As a local church, we exist to glorify God. We aim to accomplish this objective through personal sanctification, corporate worship, and evangelism. Our Father, having called us to salvation, now brings us together for edification through the teaching of the Bible, so that we might eventually “do the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). Biblical theology, faithfully and accurately taught, will grow a spiritually minded, “biblical” church; we will continue to grow spiritually when we consistently obey biblical teachings and commandments.
The church accomplishes its purpose—producing worshipers who glorify God (Jn. 4:23; Phil. 3:3)—by equipping believers for the work of the ministry, so that they might continually become more like Jesus. Its ministries –teaching (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:18; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Tit. 1:9), corporate worship (Col. 3:16), service (Col. 1:28), evangelism and discipleship (Matt. 28:19-20), fellowship, and fulfilling the church ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—support its purpose. To this end, Ephesians 4:12 best summarizes the matter: “equipping the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” In other words, since the purpose of equipping is “service,” one can assert that the church’s ultimate purpose is worship.
Paul’s word choice for “equipping”—the term often refers to the restoration of an original condition—provides an important element in understanding the church’s purpose. Ultimately, one can understand this restoration to involve the ability to worship God again. God cannot accept false worship, or worship that arises from an unregenerate heart (Ps. 24:3-4; Jn. 4:23-24). However, the church should function to restore, or equip, the saints to worship. Matthew 22:36 sums up the essence of true worship. To the question “Teacher, what is the great commandment of the Law?” Jesus declares the following as the only way to fulfill its intent (vs. 37-40):
And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
Therefore, one may best understand how the church worships God: first, by loving Him; and second, by loving others. Only by loving one another can the whole body jointly participate in the “work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). If a church is unloving, then it cannot do the work of the ministry. The church’s purpose, therefore, is to equip the saints to worship God by loving Him and loving others with the view toward “building up of the body of Christ.”
Ultimately, the philosophy of ministry answers how the church can best accomplish its purpose, as it proposes a ministry that is efficient, effective, and biblical in producing worshipers.
A Biblical Church Ministry Must Exemplify:
1. A High View of God
Scripture clearly maintains a high view of God that the church must readily affirm and demonstrate in all its ministries. It demands that the church worship Him and Him alone. God’s Word indicates that He is concerned with self-glorification above all else (Ezek. 36:22-38; Rom. 9:19-24; Eph. 1:7-14). Man must therefore understand his humble position, being created for God’s purpose, pleasure, honor, and glory (Gen. 1:26-27; Titus 2:11-14). As a perfectly holy and righteous God, He desires that His church be conformed to His standard of holiness and righteousness by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). The church cannot function as His holy people without affirming the importance of honoring Him in all it does to accomplish His purposes, or without continually seeking to conform into His image. Finally, the church must also affirm His sovereignty over all things in heaven and on earth (Col. 1:15-20).
Sadly, many churches have moved away from a high view of God to a high view of man. Their ministries seek to please man rather than God. May that never be! They must seek exclusively to honor and glorify God. Additionally, since the Lord desires His people to be like Himself, believers should not become complacent, but continually move toward greater holiness (Col. 1:28). As they make spiritual progress, they will demonstrate humility and submissiveness as they obey and depend on Him. Finally, when considering matters of style, they must determine whether their service is God honoring and exalting of His character. Out of reverential fear of God, they should all promote God-like conduct.
2. A High View of God’s Word
Our church proclaims the Word of God (both Older and New Testaments), seeking to present messages faithful to that source by using grammatico-historical interpretative principles. Expositors must extract Scriptural messages through careful exegesis of the text, initially explain its original author’s/Author’s intended meaning, and then carefully apply its principles to today’s audience. We will learn about the character of God and His relationship to us through God-and Christ-centered teaching. Since the gospel has saved us and now motivates us to obey God, we must keep this message central in all our ministries.
In order to defend itself against false teachers, the church must promote love and unity, equip the saints for the work of the ministry, make disciples, and mature spiritually. Scripture is the only authoritative source that will produce such a maturity. Ephesians 4:14 indicates that this is the kind of maturity that protects and defends the church against false teaching and the evils of the world. 2 Timothy 3:1-13 makes a rather grim promise, but also provides an important warning for the church to consider. The passage concludes with the statement, “Evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (v. 13). Timothy’s response, however, was to continue in the things he has learned and become convinced of (v. 14). God has ordained that His Church communicate the truth through the preaching and teaching of the Word (Rom. 10:1-15; 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:13; 5:17; 2 Tim. 3:16; Titus 1:9). Paul solemnly charges Timothy to respond to the wickedness and deception of the world by preaching the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:2). Therefore, when the church meets for worship, they must take great care to have Scripture at the core of all that it does. Expositional and exegetical preaching and teaching must be the main ministry of the church. By following this command, the church will effectively stimulate unity, growth, and sanctification. However, we must understand that preaching is only effective insofar as it accurately reflects the intent of the original author by using a historical-grammatical hermeneutic.
A high view of Scripture demands that expositors spend sufficient time teaching “the whole counsel of God.” All church ministries should therefore reflect the belief that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). All sixty-six books of the Bible are God-breathed and without error in the original manuscripts. As the Church’s singular source of authority, the Scriptures are the first and final source of appeal for all church ministries. Furthermore, no one should see Scripture as creating division in the Church. On the contrary, by the regular preaching, teaching, and public reading of the Scriptures, even from the most difficult texts, the saints will grow in grace (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2). Proper reverence for the Bible by all the redeemed will establish unity; and with unity comes maturity.
No individual or church should use the Scriptures to promote his or its own agenda and so pervert the gospel message. Rather, the church must commit itself to the consistent and regular study of the Scriptures, keeping in mind the author’s original intent and recognizing the various genres used in the Old and New Testaments. To this end, the church should affirm the Reformed proclamation, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, secundum verbum Dei, – “the church reformed, always being reformed according to the Word of God.”
3. A Low View of Man
Scripture clearly teaches the corrupt nature of every human being, apart from salvation. Inherently characterized by evil, it is inclined to move away from God in favor of its own pursuits (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 14:1; Jer. 17:9). Although it knows about God and understands that He alone is worthy of worship, mankind rebels against the Lord and worships evil (Rom. 1:18-32). Every person is “totally depraved”; that is, no one has any spiritual ability to please God (Eph. 2:1-3). Only by the Lord’s common grace is mankind not as evil as it could be; He restrains its evil tendencies. No one is at all able to submit to God and His authority; no one even has the desire to do so. Each person is spiritually dead at conception, and thus completely unable to respond to the things of God apart from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5).
In the light of this sad reality, the church must resolve to proclaim God’s Word as the source of life, and not resort to worldly methodologies to win the lost (1 Cor. 1:17). True believers should not try to make the truths of the Gospel palatable to the unsaved world by means of “seeker-sensitive” “evangelistic” approaches. These systems reject a low view of man, operating under the false premise that men do not naturally hate the Light (Jn. 3:19-20). The Church must acknowledge that they should not try to coerce the unregenerate into the kingdom; instead, it should confess that salvation is solely a supernatural work of God as the Holy Spirit uses His Word to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Believers must preach the Bible faithfully, regularly, expositionally, and as clearly as possible so as not to hinder that Spirit’s work in the hearts of men.
4. Sound Doctrine That Promotes Personal Holiness
a. Sound Doctrine
Understanding the authority of God’s Word and depraved nature of man amplifies the importance of proclaiming sound doctrine. In 1 Timothy 1, Paul urges Timothy to keep the faith and a good conscience (1:19), and then proceeds to instruct him about how he should teach the church about prayer, the role of women, elders, and deacons. Then the apostle informs Timothy about the day when men will fall away from the faith because they will give heed to “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (4:1). He exhorts Timothy to tell the church about these truths, and also reminds him that his own spiritual nourishment as a slave of Christ comes from “the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (4:6). Paul’s use of the word “nourishment” indicates that spiritual growth will occur when believers receive a steady diet of sound doctrine; it will make them strong as they stand firm against evil. God’s word is authoritative; therefore, the church must accurately teach the doctrines of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Since the ministries of the local church seek to worship God adequately and produce more true disciples, they must consistently and accurately reflect the Bible’s teachings concerning God. The church cannot worship adequately if it has a wrong understanding of who God is (Acts 18:26), nor can it keep itself from being swept away by deception if it departs from true knowledge of the Lord. The church must actively guard herself against false teaching and combat it swiftly (Acts 20:28). Additionally, without adhering to sound doctrine, the ministries of the church cannot effectively encourage and exhort its people to become more like Jesus. Elders must particularly work diligently to understand and teach the doctrine of God, understanding that this role is the most critical one they have in the church (1 Tim. 5:17). Both the leaders and their congregation risk incurring divine chastening if they lack seriousness in this matter (Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2; Rev. 2:14-16, 20-23). If God’s people do not know and believe sound doctrine, they will have no basis upon which they could stand in the defense of their church’s ministries.
b. Personal Holiness
God desires His church to grow in holiness progressively. Therefore, the ministries in the church must promote personal holiness. Although the Christian is positionally sanctified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Rom. 5:10-11, 2 Cor. 5:17-19; Col. 1:22), he has no reason to become complacent about spiritual growth. Such an attitude shows no appreciation for the purpose of Christ’s death for sinners: that they become progressively holy so that they might rightly worship and serve God (Rom. 12:1-2; Titus 2:11-14). The Lord recreates believers so that they might perform good works “which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Sanctification involves setting aside the former manner of life before conversion, and putting on Christ because they long to grow in grace (1 Pet. 2:1-3). Although believers still sin, they now desire to be rid of “all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). The Holy Spirit brings the elect to salvation (1 Jn. 4:2), enables them to grow in obedience to God by granting them the ability to understand the Scriptures (1 Cor. 2:10-15), to obey God’s commands (Rom. 8:3-17), and to serve the body of Christ, equipping them with spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Having stressed here the Spirit’s work in sanctification does not relieve the Christian of his responsibility to cooperate with Him.
According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit accomplishes progressive sanctification in the life of the believer through prayer (Rom. 8:26-27), obedience to God’s Word, and the ministries of the church (Eph. 4:14-16). Therefore, the believer should pursue holiness through prayer (Rom. 8:26-27), the renewing of his or her mind through Scripture (Matt. 5:13; Col. 1:9-12; James 4:1-10; Romans 12:2), the removal of all footholds for temptation (Rom. 13:14), and the mutual edification of believers (Eph. 4:14-16). Lack of personal holiness results from unbelief (1 Jn. 3:7-10). Every believer, called out of the world, must understand that God hates the things the world loves (James 4:4; 1 Pet. 2:1-12; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Because God desires the believer to live a holy life, the church should diligently and faithfully work to promote sanctification through its ministries so that they can all worship God adequately. If the believer aims to grow in Christ-likeness so that he or she can love God and love others more perfectly, then the ministries of the church should also teach all the Scriptures that reveal the nature and character of God and Christ in both the Old and New Testaments. These ministries should also help members fulfill God’s desire for their obedience and faithfulness. Each church ministry should promote accountability to others, provide encouragement for the fainthearted, exhort the timid, and at times, rebuke and discipline the sinning member. The church must practice sincere discernment and love in these practices, not withholding church discipline when necessary for the purity of Christ’s church.
Our church must apply sound evangelical theology to life’s issues in order to honor God. Our teachers must not shrink from clearly proclaiming God’s eternal truth, so that the people might understand how the Lord wants them to believe (Rom. 1:16). Teachers must help the church understand the differences between truth and error. More pointedly, they must teach “the difference between right and almost right” (Spurgeon). Our church must hear this type of instruction from the pulpit, the classroom, and the home Bible study, so that we might live God-pleasing lives.
5. Biblically Faithful Support Ministries That Exalt God over Man, Equip Believers to Serve One Another, Strengthen Families, Promote Personal Evangelism, and Foster “Community.”
Our support ministries must seek to exalt God over human beings. We worship Him by magnifying His attributes and holy character and by obeying His word/commandments. We should respect His servant leaders for their faithfulness, but we should never idolize them.
Our leaders must model full devotion to God, and seek to equip us to serve one another. We should work together to help meet the eternal needs of the unsaved while being sensitive to their temporal (“felt”) desires.
Our support leaders must cooperate with one another, coordinating their various ministries to strengthen the spiritual, moral, emotional, and physical foundations of families, so that the latter might not let the “world” press them into its mold.
Our support leaders must show their concern for the lost through personal evangelism. As part of their ongoing ministry of discipleship, they should seek to teach us how to “share our faith.”
Our ministry leaders should help us first identify and then exercise our God-given abilities, both natural and spiritual, so that we can both honor the Lord and serve humanity, saved and unsaved alike.
6. Leaders Who Continually Submit Themselves to Christ as Head of this Local Church, Following His Example of Servanthood.
Since Jesus is the Leader of this local church, we must use His instruction Book as the standard by which we choose our leaders and the model by which we direct our leaders to manage the ministry. Although Christ was the sovereign Master of creation, He came to the Earth the first time as the Servant of all. Our elders, as His under-shepherds, must lead by serving, caring for, guiding, and loving His church. Godliness characterized by humble submission to God’s will must mark their lives.
As Scripture prescribes, elders must lead the local church. The elders will operate as a plurality; each man will have freedom to express his thoughts, concerns, and expectations. Since each one possesses equal authority, each man will bear equal responsibility for the church’s spiritual welfare. Leadership involves influence, so the church as a whole must hold these individuals to high standards in their understanding of doctrine, in their personal lifestyles, and in their commitment to their ministry.
7. Worship Services That Seek to Magnify God’s Attributes as Well as Equip Believers with Truth so That They Might Serve Christ Acceptably.
Our local church must focus our attention upon the Lord Jesus, not upon our men. We gather as a corporate body to declare His worthiness to receive praise, glory, and obedience, not to meet the felt needs of “seekers” or even of church members. If our services guide us to view the Lord accurately, we will grow to worship Him with a sincere heart wherever we might go.
When we as a local church listen obediently to God’s word, pray together, and sing praises to the Lord, we are engaged in worship. However, we also worship Jesus when we as individuals reverently read and study the Bible, petition and praise Him, love others sacrificially, give of our “time, talents, and treasures,” work our “secular” jobs “as unto the Lord,” and “share” the gospel with the unsaved. Our corporate worship on Sunday should overflow to our private worship during the other days of the week.
We should not allow methods of entertainment, musical style, decibel level, stated expectations of others, emotionalism, or weak or errant theology to inhibit individual worship in our church services. Music should exhibit “balance,” commonly referred to as the “regulative principle,” having Christ-centered, theologically sound lyrics that reflect the character of God.
As a tool created by God, music must assist in worship with the goal of bringing glory to God alone (Isa. 48:11). It should not impede worship, but complement it (Ps. 147:1). For music to accomplish its goal, its “ministers” must strive to play and sing skillfully and thus must seek excellence (Ps. 33:3). Just as the preaching ministry strictly limits who may address the church, the music ministry should guard the ears of the people from songs that contain bad, incomplete, or “lowest common denominator” theology. In addition, music ministers should prayerfully prepare themselves to direct the congregation to exalt the Lord. Having a proper mindset will prevent the individual from operating with a “performance mentality” and lead him to examine his spiritual condition before a holy God who deserves whole-hearted sacrifice.
Music must stimulate worship; that is to say, it must exalt God, honor Christ, and edify the saints by proclaiming the truth as it directs their spirit toward the Lord. If it does not do so, then it has no place in the corporate assembly since it is inconsistent with the purpose of the church. Music should not promote self, but humble adoration of God. Furthermore, it must be orderly, (1 Cor. 14:33), sensible (Matt. 22:37; Jn. 4:23-24), well-performed (Col. 3:23), and teach and admonish the assembly (Col. 3:16). Therefore, music should not aim to produce emotional stimulation (a natural consequence of music), but to proclaim God’s Word. Music styles should reflect the nature of the truth being proclaimed. Each member of the music ministry must be able to pray, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).
*For a more thorough explanation of HPBC’s position on corporate worship, refer to the HPBC Corporate Worship Service Guidelines (2016).
8. Families That Are Growing Closer to Each Other Because They Are Maturing in Their Relationship to Christ and in Their Understanding of His Word.
Our post-Christian culture increasingly rejects the “biblical” family as the norm for our society. Therefore, our local church must seek to promote God’s design for marriage and the family. The Lord clearly shows that He loves His children regardless of their gender; however, the Bible also indicates that He has given individuals differing gender-based roles in both the family and the church.
The Christian man must receive training to become the spiritual leader of his family; he must love his wife sacrificially just as Christ loves the Church. In addition, he must rear his children to obey God’s instruction. Likewise, the Christian woman must learn to oppose the radical feminist mindset that urges her to reject God’s instruction regarding her relationship to her husband. She should willingly submit to him as the leader of the family just as she should submit to Christ as her Lord. A couple that wants to honor God will submit to the authority of God’s word in this matter; they will experience unity because they both love God more than they love each other.
Our ministries must “equip” parents so that they become the primary “disciplers” of their children, as Scripture commands. Fathers and mothers need to know how to rear the children God’s way. Parents, specifically fathers, should receive consistent instruction in this skill; elders should encourage them to “make the time” to fulfill this crucial responsibility. The local church should not take on the role that God has given to parents.
Our elders should not allow “success-ism” to drive families’ schedules; adding more activities and programs will not automatically lead to success in God’s sight. Ministries should support the development of strong, biblical families, not control their every waking hour.
While acknowledging the importance of strengthening “biblical” families, we must also remember that America now contains many more single-parent families than ever. Our church families must show we care by “adopting” them: that is, by helping them grow in every way possible (spiritually, emotionally, materially, etc).
Our elders must encourage members who are also fathers to hold each other accountable for how they are leading their families
9. Fervent, God-Exalting Prayer without Ceasing.
As believers, we develop our relationship with God by communicating from our hearts to Him in prayer. We should always seek to pray according to God’s will; therefore, we ought to use properly interpreted Scripture whenever we petition the Lord corporately or individually.
Prayer shows our total dependence upon God. Therefore, we (as a biblical church) must bring all aspects of the ministry before the Lord. The elders must devote themselves to interceding for the people, and the people must pray for the leaders. The elders should encourage the church to gather regularly for prayer for the following purposes: to adore our Lord, to confess our sins to Him, to give thanks, and to bring petitions to Him. We must not allow “life” to distract us from this most important aspect of our Christian commitment.
10. Biblical Discipleship Training
Discipleship counseling is critical to the health and well-being of the church, but most churches have replaced their counseling ministries with secular philosophy and psychology. By its very definition, psychology means “the study of the soul/spirit,” and has its roots in the combination of two Greek words: pseuke + logos (soul + word/study). Scripture states that the natural man cannot comprehend matters relating to the soul, because they have no spiritual discernment. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit has granted the spiritual man everything pertaining to life and godliness (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 1:3). Furthermore, not only has this dependence upon secular psychology been detrimental to the care of church members, but it has also greatly affected the church’s evangelical efforts.
Any attempt to circumvent the Scriptures by employing humanistic, therapeutic methods will result only in alleviating symptoms to problems (at best), while proper biblical counseling can resolve these issues. The Bible teaches that the issues flowing from the heart shape our behaviors (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 12:35). Although biochemical impulses, physical ailments, or past experiences can enhance war between the spirit and flesh, we are not their victims, they are not the cause of our sin, and are not inhibitive to our sanctification. We affirm that the Bible provides resolutions for all our problems. The Lord has given us all we need to live godly lives in this present day (2 Pet. 1:3-4); the Bible is our authoritative “diagnostics manual.”
Since the Church’s beginning in Acts 2, biblical counseling has naturally functioned in its corporate life. This ministry does not belong solely to “professionals,” but every believer should seek to help his brother resolve his problems. God commands us to “admonish one another” (Acts 20:21; Rom. 14:14; 1 Cor. 4:14; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15). The word “admonish” comes from the Greek verb noutheteō, “to warn, reprimand, counsel.” Therefore, we could appropriately translate these texts as “counsel one another.” Paul instructs Titus that no false teachers, or any unregenerate person, should counsel a believer (Tit. 1:11). Since it is infinitely superior to human wisdom, Scripture is more effective to discern the human heart than any earthly means (1 Cor. 3:19; Heb. 4:12). We will fulfill the law of Christ if we do not neglect this great responsibility to counsel the brethren (Gal. 6:1-2).
*For a more thorough explanation of HPBC’s position regarding biblical counseling in the life of the church, see Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically; A Theology of Christian Counseling; Christian Psychology’s War on God’s Word; The Christian Counselor’s Manual.
As previously stated, we maintain that Ephesians 4:12 aptly summarizes the ultimate purpose of the church: to worship God by equipping the saints to build up the body of Christ. The explanation that follows that verse provide the rationale:
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
In other words, the church effectively accomplishes its purpose by equipping its members to build up the body of Christ, so that it can most effectively worship God. Strong ministries will stimulate maturity (vs. 14), maintain unity in love (vs. 16), produce growth (vs. 15-16), and accelerate sanctification (vs. 15). Therefore, when assessing various church ministries or considering new ones, the elders should evaluate how effectively those ministries accomplish (or might accomplish) these tasks. They should also examine how well they coincide with the philosophy of ministry’s core beliefs.
Finally, we should ask, “How well does this ministry stimulate M-aturity, U-nity, G-rowth, and/or S-anctification (MUGS), so that the church becomes better equipped to do the work of the ministry?” If the elders could determine the answer to this question, being certain that the various ministries follow the five core doctrines of the philosophy of ministry, the church will accomplish the goal of equipping the saints to worship.
We do not intend this “Philosophy of Ministry” to replace or amend our “Statement of Faith”; rather, we use it to address how we will apply our beliefs in church life.