What Is the “Church”?

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Gregg Allison, professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provides the following definition of the church his book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 29–30. [Bullets, brackets, italics, and formatting are mine.]


The church is

  • the people of God who
    • have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and
    • have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit.

It consists of two interrelated elements:

[1] The universal church is the fellowship of all Christians that extends from the day of Pentecost until the second coming, incorporating both the deceased believers who are presently in heaven and the living believers from all over the world.

This universal church becomes manifested in local churches characterized by seven attributes:

[Origin and Orientation]

doxological oriented to the glory of God
logocentric centered on the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Word of God, Scripture
pneumadynamic created, gathered, gifted, and empowered by the Holy Spirit

 

[Gathering and Sending]

covenantal gathered as members in new covenant relationship with God and in covenantal relationship with each other
confessional united by both personal confession of faith in Christ and common confession of the Christian faith
missional identified as the body of divinely-called and divinely-sent ministers to proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom of God
spatio-temporal/

eschatological

assembled as a historical reality (located in space and time) and possessing a certain hope and clear destiny while its lives the strangeness of ecclesial existence in the here-and-now.

 

[2] Local churches

  • are led by pastors (also called elders) and served by deacons,
  • possess and pursue purity and unity,
  • exercise church discipline,
  • develop strong connections with other churches, and
  • celebrate the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Equipped by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts for ministry, these communities regularly gather to

  • worship the triune God,
  • proclaim his Word,
  • engage non-Christians with the gospel,
  • disciple their members,
  • care for people through prayer and giving, and
  • stand both for and against the world.
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