How Would You Answer This Simple Question About the Church?
How would you answer the question “What is the church?”
This question might evoke answers ranging from a building with a steeple on top to a group of people that come together to worship Jesus. Whatever your answer might be there is a chance that you have not thought through the depth and intricacies of all that the church is.
The doctrine of the church, called Ecclesiology, is a foundational and yet often neglected aspect of biblical doctrine. Ecclesiology shapes everything from the leadership of the church to the way we live out our purpose each and every week. Knowing how central Ecclesiology is to the purpose and function of the church it is unfortunate that so many established churches have not given considerable attention to this critical doctrine.
In a recent post, blogger Ed Stetzer writes that Ecclesiology “must bear a great deal of theological weight” due to its importance in shaping the church. But, as he notes, such theological weight seldom happens today:
“Regretfully, the extent of the ecclesiology in most of our churches today is weak. People identify a church simply because it meets and has the word ‘church’ in its name. But beyond that, there is an acute misunderstanding as to how we identify biblical churches.”
We can certainly see evidence of this “regretful” lack of ecclesiological understanding in our churches today. In fact, I would suggest that much of the hurt people experience in the church today is a result of a lack of ecclesiological understanding.
It seems to me that people are looking for something particular in their search for a church. I’m not talking about the style of music or the group available. People seem to almost be “lost” in their church attendance. They go to church each week, but have a hard time figuring out why they go. The proliferation of sermon podcasts and worship music has left some people feeling that maybe the church is out dated and not necessary anymore.
The thought that the church is not needed because I can find good preaching in podcast isn’t based in any biblical truth. Rather, it is based in a lack-luster experience in churches that are little more than weekend get-togethers for the people inside the church. This less-than-biblical experience has left many with the conclusion that they can do better on their own than they can with the church (in some cases I’m not so sure they aren’t right).
This is why a clear understanding of Ecclesiology is needed. This is also why Ecclesiology must transfer to how the church is led, how it preaches, and how it seeks to accomplish its vision and mission. There must be clear “marks” that distinguish the church from every other group that gets together to sing or talk about matters of faith. And while those marks may be tough to define specifically for each church in every context, there are certain marks that apply to every church – if it wants to be considered a biblical church. An article at Christianity Today outlines six “marks” of a biblical church:
- function under the authority of Scripture.
- have biblical leadership.
- exercise biblical preaching and teaching.
- partake in the ordinances/sacraments
- be in covenant community.
- live/go on mission together.
These may not be a definitive list of marks for every church, but it can certainly be considered a list of “essential” marks for every church. You would be hard pressed to disqualify any of these marks from the list.
So the question that should be considered by each of us is whether or not our church is a “biblical church.” Can you see evidence of these marks in your church? If not perhaps it’s time to discuss things with the leaders to determine what changes need to be made.
The thing is, the purpose and mission of the church is too critical to be ignored or done poorly. When studies and polls show that people are walking away from the church in droves due to hurt and bad experiences, something has to be done. We must not be afraid to look inward to find out how we can do better at being the church Jesus died for. If we are unwilling to make changes to better our church it says we are too prideful to consider that anything needs to change. The sin in our church is obvious.
Maybe your idea of what a church is, is about to change. Maybe it needs to change. I’d say that’s a good thing. The lack of serious discussion surrounding ecclesiology has caused a great deal of hurt for many people. If we can change that, if we can be better as a body that loves and reaches the people around us through studying the marks of a biblical church I’d say that’s a good thing.
So, how would you answer the question “What is the church”?