For an introduction to the series, read this.
We come now to a section of my church’s statement of faith (based on the Baptist Faith and Message) that addresses the doctrine of the church.
Statement of Faith Article for the Week
VI. THE CHURCH
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two 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. Its scriptural officers are elders and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of elder is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
Thoughts for Discussion with Children
Whenever your mother and I leave you for a while with a babysitter, who has authority over you during that time? The babysitter does. But the babysitter’s authority over you is authority that we have given her for that short amount of time. She can tell you what to do because we have given her our own authority to tell you what to do.
Between the time that Jesus has gone back to Heaven and when he comes again (in other words, right now), he has given his authority to someone on earth, and it is an authority to proclaim his Word and mark out from the world those who belong to him from those who don’t. To whom did he give this authority? He gave it to each local church. Every church has Jesus’ own authority to act in his name by saying, “This person is a follower of Jesus,” or “This person is not a follower of Jesus,” or “This person who says he follows Jesus is not showing us anymore that he really does follow Jesus.” This is why belonging to a local church is so important: the local church is where we find Jesus’ authority exercised until he comes again. If you claim to follow Jesus but don’t submit to the authority of a church, you are not really submitting to Jesus’ authority. That would be like disobeying your babysitter while saying that you are obedient to your parents.
So, what actually makes a church? If a group of Christians get together at any time or place, do they become a church? No, they don’t. A local church is marked out by at least four things, which (when you put them together) spell the word “Mom,” but with an extra “m”: MOMM
MEMBERS: A church is made up of baptized believers in Jesus who agree to be a church together (we call that agreement a “church covenant”). They agree that they want to walk together as disciples, help each other grow, and help protect each other from sin.
OFFICERS: Churches have two kinds of officers (or people who have special, recognized roles in the church): pastors (also known as “elders” or “overseers”) and deacons. Pastors are given authority to teach the Word of God publicly and lead the church in the exercise of its authority. Deacons serve the needs of the church, such as taking care of needy members, taking care of the church’s money, and keeping the church’s property (if it has any) in good order.
MARKS: The Reformers (Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc.) said that a true church has two distinct marks: the preaching of the Word of God and the practice of the ordinances. If the Word of God is not being preached, it is not a church, for the church only exists where the good news about Jesus is being proclaimed.
A church also practices what are called the “ordinances” of the Christian faith: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both ordinances are the practices Jesus has given us to mark out who belongs to him and who doesn’t. So churches baptize people who confess that they have now become disciples of Jesus, and churches serve the Lord’s Supper to those who have already been baptized and are continuing to follow Jesus. By not baptizing someone, a church says to that person, “You have not provided a confession of faith in Jesus that we can affirm is a real confession.” And if a church ever decides to remove someone as a member because he keeps walking in sin without turning away from it after being warned repeatedly, that church will stop serving him the Lord’s Supper as a way of saying, “You are not showing us any evidence that you are a real follower of Jesus.” Through the ordinances, churches mark out disciples of Jesus from unbelievers.
MISSION: A true church of Jesus Christ is one that seeks to do what Jesus commanded: make disciples of Jesus all over the world. Every church should do its part in helping to fulfill that mission, not only by teaching its own members how to follow Jesus in their daily lives, but also by helping to send the good news about Jesus to those who do not believe. That task is the responsibility of church members, who can tell the good news to their neighbors, friends, coworkers, children, etc. And it also happens when churches send out missionaries, or send money to support missionaries from other churches, so that the gospel can go farther and farther around the world.
So, the next time you think of what makes something a church, think of the word “MOMM”: Members, Officers, Marks, and Mission.