One task in my Theology III class (Ecclesiology and Eschatology) is to define the church in a useful manner. By useful, the professor means a definition that can be understood by people in the church, so as to clarify the church’s identity, structure and mission.
At first glance, this may seem like an easy task. After all, the church is that building down the road where Christians meet to do their thing, right?
Well, sort of, but that begs more questions, such as: Who is a Christian? What exactly do Christians do, and why?
As we study the New Testament we find some recurring themes regarding the church that might be helpful for this endeavor.
- · The church is primarily a local assembly
- · The church must be a gospel assembly
- · The church is a Spirit-empowered assembly
- · The church is by nature a living and growing assembly
- · The church is God’s organized, purposeful assembly
With this in mind, I offer—with much fear and trembling—my first stab at a “workable” definition of the church. Without further ado, here it is:
The church is a local assembly of regenerate, baptized believers in Christ Jesus who glorify God by gathering together to worship with one another; by rightly proclaiming and submitting to God’s Word; by faithful administration of the ordinances; and by living gospel-centered lives through the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Great Commission.
Some will say this is not a workable definition because of the theological jargon employed (For instance, what are ordinances? What does regenerate mean? What is a gospel-centered life?), but I would suggest—again, in all humility—that faithful believers should have at least a surface-level understanding of these terms and why they are important.
Now you see the inherent difficulty in this task: Trying to find the right balance between theological precision and practical application toward the average Christ-follower.
But then again, perhaps we set the bar too low when we don’t expect believers to understand and embrace the depths of God’s grace expressed in rich theological language, and how his grace—manifest in Jesus Christ—should impact every area of their lives.
I covet your thoughtful suggestions and critiques, as I know this definition is far from complete and as I wrestle with the above issues.