We continue our discussion of the Polity of a Christian Congregation, with the question, What is Church?
We may speak of the Universal or holy Christian Church, the Holy Catholic Church (“Catholic” meaning ‘universal’) of all believers in Christ throughout the world without distinction of race or denominational affiliation. This includes all believers currently alive and those who have died in the Christian faith, as Christ Himself promises, “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)
This Church is a monarchy with Jesus Christ as its King and Lord. His word and command is the supreme law. Again, from the apocalyptic vision given to Apostle John on the Island of Patmos, we read of the vision of Christ, “And on His thigh He has a name written, “King of Kings, and LORD of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). Over against those who would rule His Church, Scripture teaches: “One is your Master, even Christ; all ye are brethren,” Matthew 23:8. Over against those who would introduce anything contrary to His word, Jesus teaches, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:31.
When Moses gives his final comments to ancient Israel at the turning point of crossing the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land to be established as a nation of God’s choosing, his admonition of curses and blessings resound remarkably similar to the New Testament description of the Church,
Deuteronomy 30:11-15 “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. (12) It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? (13) Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? (14) But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”
What is Church? Scripture declares it to be all believers in God dedicated and faithful to the Word of God, not some ethereal other-worldly nor a mystical self aspiring to spiritual being. Rather, Church is people who embrace, confess and practice the Word of God in all its fulness and purity.
The Church and Churches
“Church” is also used in Scripture to refer to congregations, as St. Paul writing of the “church of Corinth,” 1 Corinthians 1:2; and of the church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla in Rome, Romans 16:3-5.; and of the churches of Judea, Galatians 1:22. In Revelation 1:4 we read of the “seven churches which are in Asia.”
Believers in the Gospel of Christ, who gather in a specific congregation may think of themselves as members of a visible church still engaged in the spiritual battle in the temporal world. At the same time, members in a local congregation that proclaims and practices the words of God are also members of the invisible or universal church of all believers in Christ. To think of such a communion of saints is a tremendous comfort and joy in Christian fellowship (cf. Ephesians 4:3). This spiritual and enduring fellowship surpasses all temporal relationships and affiliations and overrides congregational and denominational associations. The full glory of this fellowship will be seen only when the Lord Himself gathers us to our eternal home in heaven, as Apostle Paul describes,
“No eye has seen, no er has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him — but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
What is Church? It is people with One Master, Jesus Christ alone, and dedicated to hear and follow the Word of God. Perhaps, more to the point, we ask Who is Church? The Annotated Small Catechism of Martin Luther asks, “Where is this holy Christian Church to be found? This holy Christian Church is to be found wherever the Gospel is in use; for according to God’s promise His Word shall not be preached in vain.” And regarding the plethora of denominations throughout the world, the same Catechism asks, “Which denomination is the true visible Church? That denomination is the true visible Church which has, teaches, and confesses the entire doctrine of the Word of God and administers the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution. — “Teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.”” Matthew 28:20.
Years after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, Apostle Peter was inspired of God to describe What is Church?
1 Peter 2:4-5 “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, (5) you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”