Who’s in Charge at Church? The Whole Church
Let’s get to the bottom line. Who’s in charge at church? The answer is the whole church. The whole congregation has the responsibility for its health, its preaching, and its membership. All the members together are responsible.
Where do we see this in the Bible? Well, are you ready to jump into some deep theology? Great! Let’s first talk about Batman.
Maybe you’ve never thought about it, but Batman can teach us a lot about our responsibilities at church as members.
In this short book, Sam Emadi explains that church organization isn’t just transactional; it’s meant to be transformative. He describes how churches should reflect biblical authority, particularly members’ responsibilities to one another, their elders, and deacons.
Surprised? Well, think about it for a moment. Batman’s just an ordinary person, a regular guy roaming the streets of Gotham in a batsuit bringing justice to criminals. He doesn’t have special Kryptonian DNA like Superman. He was never injected with a super-soldier serum like Captain America. But when the Dark Knight sees the bat symbol light up the sky, he suits up and gets to work guarding the city of Gotham. He’s an ordinary man with an extraordinary task.1
What does any of this have to do with your role as a church member? Well, quite a bit. Church members have been commissioned by God to guard the gospel. That’s what the whole church is in charge of. That task may seem like something that should be entrusted to spiritual superheroes. But God in his wisdom has put that responsibility on normal church members like you.
Let’s see this in the Bible—specifically in Matthew 16 and 18. In Matthew 16, Jesus asks the apostles who they think he is. Peter pipes up first: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus’s reply is a stunning statement not just about Peter but about all those who imitate Peter’s faith:
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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. 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.” (Matt. 16:17–19)
Jesus is going to build his church on Peter— on the confessor and his confession. But more than that, Jesus is going to give Peter and the other apostles the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” What do these keys do? In short, they have the authority to be heaven’s spokesmen like Jesus.
Perhaps even more remarkable, however, is that Jesus gives this same authority (“the keys of the kingdom of heaven”) not just to the apostles but to local churches of ordinary men and women who believe in Jesus. How do we know? Because the same language Jesus uses here in Matthew 16 shows up again in Matthew 18, but he’s applying it to a group of people other than the apostles.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matt. 18:15–20)
In Matthew 18, we see that local churches (the members as one body, not just the leadership) must guard the gospel by overseeing one another’s membership in the kingdom of God. They do this as a single, assembled body. Notice Jesus makes that point clearly when he talks about “two or three” (that is to say a group of people) “gathered” in his name and with his authority. The local church, then, is the spokespeople of heaven. They do that work by overseeing a person’s life and his or her confession to ensure that it’s consistent with the gospel. Each church member must guard the gospel both in his or her life and in the lives of fellow church members.
We may be ordinary Christians, but there’s nothing ordinary about Christians.
You may be asking, “Why would Christ do this? Why would he put such an important responsibility into the hands of ordinary Christians?” Well, as it turns out, every ordinary Christian has been given extraordinary grace. According to Scripture, all genuine Christians have the law of God written on their hearts (Jer. 31:33). All Christians know God (Jer. 31:34). All Christians have the Spirit of God residing in them, sanctifying them, and causing them to grow into maturity in Christ (Rom. 8:9; Phil. 1:6).
We may be ordinary Christians, but there’s nothing ordinary about Christians. We’re all products of God’s supernatural, redemptive work of grace. The reason Christ commissions local church members to guard the gospel is because every Christian has been equipped to guard the gospel. Who we are (those who believe the gospel) gives rise to what we’re called to do (guard the gospel).
How exactly do we do this?
Well, the answer requires more than enumerating a to-do list. Instead, we need to recognize that every aspect of the Christian life should contribute to this overarching commission.
- We affirm others as fellow church members by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through baptism a congregation receives new believers into membership. It’s how the church tells someone, “Hey, based on the credibility of your profession of faith, we understand you to be a Christian.” Then in the Lord’s Supper we partake of the same meal as one body, essentially telling one another, “Hey, we still understand you to be a Christian.”
- We disciple others as a way of guarding the purity of the gospel in their lives.
- We ask others to disciple us to ensure that we contribute to the church’s health and can faithfully carry out our responsibilities as Christians.
- We bar from communion those who live out of accord with the gospel or confess a gospel contrary to Scripture. This is what Jesus taught in Matthew 18, the passage we read earlier. If someone refuses to continue to repent of ongoing sin, then the church can’t continue affirming the credibility of that person’s profession of faith. After all, repentance and faith are what make someone a Christian (Mark 1:15).
- We clearly articulate our gospel profession by affirming a biblical statement of faith.
- We expel false teachers from our midst, even firing them from the church if their message is inconsistent with the biblical gospel (Gal. 1:8).
In all of these ways and more, we guard the gospel and govern the church.
You can summarize all of this biblical data into three simple points. The whole church is responsible for its (1) membership, (2) discipline, and (3) doctrine.
Let’s walk through each of those points.
First, the congregation is in charge of the church’s members. This means that the whole church needs to care for and disciple its members. In other words, it’s not just the job of the pastors or church staff to make sure that people are growing. Additionally, the whole congregation has to receive new members into church fellowship. The pastors and staff can’t just “willynilly” add someone to the membership rolls. The whole church has to agree on adding someone to the membership.
Second, the congregation is responsible for discipline. When a member of the church stops following Jesus by refusing to repent of sin, the church has the responsibility to lovingly pursue that person and call him or her to repentance. If that wayward brother or sister fails to respond like a Christian, then the church must “discipline” that person from the fellowship. “Discipline” means that the congregation removes that person from membership, tells that person that they are no longer confident in his or her profession of faith, and no longer welcomes him or her to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, the church is responsible for its doctrine. The whole church must define what it believes the Bible teaches and hold one another to that standard. The church also has to appoint its own elders—those capable of teaching the Bible faithfully (1 Tim. 5:17–20). They also have the responsibility to remove from leadership false teachers who are leading the congregation astray (Gal. 1:8).
The church is in charge of guarding the gospel: making sure that each member continues to live a life shaped by the gospel and that the church continues to teach and preach the gospel.
- A significant portion of this section is adapted from Sam Emadi, “Be Like Batman: Guard the Gospel” 9Marks website, March 30, 2021, https://www .9marks.org/article/be-like-batman-guard-the-gospel/ ?lang=de.
This article is adapted from Who’s In Charge of the Church? by Sam Emadi.
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