In my church we recently had a conversation that is part of what I see as a larger and worrisome attitude in the church at large (at least here in America). It’s the attitude that exalts the individual over the corporate body in our faith—the attitude that emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus over and against knowing Jesus together as His body.
The conversation began when a gentleman was sharing in a small group about a witnessing opportunity he had. A woman he spoke with had faced some regrettably real hurts in a situation with a pastor, and she became turned off to church and questioned the Christian faith. He shared that he told her it wasn’t about going to church, and that she most needed to be concerned about her relationship with Jesus and reading her Bible. This was met with several nods of agreement, then the pastor (me) spoke up.
The gist of my response was that while, yes, we must come to Jesus upon our own individual profession of faith (the faith of our parents or friends won’t get us there), if we separate being a part of Christ from being a part of His body then we have completely missed the point. Faith is about belonging to Jesus by belonging to a people called church. Therefore certainly this woman needs prayer, help, and counsel to overcome her hurts, but we shouldn’t be in the business of calling anyone to faith in Jesus without calling them to be a part of His people through a local church.
This, in turn, was met with the question: what is a church? After all, here we were a group of ten people gathered together for Bible study—and Jesus said “Where two or three are gathered in my name…” so, couldn’t this qualify as a church? I gave him a brief answer and then got back to him more thoroughly a couple days later with a survey of passages and my definition of a local church based on that survey. These are the highlights… A church is:
- …marked by ten basic things: people of faith, baptism, godly leadership, correct teaching, fellowship (includes edification, accountability, discipline, etc.), the Lord’s Supper, prayer, meeting needs, corporate worship, and evangelism (Acts 2:37-47)
- …a group of people possessing the authority to say whether or not they believe a person belongs to Jesus based on their testimony and actions (Matt 18:15-20)
- …a group where the individual is like a brick in the larger building (1 Pet 2:4-10)
- …a group where a person comes to worship God most fully (Eph 2:19-20)
- …a group where a person comes to know Jesus most fully (Eph 3:18-19)
- …a group where a person comes to reach their full maturity as Christians (Eph 4:11-16)
- …a group where a person comes to truly live a Spirit-filled life of worship, edification, and submission (Eph 5:18-21)
- …a group where a person comes to be most fully transformed in life by Christ (Col 3:1-17)
- …a group where a person comes to most fully learn love, joy, and humility (Phil 2:1-11)
- …a group where a person comes and to help each other avoid sin (Heb 3:12-14, 10:23-25)
- …a group where the members take charge of each other’s wellbeing by confronting and judging each others’ sin for the purpose of repentance (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13)
Based on these things (and a few more), I defined a church as a community of people who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord; who meet together and entrust each other with their discipleship and growth; and who submit their lives to each other for the sake of guidance, judgment, and correction.
Does that definition say everything I would like it to say? No. The church is so simple yet so complex that it is hard to pin down with an exact and brief definition (perhaps why it’s described as a body, a people, a family, a temple, a bride, and a heavenly assembly, to name a few). But I think it helps to lay the groundwork as to why Christianity is more about the body than the individual.