Today I am beginning an extended series on the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology). In my opinion it
is one of the most neglected doctrines in the church today, and Christians are suffering for it. The purpose of this series is not to positively assert everything that needs to be said about the church, nor is the purpose to negatively criticize everything that is wrong with the current
state of the church. The purpose of this series is simply to place the doctrine of the church at the forefront of our minds so that we can think through it biblical.
Why do we Need to talk about the Church?
Alfred Lord Tennyson famously wrote, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die.” Tennyson’s words were amazingly insightful in the context of the Crimean War, however in this context I think that it would be helpful for us to understand why we need to talk about the church. To be honest with you the church is not a very popular topic in today’s world so I feel like I need to justify why it is so important for us to talk about, and understand what the bible teaches about the church.
Whether you are talking to your unbelieving neighbor or a Christian you work with, it seems like there are misconceptions about the church everywhere. Usually these misconceptions aren’t favorable either. [i.e. Church is where you go to avoid hell; church is boring; church is oppressive; church is full of hypocrites; etc.]
There are many factors that play into these misconceptions about the church. For instance, more and more we live in a fragmented and personalized world. It is fragmented in the sense that people create their own separate worlds for each part of their life. There is the work world, the family world, the friends world, the religious world, etc. For the most part each one of these worlds exists independent of one another, and most people want to keep it that way. A great illustration of this is the reaction that many people have when we talk about religion and politics. In most people’s minds those two “worlds” should be kept separate from “worlds” like the “work world.” As the cultural commentator George Costanza hypothesized, if two separate worlds come into contact with each other then both worlds may just blow up.
In addition to being fragmented we also live in a society that personalizes almost everything, including truth. After the Boston Tea Party Patrick Henry declared “give me liberty, or give me death!” For Henry this freedom was political, but for our society today this cry for liberty extends to every area of life. Authority figures, objective truth, and moral restraint are all looked upon as infringements upon our individual freedoms. People do not want to submit to any kind of structure that might contradict their own personal opinions.
These cultural factors have played a major role in the world’s misconceptions about the church, however the effects of culture are not restricted solely to the secular world. They have had a profound influence upon the church as well. The church is not intended to be just another “world” in your fragmented life. According to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) your “church world” is by its nature intended to collide with every other “world” in your life. Yet so many Christians fall into the trap of creating a “church world” to go along with their other “worlds.” Additionally, the Church is built upon the objective truth of God’s word and we have been commanded to submit to the leaders of the church (Hebrew 13:17). This is hardly commensurate with the personalized culture of the day, and explains why so many Christians have a hard time remaining in one church for an extended period of time.
With all of this in mind it is easy to see why the doctrine of the Church (ecclesiology) is important for us to talk about. Unfortunately there aren’t many Christians talking about the church. In fact, the doctrine of the church may be the most neglected doctrine in the church today. Sure there are some pastors, theologians, and authors may be talking about the church, but do most Christians really understand the doctrine of the church? Do you think the average Christian could even explain the biblical reasons why they go to church on Sunday morning? To be honest with you, I don’t think that most Christians have even given much thought. In their minds it is just what they are supposed to do, and they are not real sure theologically why it is important. If this is true, which I believe it is, then this is a dangerous thing. It is dangerous because without understanding the reasons why church is important church inevitably will loose importance to you. This is proven to be a real danger by the current movement among professing Christians to do their own church. For them being a Christian has little to do with being involved in a church, in fact many claim the involvement in the church has actually hindered their spiritual growth. Wolfgang Simson has written a book on what he calls the organic church, which is more commonly being called the House Church movement. This movement is made up of individuals who have stopped attending what they call “traditional church settings” in favor of small gatherings in peoples homes. The typical house church meeting consists of prayer, mentoring, serving and worship. These certainly don’t sound like bad things, but as we progress in our study we are going to see that vital elements of the true chuch are missing from these home churches (i.e. biblical leadership, preaching, the ordinances, and discipline). Additionally, most people are not “tied to” one home group. They float and rotate from group to group. This is just one example of Christians turning away from the church. These movements have arisen because so many Christians don’t understand the doctrine of the church, and consequently don’t understand the importance of the church.
Even if church doesn’t loose its importance, a poor understanding of the church can also result in an attitude that in effect makes the church little more than a legalistic endeavor that makes you a “good Christian.” In this scenario the church becomes a dead organization rather than a living organism. It becomes just another task on the to-do list that you have to wake up early for. It becomes something that you need a break from, rather than a Sabbath from normal activity for the purpose of worshiping God. Thus, even though you don’t completely abandoned the church like some of the examples that we have seen, you’re not completely there anyway.
As we look at the struggles and shortcomings concerning the current views on the church it is important that we are honest with ourselves, and our own ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). It would be easy for us to pick on the rest of the Christian world and never see our own shortcomings. But the truth of the matter is that we all struggle with the doctrine of the church on some level. It may be that you are in the category of someone who has never even thought about it before. Or, you could be in the category of knowing what the bibles says about the church, but struggling to put your knowledge to practice. Whatever the case, it is important for all of us to evaluate and examine our doctrine of the church. If you are willing to do this then I can assure you that it will be to your benefit. A healthy and robust doctrine of the church will be one of the most important keys to your sanctification. Think of it this way, sanctification could be defined as the process of becoming like Christ, and as we will see Christ loved the church. So if we want to be like Christ then we need to understand, and love the church. Plus, if we understand and love the church then God will use the church as an instrument to make us more like Christ. This, along with a number of secondary reasons, is why it is so important for us to talk about the church.
 “If Relationship George walks through that door, he will kill Independent George! A George divided against itself, cannot stand!” – George Costanza