Difficult Questions About The Church

Curated Resources around Key Questions about the Theology and Practice of the Church

Curated by Phil Thompson

What Is The Church And What Is Her Role In This World?

What is the Church?

What is the church? Each of us has an idea that comes to mind when we read the word “church.” Some may think of a building when they hear the word “church.” Others may think of a man-made social club, much like the Lions Club or the Shriners. The Bible, however, portrays the church as a much different reality. The Bible shows that the church is the corporate “people” of God that consists of the individual “persons” of God. By “people” of God, we mean those who belong to God, in Christ.

Historically, the Reformed tradition has drawn a distinction between the universal and local church. The universal church consists of all believers of all time, whereas the local church is made up of God’s people that gather in a particular space in time and (hopefully) represent the whole of the universal church.

What is the Role of the Church in the World?

If we are the people of God, put together by God, then he must have a mission for us to fulfill. This mission can be summed up in three points: (1) worshiping God, (2) edifying believers, and (3) sharing the love of Christ with all in both word and deed. It is important that we remember that sharing the love of Christ requires not only words, but actions. It is not merely enough to tell someone the Gospel; our lives must reflect the love that Christ has for us. Corporately, we are the Body of Christ, and thus the physical manifestation of Christ in the world. In light of this, we must strive to reflect him well.

  • Steven Chin

Recommended Reading

Is 1 Corinthians 11:19 A Warrant For Denominations?

“In the following instructions I have no praise to offer, because your gatherings do more harm than good. First of all, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. And indeed, there must be differences among you to show which of you are approved.” 1 Corinthians 11:17-19

Is Paul commending the existence of different factions or denominations here? At first glance, it may appear that Paul is suggesting that having different denominations is a good thing. However, this view is difficult to defend. A closer examination of the context of this passage shows that the “differences” Paul refers to is between unbelievers and believers and is not praising the divisions among the people of God.

The text in question is located at the beginning of the instructions for the Lord’s Supper from Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:17-34). In this text, Paul is particularly addressing the partiality and division among the church of Corinth. If this text were referring to different denominations, it would be condemning denominations as unbelieving. Paul is saying that only some were approved. Taken in context of the passage, Paul seems to be talking more of the borders of the church, where true believers are seen in contrast to unbelievers.

In opposition to the idea that Paul commends denominations here, Jesus prayed that his people would be one (Jn 17:3). Most denominations that exist today have come into existence through arguments over non-Gospel issues. We ought to repent of our divisiveness and seek for greater unity with those who agree with us on the Gospel.

  • George Robertson

Video Resources
  • In this panel, Ligon Duncan, John Yates, Kevin DeYoung, and Mark Dever discuss the history, current state, and future of denominations in light of the wide spectrum of evangelicalism.

  • Albert Mohler explaining his concept of theological triage.

Should Christians Pray For Revival?

What is revival? Revival is the normal working of the Spirit renewing and transforming people, happening in an intense way at a particular time and place.

Some Christians are always thinking about and longing for revival, while some struggle to even permit revival as a legitimate concept in the Christian life. Who is correct? Is there a proper Biblical posture towards revival, and if there is, what is it?

To begin, it will be helpful to define terms. Biblically, revival is an intensified season of the Holy Spirit doing his normal work in believers. God does not act differently in this time. There have been many examples of the Spirit bringing revivals at different times in history. However, there are also examples of people trying to re-create the work of the Spirit under the name “revival” as well. This is the reason for some Christians to doubt the category of “revival.” They have seen the faults in this method and have written off the possibility of the work, we would call revival.

Though there have been abuses, we should not let these deter us from praying that the Spirit would work in a mighty way in our current church or culture. In the same way that it is proper for a believer to pray for another to be sanctified or a lost person to be saved, it is also proper to pray for a widespread work of the Spirit in a specific place.

As is the case with the normal work of the Spirit, it may be possible that revival could be a quiet time. Every day of growth in the life of a believer is not going to be the most attention-grabbing. Likewise, revival could be occurring in a quiet, united church. Revival does not have to be loud and earth-shattering, but can be working in the life of a church that is lacking conflict as the members love one another.

  • Richard Phillips, Kevin DeYoung, & Bryan Chapell

  • Tim Keller

Should Every Christian Speak In Tongues?

Tongues are a polarizing topic in the church. There are some camps that believe every true Christian must speak in tongues. Others say that there tongues are not for anyone today. Others say that tongues are possible, but uncommon. Still, there are some that don’t have any idea what to do about tongues.

There are a few different aspects at play in the conversation about tongues. Were/are the utterances authoritative? Are tongues known human languages or heavenly languages not known to us? Were tongues only for the generation of the apostles? What purpose do tongues serve in the life of a believer? Each of these questions will be addressed below.

  1. To the first question, the answer is that if there is any form of tongues still in use today, it most definitely is not authoritative revelation from God. Some today will argue that tongues and prophecy are authoritative today, but this view is unorthodox. For us to believe that we are getting new authoritative revelation today, we would have to believe that God’s revelation is incomplete. We know that we have all that we need in Christ and the words that God has given us in Scripture.
  2. To the second question, there is a lot of room for differences. Even among faithful believers, there are varying opinions about the nature of the tongues. Some would argue that the tongues are those of angels (1 Cor 13:1), while some would argue that the tongues were known languages that the speaker had no prior understanding of. In the latter view, God would have gifted the speaker with the ability to speak in that tongue, so as to bring the Gospel to a new place.
  3. To the third question, many evangelicals hold different opinions. Some would argue from history and their purpose, that tongues are not for today. They would argue that they serve no purpose in a world that is post-Apostolic and has the Word of God written down and available. Others would disagree and argue that tongues are a gift for the edification of the individual speaking, or if there is an interpreter, for the edification of the group in his presence.

Regardless of how one answers the three questions above, based on the pattern of Scripture, there is only one correct answer to the question this section is seeking to answer: it is unbiblical to expect every Christian to speak in tongues.

  • George Robertson

Video Resources
  • John Piper – What is Speaking in Tongues?

Who Should Lead The Church?

Who has God given the right to lead the local church? Ultimately, we believe that Christ is the head of the church (Col 1:18), but beyond that, who carries the responsibility of decisions on earth? Does the Bible even prescribe a structure or should we approach the topic more pragmatically? Episcopalians take a more pragmatic approach, while presbyterians believe in elder-rule and baptists all believe in some form of congregationalism. Even among faithful believers, the opinions are broad. Multiple views will be presented below.

  • Ligon Duncan & Thabiti Anyabwile (On Church Polity)

  • Bill Kynes (On Women Elders)

Is Church Membership Really Necessary?

The question of the necessity of membership is completely the wrong question for us to ask. We understand from Romans 6 and Colossians 3 that we were each united to Christ, and thus united to one another. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

When God’s Son took on flesh, he truly and bodily took on, out of pure grace, our being, our nature, ourselves. This was the eternal counsel of the triune God. Now we are in him. Where he is, there we are too, in the incarnation, on the Cross, and in his resurrection. We belong to him because we are in him. That is why the Scriptures call us the Body of Christ. But if, before we could know and wish it, we have been chosen and accepted with the whole Church in Jesus Christ, then we also belong to him in eternity with one another. We who live here in fellowship with him will one day be with him in eternal fellowship. He who looks upon his brother should know that he will be eternally united with him in Jesus Christ. Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ. On this presupposition rests everything that the Scriptures provide in the of directions and precepts for the communal life of Christians.

We should longingly attach ourselves to local bodies of believers because we want to live out the reality that has already been done in Christ.

God never intended for us to grow on our own without the help of others. God loves to use those in local church to bring about the growth in others. We are to reflect Christ and help each other to reflect Christ more together. None of us evades this responsibility, but we are all responsible to disciple others and it is best done in the context of a covenanted community in the local church.

  • Trip Lee

Related Videos:
  • Trip Lee - "Can a Christian love Jesus but not the church?"

  • Joshua Harris - "Why should someone commit to a church?"

  • John Piper - "Why going to church does not make you a Christian"

  • John Piper - "Can you cling to Jesus and leave the church?"

What Is The Role Of Discipleship In The Church?

  • Mike Bullmore

Related Videos:
  • Buster Brown - "What is a disciple?"

  • Randy Pope - "Deep before wide: A vision for returning discipleship to the church"

  • James MacDonald, Mark Dever, & Matt Chandler - "Quantity of disciples or quality of discipleship?"

What Does It Mean To Practice Church Discipline In Our Era When People Are Prone To Sue?

It is entirely possible that a church could be on the receiving end of a lawsuit if church discipline escalates to the level of removal of a member. The practice of discipline, as painful as it may be, is based in Scripture (Matt 18; 1 Cor 5) and must be performed even in the face of the potential of a lawsuit. While the leadership of a church must be wise in how they engage in church discipline (following the church constitution to the letter, only disciplining members, and only disclosing essential information), for a church to back down in the face of a lawsuit over discipline would be for the church to compromise on the definition of a true believer. This is because church membership is, among other things, an affirmation of the faith of an individual. If discipline has escalated to the level of removal, then the church is effectively saying that they can provide no assurance that the individual is saved. Eternity is at stake in the statement of the church on this judgment.

  • Andy Davis

Should Christians Still Tithe To The Church?

“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.” Leviticus 27:30-32

The concept of the tithe, as we know is largely derived from this passage. The command to give 10% of one’s earnings to God was given in the time of the Old Covenant (before Christ), under the Law of Moses. Jesus, through his ministry, completely changed our disposition towards the Law, so we are no longer condemned by it. As post-Christ believers, how do we determine how we relate to Law like the tithe? Are we obligated to keep the Law? Do we only keep the commandments that are repeated in the New Testament? These are questions, among others, that the videos and articles below will address.

  • Tom Nelson: No

  • Mike Andrus: No

  • David Croteau: No

    (Specifically addressing Hebrews 7:1–10)

  • Kevin DeYoung: Yes

    (Specifically addressing Matthew 23)

  • Thomas Schreiner: No

Should Children Sit Through "Big Church"?

  • James K. A. Smith explains why he believes that young people long for liberating rituals.

Additional Resources
  • Sam Emadi – Philippians 2:1-8: "He Stoops to Conquer"Runtime: 51 min

    This sermon deals with the attitude church members need to be able to bear with and care for each other and their children in services.