What is the Church?
As a church, we hope to be fruitful – A fruitless tree in the middle of a garden isn’t much good for anyone. The fruit we hope to bear is this: more and better disciples of Jesus Christ. So we pray that the disciples of Jesus Christ in our city will increase, both quantitatively and qualitatively. God forbid we become a community of mere converts to Christianity, who say one thing and do another – who look a lot like Christians, but upon closer examination have Jesus not as Lord, Savior, and Treasure.
So how will we produce this kind of fruit? We won’t. We can’t. Only God can make fruit grow – on a tree or in a church. God is not the responder to our initiatives, and he is not bound to our requests, which is why all the church’s evangelistic innovation sometimes ends to no avail. But…
The reality of God’s monopoly on fruit production does not negate our responsibility as a church. Though God alone is the producer of fruit (more and better disciples of Jesus) he has chosen to employ us in his holy orchard. He has given us jobs to do and rules to follow. And while he does not promise our efforts will end in fruitfulness, he makes clear there will be no fruit without them.
So with glad hearts, we take our Bible in hand, and order and organize ourselves to be a faithful and obedient church, for without which there will be no fruit. And we look to Jesus, the Lord of the Harvest, for without Him there will be no fruit – If He doesn’t tell the sun to rise and the waters to fall, springtime will be a disappointment.
What is a Church?
The Church is a people – the community of sinners who, through the death of Jesus Christ, have been reconciled to God. They exist, under the headship of Jesus, to bring glory to God through their trust in, obedience to, treasuring of, and proclamation of Him. The Church is true Christians. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18
What is a Church? (Or, the Church Local)
A local church is an identifiable, organized, local expression of the universal Church. Surely it’s more than that, but it’s at least that.
And God has declared, by His Spirit, through His Word, that God’s people (THE Church) are to order and organize themselves in a certain way. In the early days of the church (Acts) we see less order. But as the church grew, starting in Acts 6, the church became increasingly ordered and organized, according to God’s instruction.
- These local churches gathered together weekly for formal worship (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:18), and worshipped on a specific day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2).
- These local churches had order and structure to their services (1 Cor. 14:26ff).
- Each local church had identified leaders, called elders (synonymous with shepherds, overseers, and pastors) (1 Tim. 3:1; Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5; Acts 20).
- Local churches appointed deacons to serve the elders and free them up for prayer and preaching (Acts 6:3-4; Phil 1:1).
- Organized collections were taken in local churches and money was used to support ministry as well as those enduring financial hardship (1 Cor. 16:2; 1 Tim. 5:17-18).
- The local church administered the sacrament of communion regularly and formally (1 Cor. 11:33-34).
The Local Church
The local church is an institution – an established, organized society, with a purpose, with rules, with membership, with accountability, with leaders.
Sadly, many have rejected the idea of the church as an institution and prefer the idea of the church as an organism only (with little organization, no formal leadership, no buildings, no formal teaching, no scripturally derived rules, etc.). Often, this departure from the church as an institution is preceded by a painful experience in a local, organized church.
While we don’t want to discount painful experiences, we propose that the problem is not the church as an institution (which we have no right to abandon). The problem is sin within.
God means to preserve the purity (in life and doctrine) of his Church through order and organization. A rejection of the institutional aspects of Christ’s Church is a rejection of God’s means for preserving purity. Today, we often see that a departure from the local church results in a departure from purity.