By Design – Part 1 – Authority of the Church



If you were here last week we talked about worship, and we said that worship, and specifically what we do in a worship service, and even more specifically singing, we said that worship was a result, or that worship was the necessary outflow of a Spirit filled life. So before we get to our main text today I want to look at a text that we looked at last week Ephesians 5:18

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit

So if you weren’t here last week I said that I love what Paul is doing with this text. He is using the wine filled life as an analogy for the Spirit filled life. So when you are filled with wine, when you are drunk, your behavior changes, the way you think changes, the way you talk to people changes. If you are filled with wine, then you are different, you are changed. Well it is the same thing with the Spirit Filled Life. When you are filled with the Spirit you act differently, you speak differently, you think differently. 

So do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

And so as we said last week if you are filled with the Holy Spirit there are some necessary results. The first one is the one we looked at last week- Worship and Singing.

19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,


The Second evidence of the Spirit Filled Life is Thanksgiving. Christians are grateful people, they realize that they have been given much and they are grateful.

20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,


But thirdly- And we are going to actually spend 5 weeks thinking about the implications of this verse.

21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 Now I have heard verse 21 misinterpreted my whole life. This section of verses that we are about to get into is a very popular section of verses. Ephesians 5:22-33 is all about marriage. It is a section of Scripture that I have preached and that many times and that often comes up in weddings and we used these texts through our own Art of Marriage series last fall.

And so people read verse 21 and say… Oh submit to one another… So in marriage the wife is supposed to submit to the husband and the husband is supposed to submit to the wife. This is not what this text is saying. 

But verse 21 is crucial in understanding the Christian life, and in understanding God. And a correct understanding of Ephesians 5:21 is really the basis of this whole series that we are about to enter.

We are calling this series By Design and our hope through this series is that you understand God’s design and his purpose in the universe. God is a God of order, his order is right and good, and the better you understand his order and rhythm the better your life will be. Understanding the rhythm and order of God is the pathway to godliness.

And one of the things that you have to understand in understanding the design of God is Authority. In every structure, every group, every family, there is an authority structure and this is a part of God’s design.

And so if you are in a position of authority in society, in your workplace and in your home, you need to know what that means and how to honor God in that position. And in the same way if you are under the authority of someone in society which we all are, in your workplace, or in the home, you need to know what that means and how to honor God there.

So for the next month we are going to talk about Design and specifically Authority and we want to begin with what that looks like in the church. So how should a church be organized, or where does a church get its authority, and what does that authority look like? Do we get our authority from some official church board somewhere? What is the Biblical way to set up a church?

 So our Scripture today comes from an unexpected place, so go ahead and turn in your Bibles with me to Matthew 18, and today we are going we are going to look at verses 15 – 20. Now if you have been in church for a long time you have probably heard this text preached as it pertains to Church Discipline but it also tells us a lot about church order so lets jump in and see what we can learn.

 Matthew 18:15-20

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

So what is God’s design for authority in his church? And considering Matthew 18 I think we can learn a few things about the church, and specifically today I want to look at 3 things with you-the order of the church, the authority of the church, and the power of the church.

So first of all this text teaches us about the order of the church. How should churches be organized? Or how do we understand church government? And throughout history there have been many means of organization that different churches have used, and when talking about church government a lot of time you will hear this word Polity, which means how is something politically organized.

And so the most common form of Church Polity is

Episcopalian Polity – and this form of government is used by Catholic Churches, Orthodox Churches of various kinds. It also includes Anglican Church, obviously Episcopalian Churches, Lutheran Churches and others. So these churches believe that God has given specific measures of authority to certain individuals that he has not given to others.

So for example in Catholic Life, the head of the Roman Catholic Church is the Pope, currently Pope Francis, who has been in the news a lot lately. So the Pope oversees an order of Cardinals, who oversee and order of Bishops, who oversee priests, who oversee individual churches and church members. The Church of England of course is overseen by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, who oversees bishops all throughout the Church of England world, and there are other ultimate leaders for all of these groups.

And this order of Bishops or church leaders is self-perpetuating. In fact each of these churches would argue that their succession of leadership began with the disciples, who were church leaders, who chose leaders, who chose leaders… All the way down to today. So Episcopalian church government is a very top down form of government.

The second form of church polity is Presbyterian Polity. And Presbyterian Churches, and Reformed Churches, and other smaller denominations have Presbyterian Polity. And the best way to understand Presbyterian Polity is our own Federal Government. It is a representative republic. So the local church typically in Presbyterian churches elects Elders, but then those Elders rule over the church, and together for a Presbytery, and those Presbytery’s rule over several churches, and then those Presbytery’s make up a General Assembly that rules over the whole denomination of churches. So each church has a voice or a representative, but each church comes up underneath the authority of the larger body – they aren’t autonomous churches. They ultimately must do and must believe as the larger group of churches does and believes.

And practically we have seen this play itself out in the Presbyterian Church. A lot of churches even now are leaving the Presbyterian Church USA over the issue of homosexuality. So the PCUSA has embraced homosexuality. There are homosexual members of the General Assembly, these churches are performing homosexual marriage etc. And so many Presbyterian Churches are wanting to leave the PCUSA for other Presbyterian groups like the EPC or maybe even the PCA, but these churches try to leave and they realize that they don’t own their own building. The larger denomination does. The congregation really doesn’t have “authority” over its own church. What is in effect happening is that the members of churches wanting to leave the denomination are basically breaking fellowship with the church and together starting a new church. And many of them are having to buy their own building back from the denomination, or abandon the building. It is a big problem.

The final major form of church polity is

Congregational Polity – and congregational churches see the individual as autonomous and see the ultimate authority in the church lying with the congregation, with the members of the church. The congregation then decides how they will organize the leadership structure around them. And many churches that we know are congregational- Congregationalist churches, Baptist churches, and non denominational churches have some sort of congregational structure.

So currently at Valleydale we have what is called the Single Elder Model, where the congregation elects a pastor, and deacons, and committees who then lead the congregation.

And on June 29 we are proposing to the church that we move to a plurality of Elder model where the senior pastor along with other Elders provides spiritual leadership and oversight to the church. This group of Elders of course still ultimately chosen by the congregation.

There is no larger group that oversees Valleydale. We are an autonomous church body. So what does it mean that we are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention? Or an SBC Fellowship? Well all that means is that we as an individual church have chosen to partner with other Southern Baptist Churches and we can choose to partner as much, or as little, or not at all with those churches. So again we love being a part of a denomination. We believe that we can do more for the Gospel in partnership with other churches, but the denomination doesn’t have authority over us, but we do by so choosing to send messengers to the SBC have a voice in our denominations decisions. And I don’t have time to get into it today but I did post a great article on twitter yesterday on how the SBC works that my friend Jed Coppenger wrote, and I encourage you to check it out.

So with all of that background clearly we are congregational church, with congregational polity. But why? And the answer is congregational church polity is clearly the pattern of the New Testament.

So if you look at our text today – It is basically a text on how church discipline is handled. And therefore it tells us a lot of about the order of a church.

And I feel compelled to quickly address the issue of church discipline.

You know a lot of people hear about church discipline and think to themselves well that must be a bad thing. Or maybe the first image that appears in their head is a guy getting excommunicated from the church. When really church discipline is the kindest and most loving thing you can do. And I mean that, church discipline is kind and loving.

Sin will kill you. Sin separates you from God. And really all church discipline is, is a church that loves one another. Whenever we go somewhere one of our big rules for Emery Anna is stay with us in the parking lot. When we are in the parking lot, stay with us. So the other day we were at the pool and we were about to walk outside and like we always do, I said to Emery Anna, “Now stay with me in the parking lot.” So we walk out into the parking lot and there were two boys walking through the parking lot, and they had this really cool ball and Emery Anna saw them and she took off after them. So now not only is she not staying with me in the parking lot, she is chasing after boys. And so I said, “Emery Anna, come back,” and she kept on after the boys. Finally I had to go and get her. She had disobeyed a clear rule and I had to discipline her. Now why did I discipline my daughter? Was it because I hate her, or because I was being judgmental? ?No it was because I love her and I didn’t want her to get hit by a car and die.

And that is the same motivation for church discipline. It is a church together saying we love one another and we are going to do whatever we can to keep people away from sin.

And the base level it is really simple. It’s just Christians in your community reminding one another to be faithful to Jesus. I mean just this week I had a guy come to me and say, “Hey a few months ago you had told me you would do this and yet you did this.” Now it wasn’t an intentional misleading on my part, but I was wrong. I had been careless and forgetful, and so I quickly went back and corrected the situation, got it right, apologized to the guy and I was really grateful that he came to me. That is at the base level church discipline. I was wrong he came to me in love and I repented.

Now let’s say, he came to me and I had said, “I don’t care what you say and I don’t care what I said, I am going to do what I am going to do.” Now all of the sudden I am in big time sin, our relationship is broken, my relationship with other people is probably in jeopardy, I have lost my honor. And the only hope is that I repent and make this thing right. And so what Jesus lays out in Matthew 18-going to the individual alone, bringing someone else along, going before the church-these are all hopes at repentance because we love each other, and we want to keep people from sin because sin kills our souls, it separates us from God, and because we love each other we do this.

Now this isn’t really a sermon on church discipline, but what I want you to see in this… In getting someone to repent, in getting someone to see their sin, so that they will turn away from their sin and be more like Jesus, what is the highest level of authority? What is the highest mark of authority? Where does this process end?

It doesn’t end with the pastor. It doesn’t end with some council. It doesn’t end with you know a bishop somewhere…It ends with the church, the people of God, called by Christ, filled by the Holy Spirit who have been given authority by Christ himself. And this pattern we see all throughout the New Testament.

In Acts 6, we see the Elders realizing that they need help that they cannot do everything by themselves, and they see the need to elect Deacons. So what do they do? They go to the congregation, and the congregation, the church, the people elect deacons. Now there was a process that the church followed it wasn’t just a free for all, but the church had the final voice of authority. 

Throughout the New Testament, we see leaders addressed but we also see the church addressed, the people of God who have been empowered by the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t with some council that God left his authority. It was with his church. And all throughout the New Testament we see this pattern over and over again.

This is what Martin Luther called the Priesthood of all Believers – which says that God is equally accessible to all the faithful believers, and that every Christian has equal potential to minister for God.

There isn’t some special group of Christians that do all of the work. In fact it is often just the regular people that God uses. I mean look at so many of the disciples, they were fishermen, or one was tax collector, not scholars, not these high and mighty guys. Look at some of the greats throughout church history.

I mean I think of Augustine before he became a priest he was a teacher, or Brother Lawrence worked in a kitchen, or William Carey who started the modern missionary movement, he was a shoemaker.

See the anointing, the power, the authority is with all of the believers.

So, Valleydale, because this is what we see in the Bible, Valleydale is and will continue to be an autonomous body. We are not owned by anybody, or any institution. We are under the authority of Christ alone, and by his leading we decide on who will be leading us, and even what we believe.

Which brings me to the next point, which is the Authority of the Church.

What kind of Authority does the church have? And actually our scripture teaches us a great deal on this also. Look at verse 18 and 19 with me.

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Jesus here is repeating something he said in Matthew 16 and actually because he repeats it here in Matthew 18, he gives clarity to what he was saying in Matthew 16. So some of you may know that in Matthew 16 Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God, and then Jesus says

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

And so there has been a lot of debate throughout church history-Is the Rock Peter, which would lend itself to some sort of apostolic succession, or is the Rock the Confession of the Gospel, which would lend itself to a broader group and to anyone who confesses that Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God.

Then in Matthew 16 Jesus goes on to say-

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

So the same thing he says in Matthew 18, he says here in Matthew 16. Now again there is a lot of debate. Is he giving Peter the Keys to the Kingdom? In fact there is a lot of Christian art where Peter is depicted with the keys. This is from the Vatican City, so is it Peter that gets the Keys and then whoever he gives the keys to, or is Jesus giving the Keys to the whole church to all of the disciples… It is a little foggy In Matthew 16, but fortunately we have Matthew 18 to clarify where he says to all of the disciples. There is not specification here of Peter or any other disciple and he says

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

In other words, where the church is, where the people of God are, there is authority. Jesus has given the church, all of the church, the priesthood of all believers, Jesus has given the whole church authority.

And therefore being a part of a church, being a member of a church really means something. You should want to be a member of a church and you should want to be in good standing with that church. Christianity is not really Christianity without the church.

You see Jesus the Son of God came to earth to rescue his church, and he gave his life on the cross for your soul, and to those who believe in him who call upon his name he gives salvation. He gives authority, he gives power. He calls his followers his church, who gather in local churches, and the bible calls the church his bride.

One of the most famous early Christians, a guy named Cyprian, who was actually killed by the emperor Valerian once said this-

The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. 

When a person’s Christianity gets separated from the church, it loses its authority, it loses its grip. It is in the church that your Christianity really works that it really means something and where it really has authority to bind and to loose. 

One of the things that we outlined in the new bylaws are the privileges of church membership.

 Protection – The Church member finds greater protection from theological error and sin through discipleship, through Church discipline, and by coming under the leadership of Church Pastors and Elders. You want to protect your soul, you need the church. This is eternity we are talking about.

Commitment – The mutual commitment between the member and the Church body provides a deeper level of community and a greater opportunity for growth in Christian spirituality.

Mission – The member will find greater effectiveness in advancing the Kingdom of Christ as a part of a church body than he or she will individually. How are you going to accomplish the Great Commission alone? You can’t. You need the church.

Assurance – To be accepted for membership is an affirmation by the Church of the member’s salvation. The church is where you can really see the fruit of your spirituality? Where do you use the gifts of the Spirit in the church? where do you practice the fruit of the spirit?

Voting – Each Church member is given the right to vote, to make decisions on behalf of the body that change the scope of eternity.

Who has God given the authority to change the scope of the eternal destiny of this city? It is his church. The Keys of the Kingdom of God have been given to us. There is authority in this. But there is also power.

Which brings us to the last thing that we learn about in the text and that is the power of the Church.

20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

When the church comes together, God is here. God is here in this moment. We pray all week we prepare all week for this moment when the saints of God come together for worship, because God is here and there is power where God is. Don’t you want to be where God is? When the church comes together God is here.

And that isn’t just in this moment. That is in any moment when the church comes together. On Friday I met Ryan Whaley and Colby Barnett for lunch. We just met to hang out. The purpose wasn’t spiritual but it became spiritual. We are the church, we love each other in Christ. And just in a little lunch meeting I think all of us walked away empowered and encouraged. Why? “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” God loves and meets with his church.

And he has entrusted his people, all of his people when rightly connected to one another, with power, with a priesthood, who as Luther said have equal access to God and equal potential to minister for God.

Two stories and then I will be done. So yesterday, a group from Valleydale folks left Birmingham and went to Virginia and this week that team is going to construct a 17,400 square foot building where this church who has been meeting in a school for years will finally have a church home. And in that church people will hear the gospel and be saved, people will be baptized, children will grow up learning about Jesus. Souls in that town will forever be changed in that building. And you know who is doing it, great Valleydale members. We don’t have a pastor on the trip, it was the vision of lay men and women and they are making it happen and binding and loosening for all of eternity. Pray for them this week.

Second story, and I love this one. So our women’s ministry. Amy Harris, who is our Women’s Ministry Coordinator, who is a “staff member” but who is an unpaid staff member, which are my favorite kind, so Amy Harris and some on her team got this vision for Reabolish. We had this event about a month and a half ago where men and women from all over the city came to be a part of ending human trafficking in Birmingham. Now there were so many stories that flowed out of reabolish but the one that really stuck with me was this… One of the things that guys in the human trafficking business do is build relationships with young girls, they befriend them, buy them things, the girl feels like she owes them, they get these girls on drugs they need money and it is a pathway to this horrible industry.

Well we had some high school girls come to Reabolish and they learned about the human trafficking industry and they went back to their school and they had a friend, who one of these guys had started to build a relationship with. And because she talked to these high school girls that had come to our event, this girl realized that this was what this guy was trying to get from her. She was able to get help and end this relationship. This girl’s whole life and probably her whole eternity was changed because of you, because of your ministry, because of the power of God manifested through his church.

You are the church. The authority and the power of God has been given to us. Do you live like that? Do you believe that? Do you believe in this like that a local church like Valleydale that has the keys of the Kingdom of God in our hands? By God’s grace we will use them well.

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