What makes a church a church?

14 07 2012

I’ve been reading RetroChristianity lately by Michael J. Svigel, and wanted to share some helpful things he said about what makes a local church an actual church.  There has been some heavy emphasis lately in the evangelical world on the fact that the church is “not a building.”  While this is certainly true, it only identifies what the church is not, and doesn’t help us define biblically what the church is.  Just because you sound the mantra “We aren’t a building, we’re a people!” doesn’t necessarily mean the group of people you gather with constitutes a true church.

Svigel says “An authentic local church is supported by two pillars: the essential marks and the essential works.”

The marks of the church are as follows:

  • Orthodoxy– “Orthodox believers are those who hold to the essential truths of the Christian faith – those fundamentals of the faith that have been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”
  • Order– The local church has to have leadership.  “Order emphasizes the necessity of properly trained, trusted, and tested pastors, teachers and leaders of the church, to whom the orthodox faith has been entrusted to pass on to the next generation.”
  • Ordinances– These ordinances are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Svigel rightly states that the ordinances “are closely associated with the growth, discipline, and purity of the church’s members.”

The 2nd pillar of the church is its “works.”  Of course it doesn’t mean the church “works” to be saved, but rather a true church will bear fruit, and this is what that looks like:

  • Exaltation– “The purpose, goal, and focus of the church- to glorify God the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Another good term would be “worship” but that was taken by Rick Warren 🙂 and it doesn’t fit with Svigel’s alliteration.
  • Edification– The church is to be “building up believers in love and good works.”  Edification is not focused on the outside, i.e. the world. Rather, it is focused on Believers, discipling them, growing them, teaching them… “in edification, the disciple-maker’s role is to teach and model.  The disciples role is to learn and follow.”
  • Evangelism– This “focuses on the unsaved world, balancing both local and global missions.”  The church is to go and tell!  We must communicate the Gospel in our local context and to the ends of the earth.

A church, is more than just you and your buddies hanging out on the golf course.  It’s more than just “fellowshipping” with some friends at the lake.  The church is a people but these people are organized with a common purpose and common goals, having the glory of Christ as their highest aim.  I still like this definition from Vintage Church:

“The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the great commandment and the great commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.”

So, is your church a church?

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