What is the church in the earth? Is it an organization? An institution? Is it one particular denomination, or a loose knit network of ‘believers’, whatever one means by that? What is it’s mission and ethos? There are all kinds of opinions, traditions, historical factors and other elements that add to the noise of the discussion on this topic, so where do we find the vital definition of The Church? On that point, there is a clear answer that rises above the din. So, please excuse the following cliche.
That clarity is found in the Bible. Even if one has no reverence for Scripture, still, logic demands that they presume that those who are claiming to be followers of Christ would hold His Book as the final authority of what His Community would be here among humanity. Yes, there are arguments among ‘believers’ about what the Bible says about this or that, but the core elements are beyond dispute. Often the ‘disputes’ are not actually doctrinal murkiness, but simply the appearance of murkiness due to misuses and abuses of Scripture, or the cowardice of some to stand up for the Word against institutional church traditions, which are not necessarily Holy Writ.
There are other problems in defining the Church. Because the body of Christ (a biblical term and concept) is active within our communities in many different ways doing good - feeding the hungry, helping the poor, educating, being a voice in politics, among innumerable other endeavors - unfortunately sometimes in all of this the core purpose and personality of the church is lost. This blog is no where near enough space to take on all of this, or hold forth on ecclesiology (the study of the church - ‘ekklesia’ - ‘the called out ones’). So, on to our main point here, which is, how does the Word of God define and commission the People of God?
Jesus, in Matthew 6 (and Luke 11), gives us what is known as The Lord’s Prayer. In it he makes this statement, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” The Lord God means for his will to be done in the earth as it is in heaven. Heaven defines the church in the earth, not earth telling heaven how it’s going to be. This doesn’t mean political or oppressive tyranny by the Church, for God will not have slaves nor hostile takeovers - He stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20). Until the Second Coming of Christ, He has chosen that only those who choose peaceably and wholeheartedly to serve him are his servants - no iron fisted demands.
“In earth as it is in heaven” - this is the ethos of the church, the charter of her mission and values. Spreading the gospel, found seminally in Acts 2:38, showing Christlikeness in love, good works, attitude and lifestyle; bettering humanity wherever we can bring godly, Biblical influence; in short, as Jesus said in Matt 5, the church is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The church isn’t a thermometer of the surrounding culture; it is supposed to be a thermostat affecting the surrounding culture.
Sadly, terribly, some try to make the church a thing it was never meant to be. To view some of the false and grotesque misrepresentations of what some have tried to make the church is frustrating and even outrageous. A whole range of these malformed versions exist, from weak and ineffectual to hard nosed and oppressive. There are all kinds of ‘representations’ of the church that are not actually that.
But it’s out there. The true Church, Bible defined, God pleasing and Christ like, it really does exist among all the distorted others. And we can find it if we are searching with a true heart.