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02.16.2011 / MikeyMills

What is a church?

When I say church, what comes to mind?  Do you think of a building?  Do you notice that I used a little ‘c’ and not a big ‘C’?  Do you picture your small group?  Do you think of the weirdo country club that has signs that make you angry?

This is a question that has becoming increasingly relevant to our team.  When we decided to move to the Northwest to “plant a church,” I’m not sure that we understood the complexities of what that means.  Across the world and throughout the past 2,000 years, the nuances of how this question is answered are vast.  I know this because in our short time here, we have encountered many of these nuances, even within our own team.

In the New Testament, it seemed that proximity was a crucial aspect of defining church.  Paul referred to the believers in one city as a church(Corinth and Thessalonica) and sometimes he referred to multiple house churches in one city (Rome).  Grouping followers of Jesus together, based on their location, seems to be the goal.  So, one could interpret this by saying that whenever believers gathered or functioned together, they were a church.  On the other hand, there were specific roles and duties laid out by Paul that could not be completed by “two or more,” so potentially, the size of the gathering also mattered.  Whether or not these roles were necessary is certainly debatable.  So, let’s say for now, a sizable gathering of local believers seemed to be of importance here.

In the Catholic tradition, the local church functions as the lowest level in a global hierarchy.  This hierarchy builds to the leadership position of the Pope at the top.  In this, we can see that the Catholic Church values authority, oversight, and continuity in its local bodies.

In the Protestant tradition, we see much more diversity (or lack of harmony, depending on your view).  Paraphrasing John Calvin, he wrote that, “Wherever the Word of God is preached and the sacraments rightly administered, there you will find a church.”  So, in preaching the Word of God and administering the Lord’s Supper and baptism, we see that Calvin placed importance on the acts or functions of the church.

Certain denominations value a particular leadership structure within their local churches.  This can consist of bishops, elders, deacons, lead pastors, and laity.  Like the Catholic tradition, albeit on a smaller scale, the values of authority and oversight are important here.

More recently, movements have begun that are proposing another definition.  These movements are attempting to place the people of God within their larger heritage of the history of believers.  As churches of today, we are a part of a long line of churches dating back to the days of the apostles, or even more, we are a part of a story that dates back to God’s creation.  In this, we share a common mission.  Importance is placed on movement towards this mission with fellow believers.

While we continue to pursue “church planting,” we will inevitably continue to define the local church.  Our desire is to get to the most basic definition of church, asking, “What are the minimum requirements or characteristics necessary to be a church?”

You will likely notice by my use of “we” in that last paragraph which definition I tend towards.

What do you think is necessary to be a church?

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One Comment

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  1. Ashley Bowman / Feb 28 2011 6:43 am

    Can I just be friends with all of you and have these conversations in real life? Pleeeeeease!! I am pondering the exact same thing Mikey. Let’s have a conversation some time. I am not one for typing really long responses when I could actually talk aloud to someone and immediately get their response!

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