Friday, July 29, 2005

What Makes Church? 2 - Community and Relationship

The first component in church is community, and relationships within that community. This is the most fundamental aspect, and it is, I believe, the only one that actually defines church -- believers together in fellowship centred around Messiah. It's as simple as that. The other four headings -- authority structure, ministry and gifts, teaching, and worship -- don't define the church, but only help it become what it's supposed to be: transforming, missional, an army, a family, a "spiritual hospital" etc.

It's interesting that there is no reference in the New Testament of anyone outside of Yeshua, ever planting a church. Yeshua said in Matthew 16:13-20, "I will build my church." Other than that, there's no record of Paul, Peter or anyone else literally starting a church. What they did was call people to repentance and make disciples, and only then does the New Testament refer to the resulting group of believers as the church. (In the sense of one's ministry, I won't argue with anyone who calls themselves a "church planter". In fact, I use the term myself. In our 20th century terminology, it's become synonym for making and gathering disciples.)

Because I see community and relationship as being the only defining factor, I can look at any Christian institution, totally ignore the sign over the door, and recognise that the church exists there. Their structure doesn't define the church, but as long as there are true believers there who are in fellowship with one another, they constitute the church. It doesn't even matter if they understand that fact. Even if the official doctrines of that institution were destructive to spiritual life (if one were to follow them), as long as there is life in the hearts of the believers, and they acknowledge one another in love, it's church.

Inversely, even if they had perfectly sound teaching and had a format that encourage true fellowship, they are only the church in so far as there are believers there actually doing it.

Fellowship is what makes us the church. Whatever we can do to enhance fellowship with G-d and with one another on a spiritual level, so that we become a part of one another, will strengthen and vitalise the church. That's where the other subheadings come in.

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