Monday, November 09, 2009

What the Church is Not . . .

Scripture encourages us to think of church in different ways than are common among us

1-      The church is not a building, but it is the people assembled. The earliest churches met in homes (Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15). Church buildings did not arrive until the Roman emperor ordered them built at the end of the persecutions. Early Baptists were more biblical than we are. They referred to their buildings not as churches but as “meeting houses.”

2-      The church is not determined by political or geographical lines, but by relationship to Christ. There is no such thing as a state church which assumes every member of the state is a member of the church. The true church is the gathered church, composed only of those who choose to follow Christ and are saved. Baptists were born 400 years ago in that state church climate which was common from the Constantine (early 300s AD) to the Reformation (1500s). The idea of a state church crumbled at the insistence of Anabaptists and Baptists that the church must be gathered, and that church and state should be separate, for which they withstood violent persecution. In 18th century Virginia, Baptists were persecuted mercilessly, and North Carolina became a haven for freedom-loving Baptists early on.

3-      The church is not a denomination. Each church is autonomous and self-contained Body of Christ. It does not need other congregations to be a church. New Testament churches work together and share commonalities, but churches are not parts of a larger Church. Nevertheless, denominations are legitimate and useful tools where churches may express our unity and work together for missions. Our denomination is composed of self-sustaining churches. Southern Baptists use the term “connectionalism” to describe our church networks. In other words, there is no Southern Baptist Church. There are Southern Baptist churches. We have in Scripture the local church and the Church universal but no binding organization denominations of churches.

4-      The church is not the same as the Kingdom. They are different entitites but inseparably related. The church is a fellowship of believers. The kingdom is a divine activity. The kingdom creates the church (by calling for a response to the kingdom message). The church witnesses to the kingdom (by proclaiming the kingdom of God and displaying the life of the coming age). The church is the instrument of the kingdom (through which kingdom work is done). The church is the custodian of the kingdom (because it is given the keys to the kingdom).

5-      The church is not a parachurch organization. It is not a college fellowship, a mission agency, or a senior adult ministry. The church ministers without restriction to age, sex, or race. The church is the general practitioner; the parachurch is the specialist. Each should appreciate the other, and the parachurch should ultimately serve the church which Christ ordained and the Holy Spirit initiated.