What is the church? Part II
Published 10:14 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017
In the last article, we identified five characteristics of the Church to answer the question, “What is the church?” Today we will finish answering this question with three more characteristics.
The church is a covenant community, not a business or a club. The church has points of continuity with a business and a club. All three have structure, such as a budget. But there are points of discontinuity as well. Church members are not consumers of a product that the church is offering. No, it is a gathering of believers committed to Jesus, and therefore one another. Covenant commitment to one another is described in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one members suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
The church does not exist to make money but rather to make disciples of the nations for Jesus. Church members are not members for merely altruistic purposes like many other community organizations. Members of the church are ambassadors of the coming kingdom of God, calling all to repent and believe in Jesus, who died for our un-altruistic ways.
Church members are not members for societal perks, such as political office or a good community reputation. They are to be members because they have been called to a greater society that is fully coming in the kingdom of God. The church is not a secret society. The church is rather commanded to shine like a city on a hill. Members of a local church must think in terms of a covenant community — and covenants are not easily broken.
The church is the Gospel made visible. The Gospel is made visible through preaching of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). The Gospel is made visible through our love for one another in the church (John 13:35). The Gospel is made visible through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Romans 6:3-4 and Luke 22:14-20). The Gospel is also made visible through church membership, the focus of these articles. Jesus has given the church authority to bind and loose, which pertains to discerning who is a believer and who is not a believer (Matthew 16:19, 18:17-18). Please, please read those verses in Matthew. When you become a church member (the binding), the church is saying with all authority, “look at John Doe, he represents Jesus and his coming kingdom.” When one is removed from the church membership (the loosing) the church is saying with Christ’s authority, “Look at John Doe, he does not represent Jesus.” Theology books refer to this loosing as corrective church discipline — the process of removing unrepentant church members from the membership roll. If that raises your eyebrows, don’t worry. Jesus taught it (Matthew 18:15-20) and Paul wrote concerning it (1 Corinthians 5), and we’ll cover it in a future article more extensively. Church membership is granting the privilege to represent Jesus to the world. So when a church does not practice the biblical paradigm for membership, such a church obscures the Gospel for which she was called to make manifest.
Finally, the church is temporary. The final charge given by Jesus to make disciples was to be done “to the end of the age.” Just as John the Baptist was the forerunner of the first coming of Jesus, the church is the forerunner of the second coming of Jesus. John Piper has famously remarked, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” Likewise the church exists because worship doesn’t. But someday, the kingdom will fully come. A new age will dawn and the Gospel will be made visible by Jesus incarnate once again.
Matthew Homan is the pastor of Eureka Baptist Church. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.