Having completed our examination of the three essential Marks of Orthodoxy, Order, and Ordinances, we began a survey of the second pillar of the church’s essential Works with a discussion of Evangelism. In this current essay, the sixth in a seven-part series on the essential Marks and Works of a local church, I want to add the second essential Work of a local church—Edification.
Edification is best defined as “building up” believers in the faith, including teaching, discipleship, the means of sanctification, and discipline. Unlike the Work of evangelism, edification is directed toward the Church, not the world. That is, only those who have been converted to Christ can grow in Him. Edification is included in the second part of Jesus’s command in the Great Commission. The Savior charged the apostles to “go and make disciples, baptizing them [that’s the result of evangelism] . . . and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you [that’s edification]” (Matt 28:19). In the Work of edification, the disciple-maker’s role is to teach and model. The disciple’s role is to learn and follow.
Edification Requires Practical Teaching
As a child I once tried putting my schoolbooks under my pillow at night, hoping that by mystical osmosis the information from the books would pass into my brain and I wouldn’t have to actually study. The result? A stiff neck and a bad grade! Sadly, this is how some Christians live their spiritual lives. They believe that by some mystical, supernatural hocus-pocus the Holy Spirit will simply grow them toward maturity apart from any actual teaching, instruction, or active participation in the life of the church. They think that spiritual growth will “just happen” through their passive presence in a church building for a few hours. Strangely, they spend the other 99% of their week wondering why they’re living a defeated Christian life.
The truth is that we all need to develop an “Ezra” complex. When that great Jewish leader re-discovered the long-lost Scriptures, he “set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances” (Ezra 7:10). Did you catch that? Study it . . . practice it . . . teach it. That takes some effort! Oh, and as you work hard at studying and practicing, don’t forget Peter’s stern warning against the “untaught” who “distort” the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Learning God’s Word was never meant to be an “independent study” or “correspondence course.” Rather, God gave teachers to the churches to equip the saints. Ephesians 4:11–13 says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
Thus, a major emphasis in a healthy local church must be the unapologetic preaching, teaching, and application of God’s inspired Word. Clearly this aspect of edification requires a robust order of qualified leaders and mentors as well as a clear sense of biblical orthodoxy (see previous essays on these two essential Marks of a church, hyperlinked in the first paragraph above).
Edification Requires Persistent Prayer
If teaching engages the mind of the local church, prayer engages the heart and soul. Without prayer, edification is impossible. Notice what Paul prayed for in Philippians 1:9–11—“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” What a request! When was the last time you prayed for the edification of your fellow believers in the church? In Ephesians 6:18 Paul urges his readers to “pray at all times in the Spirit” as the essential key to perseverance in the midst of spiritual warfare. In fact, just a brief survey of the book of Acts reveals how vital prayer was for the growth of the infant church (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 3:1; 4:31; 6:4; 10:2; 12:5; etc.).
But Jude most explicitly ties prayer to edification when he writes, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith [that’s edification!], praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 20–21). Clearly, prayer is the spiritual lifeblood of the local church.
Edification Requires Consistent Discipline
Edification also includes discipline, which we might call the “negative” aspect of applying God’s Word. Sometimes when believers have hardened their hearts against the truths of Scripture, discipline is required, just as a child requires discipline from his parents to learn and grow. Jesus describes in Matthew 18:15–17 how this discipline is to be formally applied in a local church: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or tax collector.”
The notion of “excommunication” comes from the biblical concept of church discipline. God has charged the leadership of a local church with the task of maintaining proper discipline among the congregation. This includes protecting the sanctity of the ordinances, which may mean preventing unruly saints from participating in the Lord’s Table as the rite of fellowship (see 1 Corinthians 5:9–13). This may seem harsh in our “anything goes” culture, but anything less than proper discipline threatens not only the Work of edification in the local body, but also damages the Marks of order and the ordinances.
Practical teaching. Persistent prayer. Consistent discipline. These things may not be on your list of favorite activities. Taking them seriously might actually mean rearranging your priorities, shuffling your schedules, or renewing your commitments. But only when we devote ourselves to edification of the local church through teaching, prayer, and discipline will we rise above the languishing preference-driven church.