What is Church?
By D. Adams
March 17, 2007
What is the definition of Church according to Christianity? A church could be defined as:
- A building for public, especially Christian worship.
- A Church
- The company of all Christians regarded as a spiritual body.
- A specified Christian denomination: (i.e. the Presbyterian Church).
- A congregation.
The most recent edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia now states that there are more than 33,000 different denominations. Some of these are Churches that have filed for an independent status. How do we reason with all these different views of tradition? For the newly found Christian it can be overwhelming to make a decision on which church to attend. The most important thing to remember is that the true church is the body of Christ, and the members of that Church are the followers of Christ.
Eph 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
Eph 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Eph 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Eph 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Eph 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
Eph 4:16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
How do we find unity within diversity?
Christians have unity of beliefs in three basic forms.
- Ontological Unity
- Creedal Unity
- Function Unity
Ontological Unity is unity in who we essentially are—the invisible body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12, the Bible speaks of the different members in one body. There is unity and diversity amongst all of the body of Christ. (cf. 12:12-21)
1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it”.
Creedal Unity is explicitly confirmed unity in all essential beliefs. The Creedal statements (summary of beliefs) are the written body of teachings that are generally accepted by Christians. Not all Christians are in agreement over all creeds. We can however take this summary of beliefs and form the most common beliefs in orthodox Christianity.
- Belief in God
- Belief that God is the creator of the heavens and earth
- Belief in the Trinity
- Belief in the hypostatic union
- Belief in the resurrection of Christ
- Belief in the atonement
- Belief in the sinfulness of Man
- Belief in the necessity of faith in Christ
- Belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit
- Belief in the inspiration of scripture
- Belief in the authority of Scripture
- Belief in God’s love
- Belief in God’s righteousness
- Belief in the need for prayer
- Belief in morality
- Belief in evil
- Practice of baptism
- Practice of the Lord’s supper / Eucharist
- Belief in the second coming of Christ
- Belief in final judgment
- Belief in the new heavens and earth
- Belief in the same 66 books of the canon (at least)
- Belief in the need to love others
- Belief in the need to love God
It is important to realize that these creedal beliefs are derived, or articulated within scripture. The list may not be exhaustive but it is a good starting point for defining the orthodox beliefs of nearly 2000 years of believers.
Functional Unity can be described as unified efforts in accomplishing common goals (e.g. feeding the hungry, helping the poor and needy, etc). This is emphatically emphasized in the book of Matthew verses 25:31-46. The typical church may have a local food pantry to help feed local recipients, a missionary project to spread the gospel or to care for those needy outside their community or even the United States.
UNITY AND DIVERSITY
As Christians are defined as the body of Christ—we can, at the same time, have unity and diversity. In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 we are described as different members in one body. Imagine if you can for a moment, that while we may not all share the same spiritual or mechanical skills, we can be a blessing or comfort to others. How can we be have different views but be united? A great modern example of this unity is the conceptualization of “E pluribus Unum” which is a Latin phrase for “ Out of many, one” As Americans we can understand this nomenclature is an example of how we can be united—but yet not the same. This same concept can be recognized with Christians being united as one in the body of Christ.
Cover the essentials in determining proper interpretation of scripture:
- Culture at that time
- who the verse is addressed to
- who is saying the verse
- context-read the entire paragraph or chapter
- note Bible has 40 authors and each literary form or norm will vary
- progressive revelation
- is the verse poetry, prose, lamentation, oracle, covenant, etc
- what are the parallel verses on this topic throughout the Bible
- Is this a timeless principle?
The concentric circle of importance is the essentials for salvation, essential for Orthodoxy. Is it possible to have complete unity? Yes, because there is a top down mentality, in whatever the top says everyone rallies around. Which is better? To be unified in statement or actuality? Sometimes a structure is created to reach unity. In John 17:11, 21-22 is it that we agree on every single issue? Searching produces a true understanding. Part of the Protestant creed is to say—struggling with issues—internalizing them ourselves is better than someone telling you what to believe.