Question 34Wherein consists the general duty of the whole church, and every member thereof, in their proper station and condition?

AnswerIn performing, doing, and keeping inviolate all the commands and institutions of Jesus Christ, walking unblamably and fruitfully in the world, holding forth the word of truth, and glorifying the Lord Christ in and by the profession of his name, and keeping his testimony unto the end.

Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42; Phil. 2:15,16,4:8,9; 1 Thess. 3:8 1 Pet. 4:10- 14; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 10:23.

Explication — Besides the general duties of Christianity incumbent on all believers or disciples of Christ, as such, there are sundry especial duties required of them as gathered into church-societies, upon the account of an especial trust committed unto them in that state and condition; for, —

First, The church being appointed as the seat and subject of all the institutions of Christ and ordinances of Gospel worship, it is its duty, — that is, of the whole body, and every member in his proper place, — to use all care, watchfulness, and diligence that all the commands of Christ be kept inviolate, and all his institutions observed according to his mind and will. Thus, those “added to the church,” Acts 2:42, together with the whole church, “continued stedfastly” (which argues care, circumspection, and diligence) “in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread, and in prayers;” which principal duties are enumerated to express their respect towards all. This is their “standing fast in the Lord,” which was a matter of such joy to the apostle when he found it in the Thessalonians, 1st epistle, 3:8, “For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord;” — that order and steadfastness which he rejoiced over in the Colossians, “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ,” Col. 2:5. And where this duty is despised, men contenting themselves with what is done by others, there is a great neglect of that faithfulness in obedience which the church owes unto Jesus Christ.

Secondly, The glory of the Lord Christ, and the doctrine of the gospel, to be manifested in and by the power of a holy, exemplary conversation, is committed unto the church and all the members of it. This is one end wherefore the Lord Christ calls them out of the world, separates them to be a peculiar people unto himself, brings them forth unto a visible profession, and puts his name upon them, — namely, that in their walking and conversation he may show forth the holiness of his doctrine, and power of his Spirit, grace, and example, to effect in them all holiness, godliness, righteousness, and honesty in the world.

Hence are they earnestly exhorted unto these things: Phil. 4:8, “Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things;” and that to this end, that the doctrine of the gospel may be adorned, and Christ glorified in all things, Tit. 2:10. And those who fail herein are said to be “the enemies of the cross of Christ,” Phil. 3:18, as hindering the progress of the doctrine thereof, by rendering it undesirable in their conversation. This also, therefore, even the duty of universal holiness, with an especial regard unto the honour of Christ and the gospel, which they are called and designed to testify and express in the world, is incumbent on the church, and every member of it, namely, as the apostle speaks, “that they may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,” among whom they are to “shine as lights in the world,” Phil. 2:15.

Thirdly, The care of declaring and manifesting the truth is also committed unto them. Christ hath made the church to be the “pillar and ground of the truth,” 1 Tim. 3:15; where the truth of the gospel is to be firmly seated, founded, fixed, established, and then lifted up in the ways of Christ’s appointment, to be seen, discerned, and known by others. And as this is done principally in the preaching of the gospel by the elders of the church, and in their “contending for the faith once delivered unto the saints,” Jude 3, so it is also the duty of the whole church to “hold forth the word of life,” Phil. 2:16, by ministering of “the gifts that every man hath received,” 1 Pet. 4:10, in the way of Christ’s appointment. In these and the like instances doth our Lord Jesus Christ require of his church that they express in the world their subjection unto him and his authority; and that they abide therein unto the end against all opposition whatever.

The sinful neglect of churches in the discharge of their duty herein was one great means of that apostasy from the rule of the gospel which they generally of old fell into. When the members of them began to think that they had no advantage by their state and condition, but only the outward participation of some ordinances of worship, and no duty incumbent on them but only to attend and follow the motions and actings of their guides, the whole societies quickly became corrupt, and fit to be disposed of according to the carnal interest of those that had by their neglect and sin gotten dominion over them. And at all times, as the people were negligent in their duty, the leaders of them were apt to usurp undue authority. When the one sort will not do that which they ought, the other are ready to take upon them what they ought not. It is a circumspect performance of duty on all hands alone that will keep all sorts of persons in the church within those bounds and limits, and up to those rights and privileges, which Christ hath allotted and granted unto them. And herein alone doth the order, honour, and beauty of the church consist. Church-members, therefore, are to search and inquire after the particular duties which, as such, are incumbent on them; as also to consider what influence their special state and condition, as they are church-members, ought to have into all the duties of their obedience as they are Christians: for this privilege is granted unto them for their edification; that is, their furtherance in their whole course of walking before God. And if this be neglected, — if they content themselves with a name to live in this or that church, to partake of the ordinances that are stated and solemnly administered only, — that which would have been to their advantage may prove to be a snare and temptation unto them. What these especial duties are, in the particular instances of them, is of too large a consideration here to be insisted on. Besides, it is the great duty of the guides of the church to be inculcating of them into the minds of those committed to their charge; for the church’s due performance of its duty is their honour, crown, and reward.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15