Close Your Church for Good. Chap. 3, Sec 1. To talk about the church, or to live and operate as the church, you must have a definition of “church.” What is yours? In this chapter, I will introduce mine.
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Have you ever wondered why your church does certain things a certain way, while the church across town does everything so different? Churches have wide diversity, from music and preaching styles, to building construction and leadership approaches. Why is this? Some of it has to do with traditions and customs, but even these are often guided by something much more basic: the definition of the church. What is the church supposed to be and do? It depends on how you define “church.”
But getting a definition is not as simple as looking up a verse in the Bible, asking your pastor for his, or looking one up in a theological dictionary. Even where church is defined, such definitions tend to be full of complex ideas and theological jargon which require further explanation. For example, a typical definition of “church” reads something like this:
Church (Gk. ekklēsia) is the universal body of believers that functions under the headship of Jesus Christ and meets regularly in local assemblies to carry out the Great Commission through observing the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and listening to the preaching of the Word of God, all for the edification of the believer and the evangelism of the world.
It is difficult to disagree with such a definition. However, disagreement begins when you start to discuss what the various terms and words mean. How can the church be both universal and local? Who is a believer? What do they have to believe and who gets to decide? What does it mean for Jesus Christ to be the head? Should we have pastors and priests or not? Why are baptism and the Lord’s Supper called ordinances? What kind of baptism is required? How and when should people be baptized? What exactly constitutes “the Lord’s Supper”? How often should it be observed? Who gets to do the preaching? How long should the preaching be? What does it mean to preach “the Word of God”? Also, this specific definition says nothing about leadership, organization, church government, denominations, our role in politics, and many other issues that are important to the average church.
The theology books generally attempt to answer these sorts of questions. And before you know it, an attempt to understand what the church is and what the church does requires detailed knowledge of dozens of books and an advanced educational degree or two. The “basics” of church seem to require a lot of advanced study and research. Apparently, the basics are not so basic after all.