What Is the Church?

Members from two churches together for worship in Allendale

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a breakfast I had — which brought together a black guy, a white guy, and a Hispanic Jew. I thoroughly enjoyed connecting with two local pastors.

One the the things that we discussed is the church, that is, what does “church” mean in Allendale, and what should it look like. It was a great discussion, but before I summarize that, here’s a little theology and context.

Basic Theology of “Church”

Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical TruthI’ve consistently heard that the New Testament has two concepts for the local church — the universal church and the localchurch. But Charles Ryrie, in Basic Theology, is more accurate as he breaks the concept down into three categories:

  • Universal: The whole body of Christ, in the entire world.
  • Regional: Group of Christians in a specific area, comprised of multiple local churches. (Ryrie uses the term “visible” church, but I think “regional” is more descriptive.)
  • Local: A group of believers that gather together regularly.

A Christ-follower is a part of all three of these categories of churches, but it’s the “local” category that many neglect to be a part of (more on this below).

I think that the idea of a “regional church” is important for God’s Kingdom-work to be accomplished. The church is God’s primary agent of redemption to the world, and churches need to work together. For example, in the “church of Allendale,” there are lots of local churches that God has a purpose for, so that His message of the Gospel can be made known.

Being a Part of “Church

There is debate among Christians in the post-modern culture about whether church membership is important. The purpose of this blog is NOT to give a defense of church membership (I do think it’s important and biblical). But here are some good articles that explain why you should be a part of a localchurch:

  • Is Church Membership Biblical? The topics of authority, submission, and discipline in the New Testament only make sense if there is some sort of real membership.
  • Why Join a Church? Here’s 4 reasons: Biblical obedience, covenant commitment, dependent accountability, and protective blessing.

What This All Means for Us

As followers of Jesus, we are all a part of His universal body (or, church), and we have a mandate to be a part of the local church. But let us not forget to think about multiple churches in an area working together as the regional church. It is easy for members of local churches to think about their own building, people, plans, and needs. But doing so leads us to being church-centered instead of Christ-centered.

Image courtesy of DartVader via sxc.hu

Here’s an example from the world of chemistry. You know what happens when you add sugar or salt to water? It dissolves, right? But remember that the sugar (or salt) molecules don’t go away. The molecules are still there in the water. If you remove the water, the sugar (salt) molecules are left.

What has the sugar or salt done? Well, especially in the case of sugar, it made the water better!

It’s the same with different levels of the “church.” The smaller (local) church adds flavor to the bigger level. Local churches must work together to improve the regional church. And the local and regional churches are what makes the universal church effective.

I heard a local pastor say it best, as he told his congregation, “I am a Kingdom-person first, before I’m a Baptist.” If you don’t see how what he said is a big deal, then you didn’t grow up in a small town, denominational church.

“Become Less”

We, the individuals and the local churches, must dissolve in order to become part of God’s bigger plan. When Jesus began His ministry, others thought John the Baptist might feel threatened. But he rightly replied (as recorded in John 3:30),

“He must become greater; I must become less.”

We must be willing to put our plans and desires aside, to make room for the work of the Holy Spirit. The local church is MORE important then some want to believe, and LESS important than others want to admit.

When it comes to the tension between local and regional churches, there are two extremes:

  • We should remain completely separate, and each local church do their own good things.
  • We must become one body and do all things together the same way.

Both are equally wrong. We need to come together for purposes and seasons, and not just to get things done, but to build relationships. After all, it’s by how we love each other that the world will know that we are Jesus’s disciples (13:35).

We need to be individuals together. We need to work together as local churches in a region.

Sugar on toast is good, and cinnamon on toast is good. But best is sugar and cinnamon on toast.

Pray for Our Family

We know that being a part of the local church is crucial for our own health, and to be a part of God’s redemption plan. The local church is God’s primary agent to reach a lost world, and it’s His primary means for us to be cared for and nurtured.

We are still in the midst of figuring out what it looks like to be involved in the local (and regional) church in Allendale. Please pray for us, that we will know where and how to plug in. We want to continue to be used by God, and to get connected in community.

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  1. Vision’s Vision « Mission: Allendale - September 16, 2011

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