“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Rom 1:16 ESV
It would seem that some people who are all for church planting are unaware of Romans 1:16, so I have reproduced it here for the benefit of those who think that a church is best planted by human invention.
What do I mean by ‘human invention?’ How about slick marketing programs that blanket the city? Or freebies, raffles, and give-aways that are meant to be a spiritual bait-and-switch? There are surveys meant to find out what unbelieving pagans want in a church so that a church can be tailored for them, and there are those ‘church planters’ who blanket Christian radio, Christian bookstores and encourage their core team to invite their friends over to their cool, new church that is so much better than the one they’re in now. There are other so-called church planting and church growth gimmicks I could mention, but I think that you probably know of one or two places like this.
Then there is Holy Spirit power that converts a soul from being a prisoner of darkness into a light-reflecting child of the Kingdom. Those churches that seek to grow from preaching a gospel that leads to Spirit-regeneration of the souls of men are true church plants. And those who plant churches by the power of the gospel do so in the methodology that gives all glory to God and cannot be conjured up by Madison Avenue methods.
To all my brothers out there who are holding forth the truth in faithfulness, keep it up. For those growing weary of doing good, email me and I’ll join you in prayer so that you won’t be tempted to give in to powerless quick fixes that yield a crowd, but not gospel growth.
“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”
“It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food”; all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result…”
“It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food”; all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their physical bodies. Simultaneously a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine publication of the Word of God (Amos 8:11) continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church.” –Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 7-8.
Dr. Kaiser’s quote is a good reminder for those of us that are leaders in the church and will be stepping into pulpits and classrooms this coming Sunday. Serve a hearty meal of the Word to God’s people. Leave out the artificial fillers, by-products, dyes, and chemicals. Give them rich doctrine, deep theology, and filling and nutritious worship. Point them to God and leave them with a sense of awe. Make it your goal to have the best fed sheep in town who long to hear from God and love to sit at His feet.
A few days ago I wrote about the regulative principle and the way that the pandemic has forced many pastors and church leaders to think seriously about their ecclesiology. Today I’d like to address a simple question that perhaps isn’t so simple: What is the church?
Before I point to several definitions from systematic theology books, I want to point out the practicality of this question. If you took the time to look at any given church website, you would more than likely find that many of them feature photographs of their buildings, and many of those same websites would not show you the people but the structure. I find that telling. What does a website like that say about their unintentional definition of the church? I have even seen church websites that give a history of the church—laying out the expansion of their church buildings!
Even as I picked the photograph of the cross on a church steeple for this post, I knew that there would be some that don’t equate the church with the building, but that many Christians do. The church is not the gathering place, but the gathered. But this requires greater defining.
There are those that misuse Matthew 18:20 (“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”) to say that a small gathering of at least two Christians is an expression of the Church. So, in this thinking, a Christian concert is a gathering of the church. Now I’ve been a part of small churches, but there was more than just Christians that made us a church. Does a church social in someone’s backyard make that group a church? And when I was in high school and our youth group went to an amusement park, were we actually going to church—so long as two or more of us were in line for the log-ride? 😂
So, what is the church if it isn’t a building or a random group of Christians in the same room? Below I give six answers from six systematic theology books, and then I will add my own. I’m not seeking to give an in-depth, all inclusive answer, but rather hope to spark your thinking and try to give what I consider a biblical answer to this question. If you like, add your own definition to the comments.
Wayne Grudem: “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”
MacArthur and Mayhue: “The church of God refers to the community of those who have been called out by God from their slavery to sin through faith in Jesus Christ.”
James Montgomery Boice: “The church is (1) founded on the Lord Jesus Christ, (2) is called into being by the Holy Spirit, and (3) is to contain people of all races who thereby become one new people in the sight of God.”
Robert Reymond: “The church in Scripture is composed of all the redeemed in every age who are saved by grace through personal faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ, “the seed of the woman” (Ge. 3:15) and suffering Messiah (Isa. 53:5-10).”
Karl Barth: “The Real Church is the assembly which called, united, held together and governed by the Word of her Lord, or she is not the Real Church.”
Charles Ryrie: ““I will build My church,” the Lord said, and that is His special work today. Those words of Christ indicate specific distinctions about the church: (a) it was a work future to His earthly life; (b) it was not the same as the kingdom about which He also taught; (c) it must have been something different from the theocracy of Israel.””
My attempt at defining the church:
The Church of Jesus Christ was established by Christ himself, and is the community of believers distinct from national Israel and the Kingdom of God, made up of all those who have been called out of darkness by the Holy Spirit, and have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, from the Day of Pentecost to the rapture of the Church. This gathering should be led by spiritually qualified leaders and should meet regularly for the proclamation of the Word, the ordinances, and if necessary church discipline.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 851.
 John F. MacArthur Jr, and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 740.
 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 567.
 Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 806.
 Karl Barth in Donald G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997), 4.
 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, (Chicago, Moody, 1999), 458.