“It is very much in vogue for a consultant to ask church leaders, ‘What do you want your church to be? Figure out your needs and desires, tell me where you want to go, and I will help you craft a philosophy that will take you there.’ Such people are asking the wrong question! The right questions is, in Scripture, what does God say the church is? Based on that, we need to ask, where should it go and how should it behave? Then we must ask, what does scripture define as a need and how should it be met?”
“I believe most evangelicals would have no argument with looking first to scripture. But we cannot safely assume that this task is ever seriously undertaken. Most churches venture no further than their prepackaged and often predigested denominational doctrinal statement. The crafting of a philosophy of ministry based on scripture is very rare. Doing that kind of theology takes time, effort, and a serious commitment” (Bill Hull).
Five words that changed the world
Five powerful words tell us what Jesus is doing today: “I will build my Church.” (Matthew 16:18).
This is the earliest reference to the Church in the New Testament and in the book of Acts we learn how Jesus did this through the leadership of the apostles and those appointed by them. As the apostles won people to Christ in various regions, they gathered them in local Churches and appointed leaders over those Churches (Acts 14:21-23).
The earliest gatherings of Christians focused on devotion to, “…the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer” (see Acts 2:42). There were very early indications of simple organization in the first church at Jerusalem. The believers knew the number of their members (Acts 2:41; 4:4); united in public worship and prayer meetings (Acts 2:42, 47) and practiced the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:41-42, 46).
Is Jesus still building His Church?
Since a pattern emerges from the pages of the New Testament revealing how He built His Church, are we obligated to follow it? Are we willing to put ourselves at cross-purposes with the Master Builder?
The words of the apostle Paul are sobering:
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care” (I Corinthians 3:10).
Think about it:
“It is scandalous that so many believers today have such a low view of the church. They see their Christian lives as a solitary exercise – Jesus and me – or they treat the church as a building or a social center. That the Church is held in such low esteem reflects not only the depths of our biblical ignorance, but the alarming extent to which we have succumbed to obsessive individualism of modern culture … for any Christian who has a choice in the matter, failure to cleave to a particular Church is failure to obey Christ.” (Chuck Colson)
“…everyone regenerated by God is by definition a part of the universal church. It’s not a matter of choice or membership. And following the pattern made normative in the book of Acts, each believer is to make his or her confession, be baptized, and become part of a local congregation with all of the accountability that implies. So membership in a church particular is no more optional than membership in the church universal.” (Chuck Colson)
Short definition of a local Church
Philippians 1:1 – “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus (universal Church) at Philippi (local Church), together with the overseers and deacons” (plural leadership).
Practical definition of a local Church
It is God’s will that every believer be meaningfully related, faithful, serving, and accountable in a visible body of believers under the pastoral oversight of elders (Ephesians 4:1-16; Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:23-25; I Peter 4:10-11; 5:1-4; I Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17).
For a more in-depth study: A Biblical View of the Church