In our world today there seems to be a lot of confusion about the “church”? Some say the church is any gathering of believers. Some say that the concept of the local church is unbiblical, and still others say that the only church is the Catholic Church. George Barna in his book “revolution” shares a story of two guys playing golf on a Sunday morning and as they play they talk about spiritual things, creation, and discuss the Bible… from what I gather George Barna calls that church. I’m not sure I agree with that assumption. I think as believers we should be able to answer the question “what is a church?” In the New Testament the church is referred to in three distinct ways. First is the “Church Universal.” That is the entire body of Christ made up of every born again believer. The church universal stretches across time and geography and links every believer together with each other and Christ. Ephesians 4:4.
The second way the church is referred to in the New Testament is geographically such as the Church in Corinth or Jerusalem. We still refer to the church this way today as we talk about the church in America, the African Church or the Church in China. When we make statements like that we realize there are many local churches in a geographical area and that they are all part of the church universal. We see examples of this in passages like Acts 11:22 and many of the epistles were written to the church of a geographical area
The third way the church is referred to in scripture is at the local level. In passages like 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15 Paul refers to local congregations I think there is very little confusion on the first two definitions of church but there seems to be some confusion on what constitutes a local church John Piper defines a local church like this: “a local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to worship God through Jesus Christ, to be exhorted from the Word of God, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper under the guidance of duly appointed leaders.”
In my study and understanding of scripture a local church must have the following 4 things to be considered a church:
- It must consist of a community of believers who have made a public confession of faith who gather for worship and teaching. Matthew 28:19, John 1:12-13, Acts 2:47 & Romans 15:6-7
- It must have appointed leaders who preach the Word. Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy, Titus
- It must of the sacraments of Communion and Baptism. Luke 22:19,1 Cor. 11:24, Mathew 28:19
- It must exercise church discipline. Mathew 16:19; 18:18, 1Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:13; 1Corinthians 11:34; Titus 1:5; 1Timothy 5:20; 2Timothy 4:2; 1Corinthians 5:3-5,13; 1Timothy 1:20; Hebrews 13:17; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10
If a group of christians claims to be a “church” but do not meet those four criteria I’m not sure that they are a Biblical church. They might be a ministry, a small group, a Bible study but they are not a church.
Why is it important to define “church”? Because in our postmodern world many Christians are buying into the idea that hanging out with Christians on the golf course, meeting up for a beer after work, or talking in a chat room constitutes being a “local church.” The “local church” is an important part of our faith. We are called to live out our faith and community and not to forsake the gathering of the saints but the sad thing is many believers are missing out on the blessing of being in biblical community.