Sep 12, 2007

True Church

Jesus says, "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20).

Some have understood this to mean that whenever two or more Christ followers gather that they are the church. After all, we know that the church is not a building, but people. People are the church - the ekklesia - the assembly of God's people.

This is a grave misunderstanding of the church of Jesus Christ. Just because Christ-followers are assembled in one place, even if they have a common vision for the Kingdom of God, they do not constitute the church.

There is more to being the church of Jesus Christ than merely occupying the same location. There must also be mutual commitment, mutual accountability, and a shared calling.

The true church gathered has the following three characteristics: Communion, Community, and Commission.

Communion - our common relationship with Christ.
  • John Calvin said, "Wherever we see the word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments of the Lord administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists" (John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, p. 1023).
  • The true church is gathered when the gathered Christ-followers proclaim God's word and by worshiping the risen Lord Jesus Christ through rightly administering the sacraments according to Christ's guidance.
Community - our common accountability with one another.
  • Acts 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
  • The church is present when the Christ-followers gathered share mutual accountability with one another and to God by: growing and learning in the Word, taking care of one another through fellowship, regularly breaking bread in the name of Jesus Christ, and praying for one another and for the Kingdom.
Commission - our charge to share Christ with the world.
  • Matthew 28:19-20 says, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
  • God calls the church into being for the purposes of expanding the Kingdom of God. The purpose of the church is two-fold: 1) to grow new Christians by making new disciples, and 2) to grow Christians into faithful disciples by teaching them to obey everything Christ commanded us.
While getting together with other Christ-followers at the local Italian restaurant might be a wonderful social gathering, they are not the gathered church. The church is the gathering of Christ-followers to accomplish the mission of Jesus Christ. And this mission is demonstrated in mutual commitment, mutual accountability, and a shared calling.

2 comments:

Stephen Thomas said...

Yes, churches must do these things, but is a social gathering of Christ-followers not to be embraced as a building up of community. Can these gatherings not be a means by which people come to know one another and make connections? Jesus connected with people in the marketplace, at parties, on the street. These things may not be church but they seem like places and activities that Christ-followers can be in to connect.

James said...

Steve,

I am in total agreement with you. I am not contending that Christ-followers gathering together is not a good thing. It is good for brothers and sisters to gather, and these social settings can be wonderful opportunities for others to experience God. But they do not constitute a church. And I write that because there are many who say that they don't need the organized church because they are the church. It is this misunderstanding which I am trying to address.

I appreciate your thoughts and for giving me an opportunity to clarify.