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Rediscovering the Value of 'Church'
by Tom Goodman
February 11, 2010

"With jaw-dropping vigor, ignorance, and at times unblushing gall, increasing sectors of the evangelical world are abandoning two thousand years of ecclesiology in the erroneous opinion that the church is some malleable human construct that can be shaped, altered, redefined, or even disposed of as desired."

So says James Emery White in an issue of his newsletter, Serious Times.  Most of you who receive LeaderLines are in leadership at Hillcrest.  Let's take a moment to appreciate all over again what God has said about the organization he called us to lead.

When Jesus said he would build his church -- a force that would be so powerful that the gates of hell would not stand against it -- what was he talking about?  Well, it's not a brick building you go to or a program you attend.  But some Christians, eager to demolish that false notion have substituted a number of ideas for "church" that aren't any better.  A recent survey of American Christians found that the majority deemed each of the following to be "a complete and biblically valid" way for someone who does not participate in a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God in place of the church:

  • Engaging in faith activities at home.
  • Watching a religious television program.
  • Listening to a religious radio broadcast.
  • Attending a special ministry event, such as a concert or community service activity.
  • Participating in a marketplace ministry.

In response to these substitutes -- to borrow the tag line of a rental car company -- I'd have to say:  "There's 'church' and there's 'not exactly'."

In his article, White points out that in the Bible the most common understanding of Christ's church is "defined bodies of believers that were gathered with both intent and order."  White suggests five "C's" of a genuine church:

Community.  To be a church, you must be a true community of faith.  There is no sense that this community was to be segmented in any way, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or age.  It is to have clear entry and exit points, making it clear (as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians) that there are those "inside" the church and those "outside" the church.

Confession.  The second dynamic which constitutes the church involves confession.  The idea of "confession," in the sense being suggested here, is related to the Greek homologeo, which means "to say the same thing" or "to agree."  For the church to be the church, it must be a place where the Word of God as put forward in Scripture is proclaimed in its fullness.

Corporate.  The third mark of the church is corporate.  The Bible speaks of defined organizational roles, such as pastors (a term which is used synonymously and interchangeably with the terms "elder" and "bishop") and deacons, as well as corporate roles related to spiritual gifts such as teachers, administrators, and, of course, leaders (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; I Peter 4).  These corporate dynamics allowed money to flow from one group to another (II Corinthians 8); decisions to be made by leaders as to doctrine and practice (Acts 15); and the setting apart of some individuals for appointed tasks, missions, and church plants (Acts 13).

Celebration.  The fourth dynamic of the local church is celebration.  The church was to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, including the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, for these were far from being "public domain."  In the New Testament, believers were to "come together" for the Supper, and its proper administration fell under apostolic teaching and direction which was then delegated to pastors to oversee.

Cause.  The final mark of the local church relates to cause.  The church is on a very specific mission, given to it by Jesus Himself, to reach out to a deeply fallen world and call it back to God.  According to the Bible, this involves active evangelism with subsequent discipleship, coupled with strategic service to those in need, such as the poor.

Without apology, this is what we call people into when we call them into the Hillcrest Family.  It's not a social club or a service organization.  It's not an optional accessory for Christian discipleship.  And there's no substitute for it in the world!


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