Friday, February 12, 2010

What the Church is . . .

Previously: What the Church is Not . . . and an introduction to The Church.

The church is primarily a local assembly. It is a gathered group of baptized believers in a certain place who profess faith in Jesus and His atoning work for their salvation from sin (Acts 2:41, 47; 11:20-26; 18:8-11). It is not headquartered in Nashville, TN, or Richmond, VA. The church should be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating assemblies of believers.

The church must be a gospel assembly. Proclaiming the gospel is essential to our being. When a church stops doing that, it ceases to be a church. In mission, the church bears witness to the gospel at home (1 Thess. 1:8) and abroad (Acts 8:4; Phil. 4:10-18). In practice, the church must recognize the Lord’s presence (Matt. 18:20), assemble regularly to worship God (Acts 2:47; 13:2; Heb. 10:25), participate in the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-26), fellowship together in the study of God’s Word and in prayer (Acts 2:42; 4:23-31), teach new converts (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 16:5; 18:11).

The church is a Holy Spirit-empowered assembly. Under the direction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, believers in the church should proclaim the Word of God, exercise their spiritual gifts for the edification of one another (Acts 9:31; 13:1; 1 Cor. 12:1-31; 14:23-26), do good works (Acts 11:27-30; Gal. 6:10; Rev. 2:5), and exercise corrective discipline when this is needed (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:4-5). Augustine said that what the soul is to the body the Spirit is to the churches.

The church is by nature a living and growing assembly. It is not cold and dead. It is growing and vital. It is growing deeper (in discipleship in the Word) and wider (in outreach and people). It is a church where the congregation is leading people to Christ. Shepherds don’t produce sheep. Sheep produce sheep! If a church is not developing and growing, something is wrong somewhere. Numbers are overemphasized in our churches, but we should see increases in Christlikeness and people coming to Christ. Our goal is not to seek growth, but to seek Christ.

The church is God’s organized, purposeful assembly. The organized church is in agreement in major doctrine, policy, and practice (Acts 2:46; Eph. 4:1-6) and is organized with NT church officers – pastor(s) and deacons (Phil. 1:1). We are not free to organize as we want. God has set his order in his Word. Also, it is not a matter for one (a bishop) or a few individuals (ruling elders) to decide, but it is a corporate commitment to organize and follow Christ’s purposes. Messier? Yes. Slower? Yes. But it is attentive to the priesthood of the believer and principles of congregational government.

The church is an expectant assembly. The local church must recognize that it is not the fullness and completion of Christ’s plans. It must live in expectation of Jesus’ imminent return (1 Thess. 1:10; Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 3:2-3) and their translation to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-17).

Sources: On Sunday nights we have been studying the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) from a Southern Baptist perspective. I have been drawing heavily from John Hammett's Theology III notes and his book, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches as well as David Hogg's Church History notes, both of them from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as notes on the historical development of the Christian movement from Fuller Seminary's Paul Pierson, and several church history and biography books on my shelf.