I've been thinking a lot about the "Church" recently. It's been abused, scoffed at, mocked at, persecuted, martyred, praised, idolised, split off into cults, split off into Pharisaical, legalistic horror stories - yet despite all that it just won't go away after 2,000 years. It has been run by apostles and prophets where it has flourished, it has been run by pastor/teachers where it has developed strong foundations, it has been run by grace-haters who have controlled it and generally abused it for their own ends, it has been run by ego-maniacs who have drained the people dry of their money, their lives and their free-will - yet despite all that it won't give up the belief that Ephesians 4 Ministries have truly and genuinely been given by the ascended Christ to bring it to maturity. What IS this Church!?
Pete Day brought a note of severe perspective that any church leader (or indeed anyone who addresses the church) needs to take careful note of:
"The Church is the bride of Christ. Please be careful how you speak to His wife"
But what brought about this blog was a recent post by Mark Heath who is sharing some of his teaching on the Church from where he lives in Southampton. Mark asks; "If you could list up to five marks of the church, what would they be?". He noted that Calvin simply sees the mark of the Church as being the preaching of the Word and the administering of the sacrements.
I read John Piper and Justin Taylor's latest book; "The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World" last night and Mark Driscoll has his own views on what makes the Church (or to be more accurate what makes the Gospel although he seems to reflect that in his church). They include female/male gender distinctions, Scripture as inerrant, timeless truth, the virgin birth of Jesus, our sin nature and total depravity, Jesus' death as our penal substitution and the concious eternal torments of hell.
It was very similar to Mahaney's right-hand man Joshua Harris's book; "Stop Dating the Church" that I found severely lacking. While I would agree with what both Driscoll and Harris insist is a vital part of the Church, I am left asking why they left what they did out. Or are those elements part of this; "two-handed approach to Christian ministry ... in our graciously open hand we must hold timely ministry methods and styles that adapt" - a concept that seemed to be very popular at John Piper's conference?
What about the manifest Presence of God? What about the Holy Spirit and His ministry not just in salvation but in sanctification, in empowerment, in glorification? What about worship? What about where we are going? It just strikes me that something is missing in our definition of church - "A form of godliness denying the power thereof".
I jotted down some notes that occured to me as "marks of a church" in a comment on Mark Heath's post and here's what I wrote;
"My answer is representative of the New Testament Acts Church stream (and it's inspired by Ephesians 2:19-22).
1. Church is a place where there is no hierarchy or clergy/laity but all are "fellow citizens with the saints".
2. Church is a place built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (not just the dead ones) with Christ Jesus living and reigning being the Chief Cornerstone.
3. Church is a place that is growing into a holy temple in the Lord - where holiness is not a set of rules and regulations imposed legalistically but holiness is a naturally flowing out of a realisation of our position in the righteousness of Christ - it's all about a relationship, not rules.
4. Church is a place that is increasingly becoming a dwelling place for God - the manifest Presence of God is more and more evident until unbelievers are coming in and rather than remaining indifferent are saying; "God is TRULY among you".
5. Church is a place where all of this is possible "by the Spirit". We recognise that all we do is only possible because we live in a "more glorious covenant" where we ALL are "ministers of the Spirit". Where it is not just about what we SAY but about what we DO. That the Spirit makes His Presence known by what we say (prophecy, tongues/interpretation, power preaching), what we do (signs, wonders, healing and miracles), how we live personally (crying "Abba! Father!" - in an intimate relationship with God Himself), how we worship (with bold access in the Holy of Holies) and where we are going as a people (seeing the entire earth covered with the glory of the Lord).
ALL because the Holy Spirit has been poured out and is our inheritance!!".
Ask yourself - (and leave a comment if you so desire) - what is the mark of my church? What should be it's mark? Are it's marks bound by the traditions of the Creeds or the traditions of the Charismatic Movement? Or are it's marks adhering as closely to the Bible as possible and to the Living Rhema Word of God as He speaks and sees His purposes come about now at the climax of the consummation of the ages?