In my last post, I discussed the conception and birth of "the Church" of Jesus Christ. In this post, I want to briefly address the composition of the church. By composition, I mean, who populates the church? And necessarily, that question leads us to consider its nature or organization.
"The Church of Jesus Christ is the universal, spiritual body of believers from every tribe, tongue, kindred and race of peoples, and is indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit and divinely empowered to fulfill ministry and her Great Commission on earth" (Statement of Fundamental Truths, Times Square Church).
This statement, written by the church pastored by renowned evangelist David Wilkerson, is perhaps the best expression of ecclesiastical truth I've read. Succinctly stated, ALL those who have received Christ and repented of Sin are members of "The Church." There are no rituals that erect a barrier to "church" membership. One does not have to be baptized (in water) to enter "The Church." No catechisms, no tests or exams -- only true faith and repentance. In principle, few evangelicals or fundamentalists would argue with this.
The rub comes when we try to define what a "church" actually is. You see, for humans, we can't settle for a definition which leaves this "body" invisible. No, humans MUST have a visible, tangible, reliable organization -- or institution -- to govern, control, order....
This leads to further definitions which differentiate between the "universal church" and the "local church." Consider these:
"A New Testament church...is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel; observing the...ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes..." (Baptist Faith and Message, Article VI, The Church).
Or howabout this:
"A Christian Church is an organized body of believers in Christ who statedly assemble to worship God, and who sustain the ordinances of the Gospel according to the Scriptures" (Treatise of the Faith and Practice of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Article XV, The Church).
These definitions, on the surface, are not in error -- well, with the exception of the "democratic processes," but that's for another post. However, these words seek to make tangible, and to some degree controllable, what God intended to be a spiritual reality.
I liken what the "institutional church" has become to what Ancient Israel had become in I Samuel 8:6,7: "But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us.' And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, 'listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you: for they have not rejected you [Samuel], but they have rejected Me, that I should reign over them.'"
The institutional church - denominations, organizations, para-church ministries, televangelists -- MOST of these entities -- have rejected the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and created their own structure; a structure they can control, manipulate, lord it over. This was not God's intent for His Body (cf. I Peter 5:3).
Many Protestants -- and certainly Roman Catholics -- have made an institution of their own creation to replace God's creation and intention for His Body on earth.
So, if what the current, visible manifestations of Christendom are do not match the designs of Scripture nor the desires fo God, what does? Is there ANY visible manifestation of the Body of Christ? More next post...