This is the first post in a series on the core values of Vintage Church.
Today “church," in the minds of many, has become a place or an event. The cause, I believe, is a combination of errors, fear and laziness. When we make the church a place, we remove ourselves from the demands of it. Evangelism and teaching becomes the job of the pastors, leaders and staff. We can sit back comfortably, never having to put ourselves in an uncomfortable scenario of sharing our faith. Making church an event, we allow ourselves the ability to let others teach us and our families the truths of the Bible instead of fulfilling the mission of being the teachers. When church becomes an institution, it is no longer necessary to make personal sacrifices to help those in need.
How did we get this wrong? How have so many Christians come to misunderstand something as important as the true reason Christ gave up His life? I know, for me, it was simply the way I was raised. I don’t think my parents ever intentionally taught me wrong, but sadly, I don’t think they knew the difference. My parents raised me in a Christian home. They taught me the gospel, and they took me to church gatherings. The only thing my parents never did was to differentiate between the gathering of the saints and the building in which we met. Sunday mornings meant that we got up early, showered, ate breakfast and hit the road. We knew when we saw the steeple and all the cars that we had made it to “church”. I know now that we were wrong. We had only come to a place where the church met. To get to the root of this misunderstanding, we must examine the Holy Scripture, which is our ultimate authority and defines for us what a church is.
Before we look at how the Bible defines the church, we need to have an understanding of the word that is translated as church - ekklésia. This word is a combination of two Greek terms - ek, “out,” and kaléō “called.” This term, before it was used to define the church, was often associated with elected or chosen individuals called to consider and conduct the official business of a government or group. We can easily see now how the term was then chosen to be associated with the church. We are called out by God to fulfill His purpose of spreading the gospel to the nations. Ekklésia appears 114 times in 106 verses of the New Testament. Only 5 times in the NT is the word ekklésia used for a body or gathering other than a Christian one. Thus, the remaining 109 occurrences mentioned are specifically Christian assemblies. By examining these occurrences, we can gather, scripturally identify and define what it means to be a New Testament church.
By looking throughout Scripture at the remaining 109 times the word Ekklésia is used, we find that 90 of the occurrences are in reference to local or specific churches. An example of this usage would be Acts 20:17: “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him...” This is clearly an example of the word “church” being used for a local church body. The other use of ekklésia, in the context of a Christian assembly, would be the universal church. Although a less common use, we are able to find 13 times it is used. One example of this use can be found in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. Ephesians 5:25 says, “ Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” It is a proof text used to show that the church expands throughout the world and includes Christians past, present and in the times to come. These examples give us a clear picture that we cannot “go to church” because ekklésia is never used to describe a building. Scripture teaches us that we are the church, we are God’s called out ones, and our mission is to gather others into His church.
Another description we find in Scripture to define the church is that it is an assembly of regenerated, or saved, people. Too often today, church membership is as easy as walking an aisle or making an empty commitment. This can lead to blurry lines about who and what the church is. A group of people gathered in a building can be called a church, but those gathered that do not believe in Christ are not a part of the church. This does not mean we do not welcome them, but it does mean they are not brothers and sisters. These unbelievers are not part of the church. A church as defined in Scripture as those that gladly received His word (Acts 2:41), those that believe (Acts 2:44) and those who are saved (Acts 2:47).* Scripture is clear: a church is an assembly composed of only those who have been reconciled to God the Father, saved by the blood of Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. One God, in three persons, called out those He chose to assemble as the church--not a building but an assembly of believers to honor and glorify Him.
Scripture shows us that not only is the church an assembly of regenerate believers, but it is also a spiritual organism. This should all but eliminate our modern abstract thought that somehow the church is a building because a building is not a living organism with a mission to accomplish and actions to take. Scripture lays out very specific ministries that God has called his church out to complete. Although not an exhaustive list, some of the ministries a church is commanded to fulfill are teaching (Acts 2:42), fellowship (Acts 2:42), worship (Acts 2:46-47a), service to one another (Acts 2:44-45) and evangelism (Acts 2:47).
We strive to make these ministries the driving force behind everything Vintage Church does. Our desire is to lead our partners to observe and enact these ministries by encouraging believers to think biblically, worship passionately, live missionally, and flourish relationally. If Vintage Church is to truly pursue the mission of a New Testament church, these must be criteria by which we live and work together as a local body of Christ. A building or event is incapable of thinking biblically, worshiping passionately, living missionally, or flourishing relationally. These are only things that a living organism, made up of people, can do. Bricks can’t sing praise to the Lord; events can’t meet the need of individuals. Only those called out by God, gathering together in service of Him are able to accomplish the mission God has set for the church.
Over the next several weeks, each member of our leadership team will be unpacking these four components of Vintage Church’s vision. Stay tuned!
*Millikin, Jimmy A. "The Doctrine of the Church." Christian Doctrine for Everyman: An Introduction to Baptist Beliefs. Memphis: Millikin, 1976. 117. Print.