The Preaching of the Word | Marks of the Church

If you were asked, how would you define the church, according to biblical standards?

Many of us, if not all of us, would have difficulty nailing down the definition of what a church is, according to the Scriptures. In fact, many people do not even open their Bibles in order to find the definition of what the church is. So, instead of looking at the New Testament for our definition, we look at what we prefer the church to look like. 

Yet, if we were to look at the 115 times the word ekklesia is used in the New Testament for Church, 100 of those mentions are referring to what we call the visible church, something which we will refer to in just a moment.  

What is a Church?

So, then, what is a church? Well, the question is quite a bit more complicated than simply asking what a policeman is or (if you are my four-year-old) what a T-bone car wreck is. Yet, however difficult it is to define, we must do our best to define it through the lens and content of Holy Scripture. If Christ, the Word, is the head of the Church (invisible), we must define the Church by His Word, the Bible. 

So, we of course, will get to this in just a bit. In fact, this is the entire series of what it means to make-up the Church of Jesus Christ. However, the New Testament does not give us a definition showing us that the church is fill in the blank. So, we have to dig and find out how the Church, instituted in the first century, made themselves to become their own entity of God’s kingdom while on earth. Yet, there are many other men who have done the same thing and given us some great definitions over the course of Christian history. John Calvin defines the Church as those “who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are initiated into the faith; by partaking of the Lord’s Supper profess unity in true doctrine and charity, agree in hold the word of the Lord, and observe the ministry which Christ has appointed for the preaching of it.”[1] Calvin, then, professes that it is those who are baptized (that is, born again by the Spirit) and those who partake of the Supper and observe the Word of the Lord during the preaching as what constitutes the Church.

Thomas Grantham, our Free Will Baptist forefather, defines the Church as “A company of men called out of the world, by the voice or doctrine of Christ, to worship one true God according to His will.” [2]

But even still, the question still arises: what does it mean to be a local church? It is not enough to simply say that the church is a people who are gathered to worship God. While this is true, there is much more in the New Testament that is defined as a church. So, let’s look at one great comparison that will be absolutely crucial moving forward in this series.

Visibility/Invisibility

The difference comes between the church visible and the church invisible. And here is what we mean by this: the church visible is the gathered church each single week under one roof. The Church invisible is the “capital C” Church that every believer in the world abides. So, there is a “lower case” church and an “upper case” Church. One represents the church as a gathered body, like Arbor Grove Free Will Baptist Church where I pastor. The other represents the kingdom of God in the hearts of every believer of all time. 

Marks of Visible Church

Therefore, from what we’ve seen so far, this is not a series on the invisible Church, but one on the visible church.  

Definition of Preaching

The local church has one goal in mind for its ministries: to proclaim the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In whatever ministries and methods we apply, the only true mission the local church has is to be a visible representation of God’s kingdom on earth. Of course, this means that the goal of everything we do at this church is about sharing the good news of Jesus

Goal of Local Church 

Yet, the God-ordained means by which the church is to proclaim the gospel is the preaching of the Word of God. In other words, what we are getting at here is that God does not mandate programs and different activities to do the work of sharing the gospel. Instead, God’s way of sharing the gospel for the local body of believers is the preaching of the Word. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). 

Definition (mine)

So, the real question then is: what is preaching? How do we differentiate Preaching should declare God’s message to a gathered church for the purpose of salvation for unbelievers and sanctification for believers. God uses ordinary men through ordinary means to communicate his divine message of salvation to the world. In other words, preaching is much more than simply getting up and making comments about the Bible. Thabiti Anyabwile posits that Preaching is God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.”[3] 

In other words, preaching is a sacred, spiritual act that God has ordained to speak to His people through his chosen messenger, the pastor of the local church

Right Preaching and Its Effects

So, for just a few minutes, I’d like for us to see the necessity of preaching from the New Testament itself. All of these other quotations are well and good, but they do not overpower the authority of the Word of God. Turn with me to Acts 2:42: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). 

Now, let’s recap what has happened so far in Acts 1 and 2. Jesus has ascended and given the disciples the power of the Holy Spirit living within them to be his witness all over the world (1:8), and now the disciples have been given the Spirit “like a mighty rushing wind (2:2),” and Peter begins to preach his famous sermon.

Peter calls on all who are in attendance (mostly Jews) to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). Of course, we understand that once we repent of our sins, we receive the Holy Spirit to be the presence of God in our lives (2:38). But, as you continue through the passage here, we come to verse 42. This is the verse of which we find the thousands of souls gathering together to do one thing: devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching.  

Devoted Themselves

Now, in this passage here, we find an interesting word that demands our attention. You see, these new converts simply did not attend church. No, it actually says they continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The Greek word here for devoted actually means that they were “attend constantly or being busily engaged with the apostles’ teaching.” In other words, the apostles’ teaching was not some sort of informality in the lives of these new coverts; it was their new way of life! Their lives centered around the preaching of God’s Word through the apostles. 

Effects

Because the way of life of these new coverts had been drastically changed, there were now some effects which came upon those who had been recently born again under the preaching of the apostles. 

First, the passage says that awe came upon all who were there (v. 43). What Luke records in Acts can sometimes be misunderstood by those of us who read the Bible through western eyes. You see, this was at a time when many Jews would be in Jerusalem. So, there were many in this place that were not believers, and Luke records that under the apostles’ teaching, everyone was filled with awe (2:43). In other words, Luke says that even those who weren’t “converted” were still in awe over what had happened. 

Second, the apostles were performing signs and wonders (v. 43). “Signs and wonders” is often a New Testament way of saying that these were the works of Jesus. The apostles were now performing the same signs and wonders of which Jesus would have performed during his ministry. Of course, we understand that they only did this because the Holy Spirit fell upon them.

Third, all believers were together and held things in common (v. 44). Another aspect of first century culture that we might not understand as people who live in the West is that when Pentecost would come about in the year, often people would stay in other people’s houses in Jerusalem until the feasts and traditions were over. Something else foreign to us is that there were times when multiple families would live in the same house. So, being together and having things in common makes sense when you live under the same roof.

Fourth, they sold their possessions to give to those who had needs (v. 45). Again, this follows the previous point here: when multiple families were living together, there were often more resources available to give to the needy. Luke here seems to indicate here that it wasn’t as if everyone sold everything at once, but possessions were sold as a need was brought about. 

Fifth, every day (EVERY DAY) they devoted themselves to meet in the temple (v 46). The NASB has a great literal translation of this verse. I read the CSB which states in verse 46: “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple.” However, the NASB has a more accurate translation here: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple.” In other words, unity was the end goal for their commitment to the Temple each day. One commentator notes, “The joy that characterizes these gatherings was no doubt inspired by the Spirit (13:52) and may have been associated with the conviction that the Lord Jesus was present with them.”[4]

As you can see, the experience of the teaching of the apostles had massive effects on those who experienced such an event. 

But, if I were to be completely honest with you, we must address our own souls as we move forward from this place today. Our souls are constantly being tempted and we are consistently battling our flesh. Yet, the only antidote to overcoming our own temptation is the Word of God and how it works to save us from the moment of conversion to the time we meet Jesus face to face by death or his second coming. Yet, until one of those times come, we must continue to proclaim the message with which he has entrusted us. Here are two reasons why:

Preaching is for the Salvation of Unbelievers

The foremost way in which God saves sinners is by the preaching of His Word. Paul writes in Romans that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. So, we understand that preaching is absolutely necessary to save sinners from dying into an eternity of the pouring out of the wrath of God. People cannot be saved without the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that is only found in Holy Scripture

And you know what, friends? We must do a better job of showing this reality to our friends and family. I know we all have fears and hesitations when it comes to telling others about Jesus. But at the same time, in all honesty, there is an urgency that I think we in American churches often miss about reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have a community in Hoxie/Walnut Ridge full of sinful activity you can imagine, and we have the solution to their problems! Yet, what do we do? We work out here trying to win them over with activities and events, to no avail! Folks, we must do better! 

Christ has called us to much more than this, and we must act. Mark Dever agrees, “When God’s people hear about God and what he requires, they will respond.”[5] This is what it means to be a Christian! It is following Jesus and being in love with him so much that all we know to do is obey what he says do

Preaching is for the Sanctification of Believers

But, friends, reaching our community is not enough. Preaching has more reach than simply saving unbelievers, it also continues to save those of us who have already received the Spirit and have been born again. The preaching of the Word of God will continue to mold and shape us into the image of Jesus Christ as we continue to devote ourselves to its teaching. Of course, when we devote ourselves to the teaching of God’s Word, we find command after command to entrust this same gospel to other people

This means that while we experience the preaching of the Word of God in a local church service and grow in grace from its fruit, it should motivate us to invest it in other people! This was Paul’s words to Timothy: “And what you have heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will then teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

You see, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not meant to discontinue after we trust Christ through faith and repentance. Instead, the gospel should continually be upon our minds every single day of our lives. Don’t we see this in the book of Acts with the early church? Verse 46 of chapter 2 tells us that these new converts were going to the temple EVERY DAY to fellowship with other believers for the purpose of unity!

We complain about having to go three times per week, and these thousands in Acts joyously gathered together in the temple to fellowship with other believers and to experience community with those gathered. Why is it that the American church seems backwards from this? It’s because it is backwards! 

Jesus did not mean for us to hole up in our little buildings and reach people occasionally when they come through our doors! He seeks out the lost and commands us to go to the highways and by-ways and compel unbelievers to come and hear the gospel! He has also meant for us to joyously devote our lives to growing in him by hearing the preached Word and investing the gospel into other people. 

Friends, we cannot ignore this any longer! We must be about obedience to the Word of God that contains the very words of Jesus to us for our good! We are to obey God’s Word which commands us to devote ourselves to the local church. It commands us to take the only message of salvation for all people to all people. It commands us to invest this message into others.  

It is plain and simple. But the question is: will you obey? 


[1] John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2008), 677. 

[2]  Thomas Grantham. Christianismus Primitivus (London: Forgotten Books, 2015), Book 2, Chapter 1, 2.

[3]  Hobert K. Farrell, “Preach, Proclaim,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 626.

[4]  Thabiti Anyabwile, “How Do You Define Preaching,” The Gospel Coalition, November 19, 2012, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/how-do-you-define-preaching/.

[5]  Mark Dever, “The Church” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Danny Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 780.

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