Here’s a simple question for you to ponder: what is a church?
Is it a building? A gathering? Just any gathering? Is it for Christians? Is it for the community? Can anyone be a part of it? If I watch a church service online, does that count as going to church? Do you have to have property to be a church? Do you have to have elders? What if there’s no sermon? What if there’s no music? And aren’t the ordinances-- baptism and communion--important? Don’t they have something to do with a church being a church?
At the very end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We call this the Great Commission, because it’s the charter for the church. It’s our mission.
Then we come to the book of Acts. Acts is the story of the apostles’ obedience to this commission and when we look closely at what they’re doing, we see something fascinating: they’re planting churches. The Jerusalem church is planted and established (Acts 2:37-47). A church forms in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26) and the Jerusalem church sends Barnabas to help it get established. The Antioch church sends out Paul and Barnabas, and on their missionary journey they plant churches and appoint elders (Acts 14:22-23). Churches are the fruit of Paul’s ministry-- they appear in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, and even Rome. It appears that central to the Great Commission is the growth of healthy churches. The movement of the gospel is church-centric.
Here’s the snag in modern American evangelicalism: few people can define what a church actually is.
Like the apostles of old, we must reconnect the Great Commission with church work. To do that, we must come to a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about the church. Starting this week our blog will be devoted to defining what a biblical church is as well as what a biblical church does. Please, read along as we take a journey into the oft neglected land of ecclesiology. It should be fun.
Yours for Christ,