One of the miracles of our salvation is that God makes us into his very own home. Most of us would pass on such lousy building material. But God, being the master builder he is, lays Christ the cornerstone and then transforms rotten lumber into a holy temple. Ephesians 2:22 speaks of this wonder, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” God sanctifies individuals and He sanctifies churches. But how does He grow churches in holiness? The question is an important one; there is a lot on the line. The 1689 Baptist Confession says, “The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error. Some have degenerated so much that they have ceased to be churches of Christ and have become synagogues of Satan” (2LBC 26.3). How might churches avoid such degeneration and welcome the refining work of a holy God? Here are three principles for how local churches can grow in holiness:
- Churches do well to remember they have been called for the purpose of holiness. God’s effectual call of the elect must serve as the foundation for the church’s pursuit of holiness. Jesus says in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” With this call, God works grace in his people as “He takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh. He renews their wills and by His almighty power turns them to good and effectually draws them to Jesus Christ” (2LBC 10:1). If a church neglects this call, or even downplays it in the teaching ministry of the church, then that church will be liable to fall into ditch-despair on one side or ditch-pride on the other as they walk sanctification’s path. How wise our 17th century Baptist brothers were to include this line regarding the church in their confession: “They are called so that they will live before Him in all the ways of obedience that He prescribes for them in His Word” (2LBC 26:5).
- Churches should promote the value of their public worship. Corporate worship is vital to the church. If a church stops meeting together for worship, it dies. One Baptist theologian demonstrates this point in his very definition of a local church: “A Christian church is an assembly of believers in Christ, organized into a body, according to the Holy Scriptures for the worship and service of God.” Many churches, today, seek for a niche in the ecclesiological market. The temptation is strong to find a new add-on, program, retreat or initiative that will really serve to mature people. Such things can be helpful, but unduly elevating them distracts churches from the bread and butter corporate worship to which they have been called; the corporate worship that week in and week out serves to sanctify them. When the church gathers on the Lord’s Day for the preaching, reading, praying, singing and seeing (through the ordinances) of God’s Word, the holy house gets built.
- Churches grow in holiness through governing themselves biblically. A church full of good people with no way to keep out the wolves is on the path to becoming one of Satan’s synagogues. Regenerate church membership, including the practices of credobaptism (front door) and excommunication (back door), serves the long-term purity of a local church. We are wise not to diminish church government for “To every church… [Christ] has given all power and authority that is in any way necessary to conduct the form of worship and discipline that He has instituted for them to observe. He has also given them commands and rules, to use and carry out that power rightly and properly” (2LBC 26:7). If a church takes this Christ-given authority seriously, members will devote themselves to God’s Word and one another. If you find a church devoting themselves to God’s Word and one another, you will find a church growing in holiness.