What Is This Thing Called Church?

Bernard N. Howard: In 2004 the Church of England began its first internet church: i-church.org. It still exists today, with a pastor and members who interact with one another online. But is it really a church? Many churches in America are made up of multiple campuses, but from a biblical point of view, is it possible for one church to be located in numerous places? These questions are more than theological teasers; they have real significance for God’s people. Darren Carlson, president of Training Leaders International, recently observed, “The greatest problem in missions right now is disagreement over what constitutes a local church.” That’s not a small statement. Clearly we need to think with care about what a church is. Dictionary Definitions The English word “church” has a number of meanings, most of which are religious. But the Greek word ekklesia—the Bible word translated “church”—is different. Non-Christians in the first century wouldn’t have thought of it as a religious word. To them it simply meant “a

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What We Need to Learn from the Early Church

Tim Keller: Many say that Christians who maintain the historic, traditional doctrines are behind the times, are too exclusive, and are “on the wrong side of history.” Two recent books that cast doubt on this view are from historian and biblical scholar Larry Hurtado: Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World and Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?. The earliest Christians were widely ridiculed, especially by cultural elites, were excluded from circles of influence and business, and were often persecuted and put to death. Hurtado says Roman authorities were uniquely hostile to them, compared to other religious groups. Why? It was expected that people would have their own gods, but that they’d be willing to show honor to all other gods as well. Nearly every home, every city, every professional guild—including the empire itself—each had its own gods. You couldn’t even go to a meal in a large home or to a public event without being expected to

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Martin Luther’s 7 Characteristics of the Church

W. Robert Godfrey: The Word “First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.” Martin Luther always returned to the foundational importance of the Scriptures and the gospel in his approach to any doctrinal question. The church must have and cherish the revelation of God. “And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word.” Baptism “Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance.” The church possessed and administered the sacrament of baptism as taught in the Bible, a visible expression of the gospel. The Lord’s Supper “Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it

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Power of the Gospel

Darin Smith: Where is the power for the church today? Clearly, if this month proves anything, it proves that it does not find its power in politics. We must discard the budding belief that power politics are what it is all about.  I’ve been reminded lately that politics and political parties aren’t where Christ-followers look for hope. Instead, I am thankful that we have an all-sovereign, all-powerful King to find hope in times such as these. Romans 1:16 says that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Practically, in today’s modern church landscape, what does this means for us if politics aren’t the answer? Here are nine brief reminders for us: 1. We need to stop trying to make the Gospel relevant—it’s always relevant. To center on and proclaim the Gospel is to be as relevant and powerful as the apostolic early church (Rom. 1:4). The Gospel doesn’t need you. The Gospel doesn’t need bright

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Can We Be Saved Without the Church?

. Andrew Wilson: . Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, said Cyprian of Carthage: “Outside of the Church, there is no salvation.” Even more provocatively: “he cannot have God as Father who doesn’t have the Church as Mother.” Emphatic stuff. I’ve just finished Marcus Peter Johnson’s One With Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, and somewhat surprisingly (and refreshingly) he concludes his survey with a chapter on the church, probing exactly this issue. Was Cyprian right? Can we be saved without the Church? No. Johnson says this for three reasons: The first reason … is that the proclamation of the gospel, the good news of salvation, is intimately bound up with the proclamation of the church. To proclaim the mystery of Christ includes the proclamation of the mystery of the church [he then cites and summarises Gal 3:26-28; Eph 3:1-12; 5:31-32; 1 Cor 6:15]. Our union with Christ provides a second reason … It is important to point out that the Protestant

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Why the Church Is Vitally Important for Every Christian

  This post by Stephen J. Nichols is adapted from the ESV Student Study Bible. What Does the Bible Have to Say about the Church? Mention the church to a group of Christians and you are likely to get a mixed response. Some might say that, while they do love Jesus, they don’t love the church. Others might respond, “Of course we love the church.” God has ordained the church, a fellowship of the flawed, to carry out his purpose and will in the world. When we consider the biblical teaching on the church, we realize the church is vitally important for growing in Christ. Like a branch that grows because of its connection to the tree, we thrive when we stay connected to the church. To explore this issue, it is necessary to consider what the Bible says about the church. The Church in the Bible: Old Testament Life and Worship Before we can look at what the New

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John Calvin on the True Church

Sinclair Ferguson: When is a “church” not a church? How do we recognize the true church of Jesus Christ? And how do we discern the false? Calvin’s answer, in the Institutes 4.2.1 – 4.2.12, to what was in his day–and remains–an important question, is, essentially: the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the hallmarks of the true church. Where these are lacking, “surely the death of the church follows.” Why should this be so? Because the church is built on the prophets and apostles (Eph. 2:20). They have a primacy of role in person in the course of redemptive history; but their teaching is the foundation for every generation of Christian faith. Substitute another foundation for the church and the whole building will crumble. But in Calvin’s eyes Roman Catholic theology failed to grasp this, and effectively transferred the authority of the once-for-all written apostolic word to the questionable strength of a

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How Important is the Church?

Sam Storms: The disturbing and unbiblical trend continues: professing Christians who insist they love Jesus but have no formal association with or participation in the life of a local church. What are we to make of this? Is the church secondary to God’s purposes in history? Or might it be primary? And if so, what is the reason for the existence of the church? Paul speaks to this point in Ephesians 3:10 where he says that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God” is now “made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.” What does this mean? The word translated “manifold” was used to describe everything from the intricate and colorful design of flowers, to embroidered cloth, to woven carpets, and even crowns with their exquisite jewels. It could be rendered “richly diversified,” “multifaceted,” “highly variegated,” “infinite diversity,” etc. God’s saving wisdom is gloriously intricate in its design and its effect. It is the very antithesis of

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Why is Monogamous, Heterosexual Marriage so Important to Evangelical Christians?

Sam Storms: Why do we who identify as conservative evangelicals put so much emphasis on the importance of heterosexual monogamy as the only morally acceptable option? Two reasons may be cited. Of course, I could mention historical, social, and cultural arguments, even psychological arguments for the benefits and blessings of heterosexual marriage. But let me mention two biblical arguments, both of which were recently discussed by my friend Ray Ortlund. First, this is God’s will for all mankind! Moses said it clearly: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In a world where the primary human relationship was of a child and his parents, this was a stunning statement. We are being told that nothing trumps the one-flesh relationship between a man and his wife. A person’s deepest and most abiding loyalty is to his/her spouse. A man is to “hold fast” or

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How to revive a dead church

By Tom Schreiner, courtesy of Credo Magazine: As Christians we should be responsible citizens and vote. It is especially important to vote on the great moral issues of our day, like abortion. Historians look back on what the Nazis did to the Jews with horror, and we can easily be dulled to the relentless murder of babies in our culture. Abortion is the great moral issue of our time. And those who fail to see this reveal their own moral blindness. But we must never put our faith in politics or any political party. The City of Man will never become the City of God. We should do our civic duty, and if you are called to politics, or to serving as a judge, that is a wonderful calling. But we do not put our hopes in the political process. We do not believe our nation will be transformed by passing laws which enshrine moral principles, even though the passing

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The Church as the true Israel

Sam Storms in Kingdom Come: “If someone should object, as no doubt they will, that these Old Testament passages when read in their original context pertain to God’s prophesied purpose for Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I happily concur. But again we cannot read, interpret, and apply such texts in isolation from the complete revelation in the New Testament concerning the identity of God’s covenant people. As we’ll see on several occasions, all believing Jews are included in these predictions. No one is replaced by a believing Gentile. But all those who are by faith in Christ, the true seed of Abraham, are now themselves ‘one new man’ and thus co-heirs with believing Jews of the promises made to the fathers. The Church is, therefore, the true Israel in and on behalf of whom all the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled. Thus, when we read about prophesied regatherings of Israel into their land, we are to

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Restoring beauty to his bride

  Let us suppose, in the manner of some romances, that a king was betrothed to a beautiful wife, whose picture was sent to him before he himself saw her. But when she set out on her journey to him, she fell sick of some loathsome disease, such as the smallpox or leprosy. But suppose that he knew before she came to him that she should be restored to her first primitive beauty, and that even though he knew he would be troubled by her disaster, distemper, or disease, he easily quieted himself for that little space of time in which her infirmity, though greatly disfiguring her, was to continue. For he himself would be her physician, the only one who could cure her and restore her to her first perfect beauty, which he know he could and should do. Thus he would show all love and peace toward her, even though her disease was loathsome, in full hope of

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Redeeming culture, building the Kingdom – Really?

  Some helpful insight from Kevin DeYoung: We need to be careful about our language. I think I know what people mean when they talk about redeeming the culture or partnering with God in His redemption of the world, but we should really pick another word. Redemption has already been accomplished on the cross. We are not co-redeemers of anything. We are called to serve, bear witness, proclaim, love, do good to everyone, and adorn the gospel with good deeds, but we are not partners in God’s work of redemption. Similarly, there is no language in Scripture about Christians building the kingdom. The New Testament, in talking about the kingdom, uses words like enter, seek, announce, see, receive, look, come into, and inherit. Do a word search and see for yourself. We are given the kingdom and brought into the kingdom. We testify about it, pray for it to come, and by faith, it belongs to us. But in the New Testament,

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The Community of Jesus

A theology of the church with a sound theological method. Andy Naselli has posted a review here. When you have a solid grasp of how a theme develops across the Bible’s storyline in Scripture, you are able to trace that theme from a number of starting points. For example, you may be preaching or teaching through the Gospel of John and come to John 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” You may then zoom out so that you can trace the trajectory of the temple theme across the Bible’s storyline—from Eden, to the tabernacle, to Solomon’s temple, to Ezekiel’s temple, to Zerubbabel’s temple, to Jesus as the temple, to the tearing of the temple’s curtain, to the church as the temple, to the individual Christian’s body as the temple, to the heavenly temple, and all the way to its culmination in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple

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The central problem of our age

  “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, 2003), page 66. (HT: Ray Ortlund)

Life Together

  Justin Taylor: Bonhoeffer on What a Christian Under the Cross Can Offer that a Secular Therapist Cannot Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar. Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus. Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy. Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that

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Your church is where Jesus wants to show his beauty

Ray Ortlund: Today is the launch of my new book, The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ, part of the 9Marks series on Building Healthy Churches. The biblical gospel is not only a doctrine on paper, not only a theological flag to salute. The gospel also creates a relational environment, an ethos of beauty, an experience of humaneness. In other words, gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. In this new kind of community, which only the gospel can create, desperate sinners coming to Christ have nothing to fear. They are finally safe. They can open up about what’s really going on in their lives. They can find healing for the past and hope for the future. This new kind of church feels like heaven on earth. And the way to get there is not by slick packaging but by gospel rebuilding. It’s what the doctrine is for – building a new kind of community to compel the

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The Gospel is a Treasure To Be Traded, Not Hoarded

Lesslie Newbigin on the role of the Church in the world: “The very essence of the Church’s life is that she is pressing forward to the fulfillment of God’s purpose and the final revelation of His glory, pressing forward both to the ends of the earth and to the end of the world, rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. The treasure entrusted to her is not for herself, but for the doing of the Lord’s will, not for hoarding but for trading. Her life is to be forever spent, to be cast into the ground like a corn of wheat, in the ever-new faith and hope of the resurrection harvest. Her life is precisely life under the sign of the Cross, which means that she desires to possess no life, no security, no righteousness of her own, but to live solely by His grace. When she becomes settled, when she becomes so much at home in this

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The Spirit-Formed Community

Trevin Wax: The power of Pentecost makes for a fantastic story. Rushing wind, flaming tongues, and the proclamation of a fisherman turned evangelist calling people to repent and be baptized. But don’t miss how Acts 2 ends. The power of the Spirit that flowed through the apostles’ proclamation is the power that gathers people into a new community. So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves [to meeting] together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They

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Who Is the Church?

Marshall Segal: Many are asking, “What is the church?” Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt believes we’re asking the wrong question, because the Bible uses that word to describe a group of people, not a gathering or event. So we really should be asking, “Who?” not what. His answer? “The church is the regenerate people of God saved by the power of God for the purposes of God in this world.” This means we don’t stop being the church when we walk out of the building on Sunday morning. Instead, everything we do, we do as the blood-bought church of God, for the fame of Jesus, everywhere. In less than three minutes, Vanderstelt unpacks how seeing the church through these eyes will change you — how you understand yourself and how you live Monday through Saturday.