The Marks of the Church: Orthodoxy
The Marks and Works of the Church
This morning we are going to begin a new series entitled “The Marks and Works of the Church.” This series will take us about 8 weeks. The series will be broken down into two parts.
The first part of this series will concern the marks of the church. The “marks of the church” refer to the attributes, characteristics, and features of the church. The marks of the church help us understand what the church is. As we will explore this week and in the weeks to come, the marks of the church are these: orthodoxy, order, and ordinances.
The second part will concern the works of the church. The “works of the church” refers to the actions, engagements, and activities of the church. The works of the church help us understand what the church does. As we will explore in the weeks to come, the works of the church are exaltation, edification, and evangelism.
The purpose for this study is twofold.
First, I want to counter a certain narrative that permeates our culture. We live in a world that is hostile towards the idea of church. We live in a “I’m spiritual but not religious” world. We live in a “I hate religion but love Jesus” world. We live in an “I’m not religious but I have a relationship with Jesus.” We live in a world where what Jesus says about “where two or three are gathered in my name” is taken as an exhaustive view of what the church is. These are very prominent thoughts out in the world today. I imagine that many of you listening today have either said or thought these ideas. If you have, listen until the end before you tune me out. The
consequence of these ideas is a downplaying of the local church. The local church is seen as peripheral to Christianity or even as an enemy to Christianity. I want to counter this mindset. The church is a blessing, not a curse.
Two, I want to remind you of the important things of our faith. As people, we are prone towards ignorance and forgetfulness. We need constant reminders regarding the things that matter most. Forgetfulness can lead to neglect. And neglect can lead to deviation. We need constant reminders of the true things of the faith so that we do not deviate from the faith. One of my professors at Dallas Seminary has said this, “If a local church does not consciously and continually revisit and strengthen these pillars of essential marks and works of the church, they will eventually erode, crack, and crumble.”
By countering the cultural narrative and reminding you of the importance of the church, the desired outcome is for you to have a greater understanding of our corporate identity here at CBC, which then results in fostering in your heart a greater love for Christ and his church. This week we will focus on the first mark of the church: orthodoxy. There will be two points to this morning’s sermon. The first is defining orthodoxy.
“Orthodoxy” can be an obscure word. It doesn’t occur in normal conversation. This word is usually associated with Russian priests with long beards who throw smoke around. While it seems at first hearing to be a complex word, orthodoxy simply means “right opinion” or “right belief.”
This is not a biblical word. We do not get this word from Scripture. It’s a word that was coined in the early centuries of the Christian faith. While the word does not occur in Scripture, the concept does. Scripture is replete with references regarding the concept of correct belief. One specific text that outlines this idea is Jude 3. Turn with me to Jude 3. Jude 3 says this, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for
all delivered to the saints.”
From this passage, I’d like to highlight a couple of things that help us understand what orthodoxy is.
First, look at the words “the faith.” The word “faith” occurs numerous times in Scripture. The classic definition of faith provided in the Bible comes from Hebrews 11:1. Turn with me there. The passage reads, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith in this passage refers to an inner disposition, a subjective experience. Faith is assurance and conviction. We are the doers of faith. We have faith. One prominent NT dictionary defines faith in this passage as “the state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted, trust, confidence.”
Now with that definition in mind, go back with me to Jude 3. What do you notice about “the faith” of Jude 3? Is it referring to a faith that we have in our hearts? Let’s try it on for size. Read with me in Jude 3.
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for [the state of believing, the trust, the confidence] that was once for all delivered to the saints.” That sounds strange, doesn’t it? How can a state of confidence be delivered?
It’s impossible to deliver a state of confidence. Confidence is something inside of us. It can be show. It can be demonstrated. But it can’t be delivered. It would be like delivering a thought to someone else. You can tell someone about a thought. But you can’t give it to them. A thought is an experience we have as individuals that cannot be transferred. So, too, faith as an experience is something that cannot be transferred.
Let’s try a different definition of “faith” in Jude 3. Going back to that NT dictionary, they provide another definition of faith. It is this: “That which is believed, body of faith/belief/teaching.” Go to Jude 3. “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for [the body of teaching] that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Well that sounds much better, doesn’t it?
“The Faith” in Jude 3 is not referring to an inner disposition of a Christian, a state of believing. We’re not talking about faith, like have faith in Jesus Christ, or I have faith to move mountains, rather were talking about the faith. “Faith” in this passage is something outside of us. Something firm, fixed, and set. It’s referring to a set notion of ideas. It’s referring to orthodoxy. The right opinions and beliefs about Jesus Christ. In this passage, “faith” is the faith that God has given to the church to have faith in.
This idea is illumined by the other words that modify “faith.” It’s not just “the faith” it’s the “once for all delivered to the saints” faith. Let’s break these concepts down.
The first concept that we will focus on is this word “delivered.” You see that one “delivered” in Jude 3? What does that tell us about orthodoxy?
To explain this word, let me give you an illustration.
Imagine the idea of an heirloom. Heirlooms are items that are passed down from generation to generation. They have extreme value and worth for families. They are what exist longer than the family members. The right of inheritance is based upon a shared last name. It is the idea of birth than makes one a recipient of an heirloom. If you receive an heirloom, you did not create it, make it, or necessarily deserve it. It’s a gift. Your job is to maintain it and pass it on to your children. Don’t change it, don’t make it into something else. Receive it, keep it under your care, and pass it one to the next generation.
That is what orthodoxy is like. That is what our faith is like. It is a gift. It has been given to us from Christ to the apostles. Every generation of Christians has passed it on for thousands of years. And now we are recipients of it. We don’t deserve it, didn’t create it, or contribute to it. Our only job is to receive it and pass it on. It doesn’t need your help. And you ought not to change it. Receive it and pass it on. Orthodoxy is received. Orthodoxy is a gift.
Once for All
The next concept is the adverb “once for all.” Orthodoxy was delivered “once for all.” What does that tell us about this “faith”?
There are many things in this world that are changing. We change, our jobs change, our spouses change, our kids change, circumstances change, and, as I am learning here in South Dakota, the weather changes. We live in a world of change. This world is a world of change.
God is not like us, however. God is not like this world. He is different. He is other. He is removed from this world to a degree. He is not affected by the affairs of this world as we are. We change but God is changeless. God is consistent, stable, and unmoving.
Turn with me to Hebrews 13:8. This is what that passage reads. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Jesus Christ has a permanence, a stability, a durability, a constancy, and a dependability. Jesus is consistent, constant.
Bringing these two ideas together—the one in Jude 3 that the faith we hold to is “delivered once for all” and that Jesus is the same—we see theologically that the message that Jesus gives, that is “the delivered faith,” orthodoxy is like him—unchanging. Jesus message is unchanging just like he himself is. His gospel bears his characteristics. Orthodoxy is unchanging. You can base your life on this message because it, like the God who stands behind it, is set, fixed, and firm.
To the Saints
There’s one last concept I want to explore. It’s “to the saints.” You see that prepositional phrase?
Orthodoxy is not just the possession of one church. Notice how Jude does not say that this faith was delivered to a set of saints. He leaves the term “saints” vague and unspecified. The reason for this is because the idea of orthodoxy is anti-sectarian. Orthodoxy is a common possession of all churches. It is not exclusive to this church or any specific church. It is global. It is a shared possession of all those who are in Christ. It includes Africans, American, Chinese, and Mexicans. It is for the big, the small, the intelligent, and the unintelligent. It is for all people, in every time, and in every place. No matter where you are from or where you were born, orthodoxy is for you, the faith is for you.
Let’s bring all these ideas together from Jude 3 together. In short, orthodoxy is “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Put differently, orthodoxy is the message that Christ delivered to the apostles that they delivered to their disciples and that they wrote down in Scripture. It is the faith that we receive by grace. It is the faith that was given once and to never be changed or altered. It is the faith that all Christians hold as a common possession.
Contend for Orthodoxy
Now that we have defined orthodoxy, what are we supposed to do with it? Jude tells us. Look again the verb in verse three. Jude wants this congregation to “contend” for the faith. “Contend” is the verb.
This verb contains the idea of a struggle, a fight, a contention. One NT dictionary defines it as “to exert intense effort on behalf of something.” It’s the opposite of passivity. It’s the opposite of “meh,” “ho-hum.” It’s to exert resources and energy to engage in something.
There are three arenas of life where we should contend for the faith. Three places where we are to take orthodoxy in order to promote it and proclaim it.
In the Mind
The first place is in the mind. In the mind.
Our minds are a battle ground. We are so often overcome with sinful thoughts. Thoughts of doubt, confusion, anxiety, lust, murder, anger, greed, selfishness, and jealousy. All manner of wickedness. We also have thoughts of self-hatred. “I’m worthless.” “I’m garbage.” “God doesn’t love me.” “No one loves me.” “No would accept me if they really knew who I was and what I’ve done.” Maybe your thoughts have been so dark that you think about self-harm and suicide.
What should we do in situations like this?
Turn with me to Psalm 42:5. This is what that passage states, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.”
Here we have the Psalmist debating with himself. He’s questioning his soul. It’s like he’s holding his soul out in front of it and questioning it. “Why, soul, are you acting like this?” We, too, have that option. We can question ourselves. God has given us the ability to talk to our minds, to talk to ourselves. And what does the Psalmist tell his soul? Hope in God. Believe the truth. Believe in orthodoxy. So, when you have these thoughts that are satanic and harmful, apply to them the truth of orthodoxy—the truth that Jesus Christ has paid for your sins and that you have everything you need in him. Fight your thoughts with the truth. Fight your thoughts with orthodoxy—with the truth that God has given us in Christ.
In the Home
The second arena where we need to contend for orthodoxy is in the home.
Turn with me to Deuteronomy 6:4. Deuteronomy 6:4. Read with me. We will end after verse 7. ““Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
I want you to see verse 7. Verse 7 is how the Jews contended for orthodoxy in their homes. Let me read it again. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
You see that verb “teach diligently.” That’s a very strong verb. Some other translations for this verb could be “engrave,” “to teach incisively.” One translation translates this verb as “Drill them into your children.” God commanded the Jews to teach their children, over and over and over again, the truths of the law. And look how and when it happened. It happens, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” This happens all the time in every context.
We live in a context where it is very common for Christian parents to come to church with the expectation that the pastors, staff, and leaders of the church will raise their children for them. Yes. We are here to serve. And, yes, we are here to help you. But you as their parents are their main source of spiritual oversight, not us.
It is not enough for you to simply bring your children to church. It is not enough to entrust the spiritual upbringing of your children to CBC. You must, MUST be teaching your children what the gospel is. You must spend time with them and raise them in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Particularly, fathers, you must rise to the occasion. There are so many churches in America that have weak fathers in them. Fathers who don’t lead their wives, fathers who don’t pray with their kids, fathers who spend way too much time watching TV and hunting instead of building their families up in righteousness. Fathers, you must take the gospel to your own minds, to your wives, to your children, and if you have grand children to them to. It is not enough to just bring your kids to church. Parents, particularly fathers, you must teach your children in orthodoxy.
In the Church
The last place where we are to contend for orthodoxy in is in the church. In the church. The church has always encountered false teaching. Christians have always battled error. This has occurred and will continue to occur. Every era has different false teaching—different doctrines that lead people astray.
As the lead pastor, it is my job every week to guide you into correct doctrine, to maintain, to proclaim, and to defend orthodoxy. From this pulpit, week by week, I commit to you to preach God’s Word. I commit to uphold the truth of God above the opinions of men. I commit to orthodoxy.
The other elders, too, have a responsibility. God has placed the responsibility for doctrinal purity upon the shoulders of all the elders here. We will discuss this responsibility more next week. You have your place, too. You ought to be like the Bereans, who examine the Scripture to see if what I say is true. Do not take my word for it. I am not special. I am not unique. I have no authority outside of the Word of God. As the pastor, that is where all my authority comes from. Do not treat my word as gospel truth. Figure these things out for yourself.
In that light, there is form of false teaching that I believe is more evil and more dangerous than any other false teaching currently out there. It is very popular (I don’t think it’s very popular here) around the globe. That is the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that salvation is a means of earthly gain. That suffering is not for Christians, that it is always God’s will to heal someone, that if that someone is not healed it is because of their own lack of faith, that having faith means that you’ll have earthly riches, that if you “sow” money you will reap money. The prosperity gospel trades the eternal riches of God for things that moth and rust destroy.
The gospel is not a means of earthly gain. If you came to Christ so that you can have your best life now, you came for the wrong reason. Our hope and joy is not in this life. It’s not in fame, wealth, or health. Our treasure is Jesus Christ—him and him alone. Always and forever. Be careful of the prosperity gospel. Fellow elders and members, don’t let the prosperity gospel become the orthodoxy of this church. Protect this pulpit. Protect this church.
Let’s review briefly. Orthodoxy is the faith that Christ has given to us through the apostles. It was delivered. It’s unchanging. And it’s the common possession of all Christians. We are to contend for this faith, struggle, fight for it in three different arenas.
In the mind, we are to fight our wicked thoughts with orthodoxy.
In the home, parents, specifically fathers, are to over and over to teach their children orthodoxy.
And in the church, the elders and I will promote and defend orthodoxy to you. And you are to check the Scripture to ensure that what it is that we are teaching comes from the Word of God. We are not free to have our own spirituality. We are not free to simply believe whatever it is that we want. We are not free to have our own spirituality. God commands us to believe rightly. And what it is that God commands us to believe and contend for is the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.