I had the opportunity my senior year of high school to start a Christian club on my campus called CampusLive. This club was not just for Christians to meet together, its specific purpose was to share the Gospel to as many students as possible and get those who accept Christ plugged into the local church. The strategy was affective, the large room we met in would be packed, and at the end of the year we were able to see 35 teenagers give their lives to Christ. Over the course of that year hundreds of students, and many of the teachers and administration heard the Gospel. Over the next few years the leadership changed and I moved off for college, but CampusLive continued. I began to hear form other friends that CampusLive had begun to stray from its intended purpose. When I visited for the last time, my worst fears we realized when I saw what had been created as a means to make disciples, had become a Christian social club. Today, churches are filled with programs, rules, bylaws, traditionalism, and extra-biblical requirements.
In the case of this club that I started, it only had four easy components that were simple and effective. Today it is no longer a simple strategy but a complicated one with no direction and many extra elements. The church in its infantile beginnings can be a very basic organism. The bare minimum of a body of believers that has just sprung up is what we find in Acts chapter two. If a missionary has entered a village and one a group of people to Christ and they are meeting together to devote themselves to the teachings of scripture they are a church. Even before they are baptized, have the Lord’s Supper, or create a pastor search committee, they are a church. If these believers have come under the Lordship of Christ and have devoted themselves to the teaching of the Bible, then the evolving process will occur as an out pouring of the commitment made.
To best understand the ecclesiological minimum of what a church is, there are several passages of scripture that will guide my interpretation of the definition. A biblical New Testament Church is a body of believers who meet together regularly and devote themselves to the teaching of God’s word, they practice baptism by immersion, they regularly partake in the Lord’s Supper, they are actively involved in fulfilling the great commission, they engage in prayer, and take care of each others needs. This definition is broken down into simple terminology and definitive statements, but also leaves room for extreme cases. The lack of water to baptize for a time might alter the definition some what but even in extreme climates baptism by immersion has taken place.
Furthermore, I believe that biblical leadership according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-7 are a product of biblical teaching and the believer’s commitment to Christ. The command of church discipline would also fall under this category. This is part of the evolution of a church. As the believers are developed and transformed by God’s word the inward focus will organically turn outward. This produces a zeal for the great commission and the service of those in need. This process also breeds a submission to such commands as church discipline when the preaching of the word is followed. For a time, a group of men might even be discipled by a woman who is the only person knowledgeable in the scripture. Therefore a group of believers without these specifics does not cease to be a church.
What then is the response to established churches such as those found in
A closer look at the book of Acts gives us a model in which to follow. In Acts 2:42-47 states that the believers were devoting themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, prayer, partaking in fellowship, and meeting together to worship. In verse 48, Peter instructs them to repent and be baptized. The great commission laid out in the first chapter of Acts and chapter 28 of Matthew by Jesus give the frame work for the churches great commission. Disciples are to be baptized, taught the commands of Christ, and the Church is to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Luke also documents that the church sold its belongings and gave to any that was in need. Therefore, the church must be an agent of justice and restoration to those in need. Finally, a mark of a true church is the command of taking the Lord’s Supper. Jesus tells his followers in Luke 22:19 to take this supper in remembrance of his sacrifice. Beyond these distinctive the mystery of God’s grace and mission manifests itself through the diverse cultures of the nations.
When I returned to CampusLive I sat down with the leaders and explained why, I started it and what its purpose was. The church today is in great need of a sit down with Jesus and an understanding of what it is requiring of pastor’s and church planters. The result of injecting western church culture into other people groups of the world has had a negative effect in many ways. The next generation of leaders has responsibility to plant churches without cultural baggage and let the redeemed culture of the people group arise and give God glory.
The minimum requirements of a church, therefore are, a body of believers who meet together regularly and devote themselves to the teaching of God’s word, engage in prayer, take care of each others needs, practice baptism by immersion, regularly partake in the Lord’s Supper, and are actively involved in fulfilling the great commission. Again, a church begins when those who have offered up their lives to Christ through repentance, faith, and lordship come together in a group no matter how small, for the purpose of believing on the one who has the words of eternal life. Am I contradicting myself? Not at all, I am simply communicating the fact that the church when spawned from the work of the Spirit will embrace the definition presented naturally. When the Spirit of God moves, it is an inextinguishable fire that consumes what it pleases. It is the churches job to be obedient so that we may become the proper tools to help build Gods kingdom.