Weekly Bible Study
Tuesday 15th September 2020
Topic: THE PURITY AND UNITY OF THE CHURCH
Text: Phil. 1:3–11; 1 Cor. 3:1–4.
We have examined “true churches” and “false churches.” We will further make distinction between a more pure and less pure churches. This fact is evident from a brief comparison of Paul’s epistles. When we look at Philippians or 1 Thessalonians we find evidence of Paul’s great joy in these churches and the relative absence of major doctrinal or moral problems. (Phil. 1:3–11, 2 Thess. 1:3–4) On the other hand, there were all sorts of serious doctrinal and moral problems in the churches of Galatia and Corinth. (Gal. 1:6-9, 1 Cor. 3:1–4.) Among true churches there are less pure and more pure churches.
Definitions of Purity and Unity
We may define THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH as follows: The purity of the church is its degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church. It is right to pray and work for the greater purity of the church. But purity cannot be our only concern, or Christians would have a tendency to separate into tiny groups of very “pure” Christians and tend to exclude anyone who showed the slightest deviation in doctrine or conduct of life. Therefore the New Testament also speaks frequently about the need to strive for the unity of the visible church.
THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH This may be defined in the following way: The unity of the church is its degree of freedom from divisions among true Christians. The definition specifies “true Christians” because, there are those who are Christian in name only, but have had no genuine experience of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, many of these people take the name “Christian” and many churches that are filled with such unbelievers still call themselves Christian churches. We should not expect or work for organizational or functional unity that includes all of those people, and therefore there will never be unity with all churches that call themselves “Christian.” The New Testament certainly encourages us to work for the unity of all true believers.
SIGNS OF A MORE PURE CHURCH Factors that make a church “more pure” include the following.
1. Biblical doctrine (right preaching of the Word)
2. Proper use of the sacraments (ordinances)
3. Right use of church discipline
4. Genuine worship
5. Effective prayer
6. Effective witness
7. Effective fellowship
8. Biblical church government
9. Spiritual power in ministry
10. Personal holiness of life among members
11. Care for the poor
12. Love for Christ
There may be other signs than these, but at least these can be mentioned as factors that increase a church’s conformity to God’s purposes. Of course, churches can be more pure in some areas and less pure in others. A church may have excellent doctrine and sound preaching, yet be a dismal failure in evangelism or in meaningful worship. Or a church may have a dynamic witness and very God-honoring times of worship but be weak in doctrinal understanding and Bible teaching.
Most churches will tend to think that the areas in which they are strong are the most important areas, and the areas where they are weak are less important. But the New Testament encourages us to work for the purity of the church in all of these areas. Christ’s goal for the church is “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26–27).
Paul’s ministry was one of “warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). The New Testament also mentions a number of other factors: we are to strive for
spiritual worship (Eph. 5:18–20)
effective witness (Matt. 28:19–20)
proper government of the church (1 Tim. 3:1–13)
spiritual power in ministry (Acts 1:80
personal holiness (1 Thess. 4:3; Heb. 12:14)
care for the poor (Acts 4:32–35)
love for Christ (1 Peter 1:8)
In fact, all Christians are to “strive to excel in building up the church.” (1 Cor. 14:12) If we are to work for the purity of the church, especially of the local church of which we are a part, we must recognize that this is a process, and that any church of which we are a part will be somewhat impure in various areas. There were no perfect churches at the time of the New Testament and there will be no perfect churches until Christ returns. This means that Christians have no obligation to seek the purest church they can find and stay there, and then leave it if an even purer church comes to their attention. Rather, they should find a true church in which they can have effective ministry and in which they will experience Christian growth as well, and then should stay there and minister, continually working for the purity of that church