What is Church?

For a long time, I’ve suspected that there are some fairly serious things wrong with our conceptualization of church.  What we spend our time worrying about, our money attempting to accomplish, and our reputation attempting to ensure in some, if not many cases, seems to be significantly different from the relatively non-prescriptive nature of church as depicted in Scripture.

To begin with, we  need to make a distinction.  A distinction between The Church, with a capital C, and church with a lower case C.  The first is a divinely ordained entity that spans time and space and consists of all believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of location or period in history or outward demonstrations of such a faith or not.  The Church was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 16:13-20) and empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:1-11, Acts 2-4).  The Church is not defined by any specific instance of church (small C).  A congregational entity may profess to be a part of The Church,  and yet Biblically we don’t speak of organizations or local entities as part of The Church.  The Church is comprised of individuals – not denominations or congregations.  Thus, a Christian church is not itself a part of The Church, but hopefully every member of that congregation is.  A church does not determine the membership of any individual in The Church. 

The Church is sometimes referred to as invisible.  This refers to the nature of The Church.  You can’t point to a building and say “That’s part of The Church”.  We don’t know for sure who is a member of The Church, regardless of their standing or membership in a church.  These things give us an indication, a reason for hoping that a person is a member of The Church.  But only God Himself knows who is actually part of His Church – The Church.  I imagine there are going to be a fair number of surprises for us when we reach heaven and see who is or isn’t (was or wasn’t?)  part of The Church.

A church is a local entity or organization.  It may be a small house church or a huge mega-church.  The defining aspect of any individual church is that it exists to facilitate the entrance and continuation of as many of it’s members as possible as members in The Church.  Biblically, we would say that the purpose of any church is to continue the Great Commission that Jesus gave to His disciples in Matthew 28:16-20.  A church is never able to know authoritatively whether any particular member is a member of The Church or not.  But everything that a church does should be focused towards that end.  We might even go so far as to say that the ultimate criteria by which we may judge a church is the extent and consistency and Biblical faithfulness that a church brings to bear on the acts of baptizing and teaching so that as many people as possible might be counted as members of The Church, whether or not they ever take the time to confirm their membership in a church or congregation.

This is the only distinctive role of a church – to prepare and equip people for membership in The Church.  Nothing else that happens in a church matters, and everything that a church does needs to be focused towards this end.  There are secular organizations that provide an education to children.  There are secular organizations dedicated to the alleviation of suffering due to poverty or injustice or natural disasters.  But a faithful Christian church is the only organization with the total and express raison d’etre of creating members in The Church. 

How am I doing thus far?  Is this an adequate description of the distinction between The Church and a church?  Am I missing something?  It’s important to have this distinction adequately fleshed out before we try to think further about the implications of this on what a church looks and sounds like.  And I think that there is a fair amount of confusion about this distinction – a confusion that churches often foster themselves, whether explicitly like the Catholic Church’s doctrine that nobody outside of the Catholic Church will be saved, or implicitly by denominational squabbling or pridefulness. 

Looking forward to some good constructive feedback.  No pressure

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