The Church

by | May 25, 2017

This section is designed to provide you with the basics of a biblically informed ecclesiology.

What is the nature of the church?

The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. [1689 LBCF 26.1]

Proofs: Hebrews 12:22-24; Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:10, 22-23; 5:23, 27, 32

All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted. [1689 LBCF 26.1]

Proofs: 1 Cor. 1:2; Acts 11:26; Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:20-22]

The church is the elect community of people set apart by God for the sole purpose to worship God and to serve him forever. As John Frame puts it, As a community of people worshipping God, the church goes back to the garden of Eden. [Frame, Systematic Theology, 1017] The relationship between God and his elect community, the church, has always been governed by a covenant. From the very beginning the relationship between God and his elect was governed by a covenant. The entrance into the contemporary church, that is, the period of time from Pentecost onward, is governed by the new covenant. Jer. 31:31, Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

God is the one who places the law within the hearts of those who are included in the new covenant community. Entrance, then, into the Christian church is an act that only God can accomplish. Herman Bavinck writes, “The blessings granted the church are primarily internal and spiritual in character and consist in calling and regeneration, in faith and justification, in sanctification and glorification. They are the goods of the kingdom of heaven, benefits of the covenant of grace, promises for this life and, above all, for the life to come.” [Bavinck, Reformed Dagmatics, Vol. IV, 298.]

Contrary to modern practices and a superficial understanding at best, one does not become a member in the church by joining it. Yes, you may join a local church by external process of sorts. You may sign a card, get baptized, and stand up in front of the congregation to be recognized. But that process does not place you in the church of Jesus Christ. Christians are supernaturally converted, born again, regenerated, called by God himself into the church. That is the only legitimate entrance into the church.

What is the structure of the church?

One of the greatest challenges for the church in contemporary cultures, and especially in American culture is a younger generation that seeks to deconstruct every tradition and stated authority that they or their parents and grandparents grew up with. These younger Christians have vilified the institutional church, well, because it is organized. It is as if the very idea of organization itself is somehow bad. This is a sinful attitude and is one of many that are pervasive in our culture and that threaten the very fabric of the church. Bavinck reminds us, “Government is indispensable for the church as a gathering of believers.” [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, 329]

What is the purpose of the church?

The marks of the church.

The church and Scripture.

The sacraments.

The church is holy.

Contemporary views and misunderstandings of the church.

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