What Constitutes the Local Church

Bob did a phenomenal job on Sunday night. I have an ongoing love affair with the church, as I hope you do also. Our theme for the semester has been “When Christ is Your Treasure”, and we have tried to look at various aspects of our live’s from this persepective – what does life look like when we truly treasure Christ. Well, I think it is safe to say that when we truly treasure Christ we will also love his church – which is his body (of which he is the head) and also his bride. It’s hard to conceive of someone saying that they love Christ and hate his bride, or that they cherish Christ and don’t highly esteem his body. To treasure Christ we must also treasure the church.

Bob did have a daunting task – to talk about the oldest, most influential, institution in the world – the only institution that is, in his words, both temporal and eternal. The approach he took was absolutely perfect – at least, its’ what I needed to hear. It fueled my love affair. But any message on a huge topic like ‘the church’ will obviously speak to some things and not to others. One issue Bob didn’t talk about is the issue of what constitutes a legimate local church. I think this is a crucial issue in our day and age and deserving of some thought…

I say that this is a crucial issue for our times because there is an increasing trend to think of spirituality and Christianity apart from the ‘institutional church’. George Barna has published a book recently called Revolution, in which he details and praises the movement of many who profess to be fully devoted followers of Jesus away from a local body of believers. Barna argues, and too many agree, that it is possible to be a devoted disciple, a Bible believing Christian, someone passionately in love with God and have no connection to a local church. I couldn’t disagree more.

Some may object and say, “I love the Church (the church universal) but don’t care for the church (the local)”. To me, that’s like saying “I love humanity, it’s people I don’t like”. I am going to do something dangerous and assume you agree that it is incredibly important to be attached to a local body of believers. But that raises a question – what turns a group of believers into a ‘church’. Does me meeting with a group of friends at Starbucks to discuss some point of theology constitute a church? Are there minimum requirements for a group to be legitimate biblical church? Yes, I think there is.

In what follows I am drawing heavily on an article by Sam Storms in response to Barna’s book. You can read it on his website (enjoyinggodministries.org) in the book review section.

First, I think for a gathering to be considered a church there must be godly leadership by those who are biblically qualified to lead. These leaders don’t necessarily need to be paid, and they don’t have to be called elders, but there must be some governing structure as per the Bible (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-13; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-21; Titus 1:5-16; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Second, right and faithful proclomation of the Word of God.

Third, right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Fourth, “Commitment to both individual and corporate worship, praise, and celebration of the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ”.

Fifth, a committment to Christian ministry for God’s glory (ie. evangelizing the lost, winning the nations, etc.)

I’d love to know what you think of the idea of “minimum requirements to be a legitimate biblical church” and/or the list offered here. I’ll be posting more soon.