At several points in this blog, I have or will mention the church. It occurs to me that I need to make my meaning clear when I refer to it for the sake of clarity.
Definition #1: I took a course in Sanctification and Ecclesiology, and another in Issues in Ecclesiology from Dr. Glenn Kreider of Dallas Theological Seminary. In that course, he defines what most describe as the Universal Church, in a definition from Robert Saucy’s The Church in God’s Program. So, when I refer to the church in a general way, I mean, the New Covenant Community of the Spirit. Christians are members and partakers of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Luke 22:20, Hebrews). We are a community of faith, united in and by the Spirit of God (Acts 2:14-21).
Definition #2: Sometimes I talk about it in connection or contrast to the home and the academy as a location for Christian education. In that case, I’m referring to the institutional, organized assembly where the new covenant community of the Spirit gathers to receive the ordinances and participate in the communal ritual expressions of faith. That definition is long and clunky, and I’m working on shortening it, but it’s what I have so far.
Definition #3: Rarely I refer to the building where the new covenant community of the Spirit assembles to participate in the communal ritual expressions of faith. This doesn’t happen often, however.
Definition #4: Rarer still, I might talk about the church in connection and contrast to the historical Israel of the Bible (Old Testament). In that case, I most likely mean the seed (descendants) of Abraham in relationship to God through the New Covenant. By this I mean the spiritual heirs of Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and inheritors of the promise. This means that not all descendents of Abraham will inherit his promise, but this should not surprise anyone (see Ishmael, for one example).
My other half would point out to me that I need to answer the “so what” question, as in, “So why should I care about this definition?” Firstly, I answer this question so that you, the reader, can understand what I mean, but that’s about me. I would encourage others to think through what they mean by “the church” when they refer to it, recognizing that, like me, they probably mean a couple of different things. Secondly, our understanding of the church influences our behavior when we carry out the mission of the church. My first definition implies something about what I believe the Bible to communicate about God, my relationship to God, how I should relate to others, and how I should relate to his creation. It all ties to the New Covenant and shapes how I will educate my children and lead my family. Thirdly, note that I have not defined the church as the body of Christ. I do this because, as I understand it, the New Testament uses the body of Christ as a metaphor to describe the church, rather than define it, a subtle but important distinction.
And there you go. The church, by definition.