March 13, 2017
Over the last few years, I have been deluged with reading or hearing people discuss Christianity in America by making reference to “the Church”. They will use terminology that reflects a position regarding a definition of the doctrine of ecclesiology that has affinities with those of St. Augustine of Hippo. Furthermore, they take a theological position that is reflective of a view that has its roots in the Ecumenical Movement of post World War II. Trigger words and phrases of this particular position are “unity”, “we are all the body of Christ”, “all believers belong to the Church”, etc. Moreover, there also seems to be in their rhetoric a lilting whisper of the influences of Barthian Neo-Orthodoxy, where experience is the final authority on all things spiritual. Thus, a subtle definition emerges from the cacophony of voices and paper that resonates, “universalism and ecumenism are one and our unity is our common experience, not religious dogma.” As a result, Evangelicals move from one local church or denominational body with no real loyalty to either. Therefore, I would posit an alternative view of the Church.
First, I would argue that there always has been in existence only one, true universal, invisible body of believers (Matt. 16:18). This body of believers find their characteristics delineated in Acts 2:41-47 which are: they believe the Gospel (I Cor. 15:1-4); they are immersed (Acts 2:41); they congregate locally at an agreed upon place and time (Acts 2:46); they partake of communion (Acts 2:42), they continue steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine (i.e. they were unified in doctrine and practice); they willingly fellowship with other Christians in the congregation; they practice prayer; they practice benevolence among themselves (Acts 2:44-45); they regularly fellowshipped with other Christians in the community (Acts 2:46); they were evangelistic (Acts 2:47); they had an honorable reputation in the community at large (Acts 2:47).
Second, this one true universal, invisible church has as its head, Christ (Eph. 5:24-25; Col. 1:18). As such, this one true universal, invisible church reflects the characteristics of its head (Jn. 13:15; I Pet. 2:21). This church characterizes its head in the following ways: it is empowered with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:13-17); it is holy in manner of lifestyle (I Pet. 1:15); it is a suffering assembly (Jn. 15:18-23; Phil. 1:29; I Pet. 2:21); it is evangelistic (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk 16:15) and it is an obedient assembly (Jn. 14:15, 15:10). Now as we examine what is being taught as the body of Christ (the Church) today, we find some stark contrasts.
First, the current universal, invisible church is an admixture of error and truth (Matt. 13:24-30; Acts 20:29-30; II Tim. 4:3). We find that the current church’s aversion to biblical standards in orthodoxy and orthopraxy sets the conditions for humanistic relativism to infiltrate then subvert the authority of the Bible in order to make man-made traditions and academic knowledge the governing authority over ecclesiastical matters. Therefore, it is not steadfast in the Apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42). As a result, it teaches another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). It teaches another Christ and another Holy Spirit (Matt. 24:24; II Cor. 11:4; I Jn. 2:22, 4:3; II Jn. 1:7). This results in the universal church turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 4).
Second, the current universal, invisible church does not follow Christ’s example in suffering. It is risk averse and image conscious. While, it seeks to aid other suffering saints in other parts of the world, western Christianity is intoxicated with affluence, materialism, and ease (Rev. 3:14-17). Therefore, individual Christians shy away from taking an ethical stand on the job site for fear of losing well-paying employment. Individual Christians are reticent to not be accepted in the larger, worldly and carnal community. I would dare any mega-church pastor to literally take a vow of poverty for 3 years and move their families into crime ridden neighborhoods and schools as they pastor their congregations. It would not surprise me to find those congregations relieving them of their pastoral duties. Why? It just does not look good, you know the optics of it all.
Third, the universal, invisible church has the blood of Christ’s martyrs on its hands. Down through the ages, since the second century, the members of the dissenting church, who took a stand on Bible morality, Biblical authority, the Gospel received by grace through faith alone, and a repentant life, have always found themselves on the receiving end of capital punishment by secular or ecclesiastical authorities. This was never so clear as we read of the plight of the Donatists, Bogomils, Paulicans, Waldensians, Anabaptists, and Baptists, et al. Because of the these stark differences between a biblical universal, invisible church and the actual universal, invisible church, I would postulate an alternate definition of the church:
The Church is a local assembly of saved and baptized believers. It has Christ as its head. The Bible is its final authority in determining all matters of belief and practice. It voluntarily meets at an agreed upon place and time. It is unified in doctrine and practice. It has only two ordained positions, Pastor and Deacon. It only practices two rites: Baptism and Communion. It practices both benevolence among its members and charity in the greater community beyond its membership. It practices personal holiness and separation from worldliness. It is actively involved in personal and corporate evangelism.