Church definitions can be confusing. As a result, this question “What makes a church a church?” is an important question to ask! Last week, in Part 1, we looked at the two primary metaphors in the New Testament used to describe the church; the Body of Christ and the Family of God. Today we want to think about the Church’s function.
Church Definitions – House Church or Preaching Point?
In my organization, we make the end of the year reports about our church planting and discipleship progress. We want to know how many new churches have been planted each year so we can celebrate what God has done and accurately report what has been happening. As we do these reports, we face the question of the difference between a church and a “preaching point” or a “fellowship group.”
Another question arises. When does a Bible study or prayer cell become a church? What needs to happen for us to call it a church?
A good passage to draw clues about how the church is to function is in Acts-Chapter Two where the first church is described.
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Acts 2:41-26 NIV
In this passage, we see the ten-key functions of the church. Let’s look at the first five.
As people come to faith, it is the responsibility and a function of the church to baptize them. Throughout the book of Acts and the entire New Testament, we see that local believers baptized those they led to faith. A healthy and functioning church baptizes new disciples often.
Whenever the church meets, we need to feed on God’s Word- the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. This was the New Testament practice. Sometimes they read Paul’s letters. Sometimes the stories of Jesus’ life were retold. The Word of God needs to be a central part of the life of a church.
Fellowship is another overused religious word. What it means is friendship, companionship, and social interaction. Churches that are functioning well encourage these things to take place and they make space for this. Sometimes it happens organically. Sometimes structures that facilitate the developing of closer friendships need to happen. If the church is “being the church” though, it will be made up of people who would call themselves friends.
LORD’S SUPPER-BREAKING OF BREAD
While many churches today practice the tradition of the pastor or the priest giving the Lord’s Supper, in the New Testament, this was done in homes by ordinary believers. Jesus instructed us to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24). House churches, without ordained clergy present, sometimes fail to celebrate this important and meaningful ceremony. They wait for a larger gathering where a more “qualified” person can give communion. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper regularly fulfills the command of Jesus and is the responsibility of every church- large or small.
SIGNS AND WONDERS
In the New Testament church, signs and wonders were common. Ordinary believers laid hands on the sick and saw them recover. Disciples encountered demons and cast them out. There were miraculous demonstrations of God’s love and power. Churches function like those in the New Testament when they make space for the supernatural activity of God’s Holy Spirit. Lives are transformed and miracles, big and small, happen regularly.
Are these five things happening in your church on a regular basis? If not, why not?
In What Makes a Church a Church- Part 3, we will consider the other five.
Thanks for your interesting articles on your blog.
In your series on ‘What is the church?’ you cite the metaphor of the human body and the family as pictures that point to the nature of the church. I would also point out that the NT uses the metaphor of the ‘temple’ as a picture of the people of God. e.g. 1 Peter 2:5. I myself have found the temple metaphor very useful among Buddhist background believers. Since temples in their culture are sacred, one has to show respect, such as removing one’s shoes. When I teach about the transformed life from Eph 4, the fact that WE are now God’s sacred ‘temple’ immediately confronts areas of sin and brings greater motivation to both inner and outer change.
Excellent comment and great addition of the temple metaphor! Many blessings!