Church: A Band of Jesus Followers

Posted: April 28, 2018 in Christian Life, Church
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imagesWhat do you understand the local church to be? Is it a group of people who all think in unison with a set of beliefs to which each has subscribed?  Or, is it a group of people who are worshiping God together even though they may not all agree to what that means? I recently read a post on Travis Flanagan’s website Help Me Believe  titled “What Is the Local Church” in which he provided this definition of the local church.

 “The local church is a regular gathering of like-minded believers for the glory of God. Under the ultimate headship of Christ Jesus, the church is led by pastors/elders/overseers, served by deacons, and ruled by its members in good standing. The church exists to worship its Savior through all of its ministries, which include, but are not limited to: the preaching/teaching of the Word, the observance of the ordinances, the spreading of the gospel, and the fellowship of the saints.”

After reading that definition, I began to massage my own understanding of church. Here’s a progress report of my thinking. Although this statement is being published on this blog, it is being “written with a pencil.” I am always open to new insight through my daily walk with Jesus, the author of my faith.

After reading this post, please click on the reply button and share your thoughts.




Here is my working statement to describe the local church:

I believe the local church to be a gathering of people—each of whom has made a focused commitment of their life to Jesus the Messiah (Christ)—for the purpose of sharing life in community as they follow him and thereby forming his body in the world today.

Anything added to that minimalist statement will restrict the body of Christ to conform to human expectations and interpretations of what being Christian means. Such limitations are exactly what we do when we begin to group ourselves into various enclaves and label them—Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.

These labels indicate that a group of people have limited their understanding of church to a certain set of truths that they believe essential to exercising their commitment to follow Jesus. Such limits place perimeters around philosophical and theological underpinnings and thereby keep them from exploring other possibilities. They might find other descriptions of truth had they not allowed boundaries to constrict their exploration. 

These paradigms, defined by our superficial labels, become straightjackets from which it is next to impossible to escape. It is hard to break out of paradigms, and increasingly more difficult when those paradigms involve our relationship with God.They are often set in concrete, which does not allow room for different possibilities. Although the concrete was wet initially, it has become set by exposure to generations of tradition. Even personal family tradition creates an environment that makes it different to think in new ways. Such boundaries placed on individuals restricts or limits who participates in the body of Christ, even if such person has made a focused commitment to the Christ of the resurrection. 

The nature of the church is fundamentally relational and spiritual. It is relational horizontally as the Christians interact reciprocally while following Jesus, and as they rub shoulders with the world around them. It is relational vertically as they corporately express their worship of God and receive blessing from God whom they worship.

The church is spiritual as the Body of Christ when gathered for worship, fellowship, ministry, or edification, as well as when scattered and each Christian is pursuing their various enterprises. Christ, as head of this spiritual body (Greek polis) holds it all together. We mess it up when we try to structure it, shape it, organize it and otherwise determine what it is by applying our human constructs to it. 

The Greek term ἐκκλησίαν (ekklĕsia—ek-, out; + klē-, to call) is most often translated “Church” in Christian Scripture. It originally referred to a political assembly called together or called out by a government official to conduct policy, i.e. a principle or course of action.This is the sense of the word that the New Testament writers applied when referring to a gathering of Christians. They are called together, or called out, to form community for carrying out the purposes entrusted to it much like the Greek polis (literally city-state and the Greek word from which we get the word politics). 


I’ll summarize from a personal perspective: 

I made a focused commitment to Jesus the Christ (“Made a profession of faith,” “accepted Jesus,” “received Jesus into my heart” are a few of the ways this focused commitment is stated in evangelical expressions of the church, the tradition in which I began following Jesus.) as a child. At the same time, I became a formal member of a Baptist church. Churches in which I worshiped and studied Scripture guided me as I sorted out what it meant to follow Jesus. 

Within those nurturing environments, which later included local churches of which I was pastor, I found a common desire to follow Jesus and to be his presence in the world today. That presence was described in many different ways and emphases were placed at different points in the various local churches in which I participated. My experience has led me to express my faith in different enclaves—some of which are listed above—and different local congregations. A beautiful mosaic emerges when the Church universal, all of whom have following Jesus as their raison d’être, is seen in its wonderful diversity.

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