Doctrinal Musing on Ecclesiology (Church)

I believe the church is the people of God who are the one community called by God comprised of all faithful believers of all ages.[1] The church consists of people who are chosen (1 Pet 2:9), called (Rom 1:6), and loved (1 Pet 2:10) by the Father, and who are true believers in Jesus Christ and his redemptive work, and who are indwelt, sealed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.[2]

The universal church is invisible and consists of all people from all times and places who are united by their faith in Jesus Christ. The universal church is Jesus’ new humanity, “the first fruit of the new creation, the whole company of the redeemed through the ages.”[3] The universal church is the body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5; Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:24) of which Christ is the divine head (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22). The universal church is the flock of Christ (John 10:14-16; 1 Pet 5:2-4) and the bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-27; Rev 21:2). It is God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:5) and his household or family (Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19).

The universal church is manifest in local and temporal form (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 1:2; Acts 9:31) as the visible church which “is both embassy and parable of the kingdom of heaven, an earthly place where his will is done and he is now present, existing visibly everywhere two or three gather in his name to proclaim and spread the gospel in word and works of love, and by obeying the Lord’s command to baptize disciples (Matt. 28:19) and celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19).”[4]

Baptism is a washing with water, which symbolizes the cleansing of believers from the stain and dirt of sin through the grace of God (Acts 22:16). Baptism is associated with repenting of sin and believing in the gospel (Acts 2:38, 41, 18:8), and so it is a sign and declaration of one’s union with Christ and association with his death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6:3-4).

The Lord’s Supper is a sacramental sign and spiritual truth of the believer’s redemption by Christ’s death. I agree with John Calvin when he writes, “I hold then… that the sacred mystery of the Supper consists of two things—the corporeal signs, which, presented to the eye, represent invisible things in a manner adapted to our weak capacity, and the spiritual truth, which is at once figured and exhibited by the signs.”[5] Thus, when believers partake of the Lord’s Supper, they do so in a heavenly and spiritual manner. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the King of heaven and his people of earth meet in celebration of Christ’s accomplished redemptive work and in anticipation of the heavenly banquet. I believe Christians meet with Christ in the Lord’s Supper and participate in and benefit from the spiritual meaning of his atoning sacrifice. We receive “forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.”[6]

I believe in the unity and fellowship of the church. The church is one in essence and transcends all barriers because it is founded on one gospel, united to one Lord and indwelt by one Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:5) and “[i]n Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Php 2:1-2), and “[m]ake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). The unity of the church is expressed in fellowship by meeting together (Acts 2:46), by greeting one another (1 Cor 16:19-20), by extending hospitality (Rom 12:13), by sharing resources (Acts 2:44-45), and by suffering together (2 Cor 1:7).

Although Jesus Christ alone is the head of the church (Col 1:18) and the Holy Spirit directs the church (Acts 13:2), God calls and equips individuals to lead and to oversee the church (Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1, 8). I believe in a congregational church government model with plural local elders which includes the lead pastor as one of the elders (Acts 15:22, 20:17, 28).  I believe the church exists to worship (Eph 5:16-19; Col 3:16) and glorify God (Rom 15:6; 2 Thess 1:12; Eph 3:21), to edify believers (1 Cor 14:26; Eph 4:12-13; Col 1:28), to show mercy by caring for the poor and needy (Acts 11:29; 2 Cor 8:4; 1 John 3:17) and to evangelize lost people of all nations (Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8). “The Church is at the very centre of God’s cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel. But a church which preaches the cross must itself be marked by the cross”[7] which demonstrates Jesus’ sacrificial love and service towards others. 


Footnotes:

[1] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), EPUB edition, pt. 5, ch. 17, “The Church as Mystical, Universal and Local.” [2] Millard J.Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), [3] “The Church” in A Reforming Catholic Confession, https://reformingcatholicconfession.com/. [4] “The Church” in A Reforming Catholic Confession, https://reformingcatholicconfession.com/. [5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk 4, ch.17, section 11, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xviii.html. [6] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism–The Holy Eucharist” in The Book of Common Prayer (1979). [7] “The Church and Evangelism” in The Lausanne Covenant. https://www.lausanne.org/content/covenant/lausanne-covenant