble ourselves. This shows contrition, sorrow for sin, and dependence on God. Second, pray. Call on God to help. No one else can help us. Third, seek his face. The Lord himself promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). Fourth, turn from sin. Isaiah declares, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7).

Then God gives three promises: “I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sins, and I will heal their land.” God shows mercy to us. If his conditions are met, God will certainly bless his holy people.

10. 1 John 3:21-22: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” When we have sinned, our hearts condemn us. God will not hear the prayers of hypocrites. But when we repent, we can pray, and God will hear because we are obeying his commands and doing what pleases him. There is order in God’s universe and there is order in God’s church. If we don’t like it, God’s law will find us out, and we will die. God will deal with us, both in this life and in the life to come.

What is the conclusion? Let us live by the love of God. We love God because he first loved us and God has poured out abundantly his love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us. Let us clearly understand what love is. If we love God, we will obey his commandments immediately, exactly, and delightfully.

What do we do when we have conflicts in our families-troubles between husband and wife, between parents and children, or children and children? We do not walk out; once we are sober, we humble ourselves and work it out according to the constitution of the Scripture. And we enjoy peace once again.

Even so, in God’s church, Christians are not sinlessly perfect. God will glorify us one day and make us sinless, so there will not be a need for sermons like this. But now we are capable of sinning and causing grief to others in the church. And in the church, just as in a family, we do not walk away; we work out our problem according to the Bible. We repent and ask forgiveness of God and God’s people, and once again enjoy peace and answers to prayer.

Friends, there is order in the family. There is law and order in the state. And there is also order in God’s church. It is the order of love. May God help us to love one another, forgive one another, and respond to God-ordained leaders, that we may live the life of God’s kingdom, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.