Community. To be a church, you must be a community of faith. There is no sense that this community was to be segmented in any way, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or age. But the community is to be defined in one way: it is to be made up of God’s people. We see this throughout the New Testament not only in the address of the apostles’ letters to defined groups of people in various geographic locations, but also in the prescribed exercise of church discipline. Paul wrote of those “inside” the church and those “outside” the church, and he wrote of the importance of expelling those who are wicked and unrepentant (I Cor. 5:12-13).
Confession. The second dynamic that constitutes the church involves confession. The idea of “confession”, in the sense being suggested here, is related to the Greek homologeo, which means “to say the same thing” or “to agree.” For the church to be the church, it must be a place where the Word of God as put forward in Scripture is proclaimed in its fullness. If a Christian church is anything, it is foundationally confessional, for the earliest mark of the Christian movement was the clear confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mk. 8:29) or the Lord (Rom. 10:9; cf. Acts 16:31; I Cor. 12:3; Php. 2:11).
Corporate. The third mark of the church is corporate. The Bible speaks of defined organizational roles, such as pastors/elders/bishops (The three terms are used in ways that are synonymous and interchangeable in the New Testament.) and deacons, as well as corporate roles related to spiritual gifts, such as teachers, administers and, of course, leaders (cf. Rom. 12; I Cor. 12; Eph. 4; I Pet. 4). These corporate dynamics allow money to flow from one group to another (II Cor. 8); decisions to be made by leaders as to doctrine and practice (Acts 15); and the setting apart of select individuals for appointed tasks, mission and church plants (Acts 13).
Celebration. The fourth dynamic of the local church is celebration. The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, including the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for these are far from being “public domain.” In the New Testament, believers were to “come together” for the Supper, and its proper administration fell under apostolic teaching and direction that was then delegated to pastors to oversee. Indeed, the refusal of the Lord’s Supper by church leaders to church members has been one of the more common approaches to church discipline throughout history.
Cause. The final mark of the local church relates to cause. The church is on a very specific mission, given by Jesus Himself, to reach out to a deeply fallen world and call it back to God. According to the Bible, this involves active evangelism with subsequent discipleship, coupled with strategic service to those in need, such as the poor. It is this “cause” that may be the most defining mark of all.
When a glimpse of Christ’s dream erupts, there is often the exclamation, “This is church!” Much of it flows from the “asides” within Luke’s narrative of Acts where he seems to pause in his history of the early church and write a description of its power and majesty. Perhaps his most well-known summation is in the second chapter:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)
Yes, that is the church. And only that.
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.
Pages: 1 2