Thursday, September 01, 2005

Credo - The Church

8. We believe that the true Church is composed of all such persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are united together in the body of Christ of which He is the Head.

The Church universal is the entire group of people who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and baptized into Christ’s body of which He is the Head (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18, 2:19). The Church covers the globe, is expressed in local assemblies (local churches), and is entrusted with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is commissioned by her Lord to make disciples (fully-devoted followers of Christ, saved and being sanctified) of all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20). This commission is not optional, and stretches to far-reaching lands and unreached people groups, as well as to our closest neighbors, friends, and family (Acts 1:8). The methods are different from place to place, but the message is the same for all.

9. We believe that only those who are thus members of the true Church shall be eligible for membership in the local church.

The local church is the visible expression of the body of Christ, universal. Each individual believer is a part of the body, and local churches are composed of individual members of the body who give credible testimony of faith in Christ and desire to band together to accomplish God’s common mission for them (1 Corinthians 12). The local church exists to glorify God by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

10. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Head of the Church, and that every local church has the right under Christ to decide and govern its own affairs.

Each local church is autonomous from the others unless they decide to join together in a denomination or association of churches unto which they voluntarily submit. Early on, it seems that the churches in a specific city so identified with one another that they were known as “The church at ...” (Ephesus for example). It seems that all of the churches were under an apostolic rule that transcended the local body (now the Scriptures hold that place). Elders, however, were appointed everywhere Paul and his team went and were entrusted with shepherding the flock (Acts 20, Titus 1:5). Therefore, I hesitate to announce any one polity as biblical. Instead, there seems to be a plurality of structures operating in New Testament times where the common thread running through them was eldership (governance, teaching, shepherding), diaconate (servants entrusted with a specific role), and accountability of believers to leaders (Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 3, Hebrews 13:17, etc). I am most comfortable in a congregational polity because of the ownership/stewardship that it gives each member (a nation of priests), while recognizing a body of leaders who guide, direct, give vision, and lead. I have seen congregationalism work and hope to operate in it for the span of my ministry. I don’t have problems with the polities of other churches so long as they are faithful to the Scriptures and Jesus Christ is seen to be their Head.

I am more than comfortable with a congregationalism that reserves for the assembled congregation the rights of hiring/firing the Senior Pastor, buying/selling real property, incurring capital debt, electing officers, forming/dissolving constitutions and by-laws, and approving operating budgets while assigning as many of the other tasks of decision-making and leadership to qualified elders and servants as seems biblical and advisable.

Part of an ongoing series about what I believe about basic biblical teachings. “Credo” is Latin for “I Believe.”