What is the church? Many today don’t care to think much about the church. And, if we’re honest, most of what we think about when we hear the word “church” is not positive. Stories of abuse, neglect, hypocrisy (you name it) abound. If only the church were more like her founder, Jesus, people say. It has become all too easy to try and be a “Jesus Christian” without being a “church Christian.”
The problem with our thinking at this point is that the New Testament simply does not give us that option. In fact, we stand on the verge of idolatry. What I mean to say is that when we claim to follow a Jesus apart from the church, then the Jesus we claim to follow is a false Jesus. We are just making Christ in our own image at this point.
Jesus Himself constituted the church and chartered her to speak for the Kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 16:13-20; 18:15-20). Jesus purchased the church from her sin to be His bride. We, poor and vile sinners, have inexplicably been brought into His house of wine. Standing on the sufficient merit of Christ alone, we have by faith and repentance been brought to God and together with other Christians.
There is sense in which this church is composed of every Christian, from every place and every age. Our eternity will be spent with our brothers and sisters who have been made to see the glory of God in Christ as their Supreme Treasure, as we worship the Lamb who was slain and by so doing ransomed us from the wrath of God (Revelation 5 and 7). This universal church is a wonderful reality and should ground our fellowship with other gospel Christians all across the world.
However, the universal church takes an institutional and indeed visible shape here on earth. Until Christ returns, it is actually the local church that the New Testament speaks of most prominently. This is the matrix in which Christian life is played out in. Membership in a local body of Christ’s people is required for those who have been brought from death to life.
So what is a church? How is it to be structured and governed? Who gets to be in the church? Does baptism and the Lord’s Supper have anything to do with it? Can we have multiple sites or services and still be called one church?
All these questions and more are what this series called “Ecclesiology Matters” will seek to answer. It is my hope that your love for the local church will grow as we seek to glorify God together as members. May God be magnified, not only in our own individual discipleship, but in our corporate discipleship as well. It is here, in the local church, where God has placed His name. We do well to take it seriously.