Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What Is the Church

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the American Society for Church Growth hosted by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. This year’s conference was called "Church Out of the Box, What Is It?" Over the course of the conference, we discussed the different expressions of the postmodern church, such as cluster churches, multi site churches, drum circle worship, and improv churches. But the most interesting session of the conference was presented by Dr. Ed Stetzer, a Missiologist for the North American Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention. His session was entitled "HOW FAR OUT OF THE BOX? - A LOOK AT THE BIBLICAL PRESCRIPTIONS OF CHURCH AND THEIR APPLICATION THROUGH INNOVATIVE MODELS." In his session, Dr. Stetzer looked through various passages of scripture to find the core essentials of what every church should have, regardless of how it otherwise expresses itself.
Stetzer first asserted that the church does indeed matter. The church may not be the center of God’s plan, but it is central to his plan, as God intends to make his glory known through the church. Ephesians 3:10 notes: the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. Later, in this same chapter, God again shows us that the church is the medium through which he displays his glory by saying "to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (vs 21).
After establishing the centrality of the church in God’s plan, Dr. Stetzer then went on to offer six essentials that every organization must possess in order to be considered a New Testament Church.

Scriptural Authority
The primitive church was first and foremost rooted in the scriptures. Every time an Apostle/disciple spoke, he consistently appealed to the scriptures as the basis of their authority. In 2 Timothy, Paul forever establishes the authority of the scriptures when he wrote: from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Biblical Leadership
While what we may call the leaders of our churches are optional, the need for leadership, and the spiritual qualifications for leadership are not. Biblically speaking, there are two offices in the church, that of pastor/elder/overseer (see my post on Oct. 30, entitled "The roles of Pastors, Elders, and Congregations in a New Testament Church"), and the office of deacon.
The Bible also indicates that having the right person to fill these offices is also important. There are passages that list the qualifications for the aforementioned offices (1 Timothy 3:1-14, and Titus 1:5-9). Paul’s discussion in these passages focuses on qualifications of these offices as opposed to their duties. The list also indicates that certain individuals would be qualified to serve and others would not. It’s interesting to note that Paul places as much emphasis on the quality of one’s character as he does the nature of the duty.

Preaching and Teaching
People need the preaching and teaching of God’s word. Paul instructs Timothy to devote himself to preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 4:12), and also writes that: "faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" in Romans 10.

During his earthly ministry, Christ ordained that his church should do certain things to honor and worship him. These things were the Lord’s Supper, which Christ commanded be done in "remembrance of me." And Baptism, which Christ commanded to be administered to every new convert.

Covenant Community
One of the core essentials of a church is that it is a group of believers in covenant community. As a covenant community, a church must share several common commitments, as found in Acts 2:42-47. First, a church must hold common doctrinal convictions (vs. 42). Second, a church must devote itself to congregational prayer (vs. 44). And finally, a church must devote itself to worship (vs. 46).

Churches are called to saturate the world with the Gospel. Jesus’ last word to his disciples was a commission to worldwide evangelism (Matthew 28)


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