My class in ecclesiology comes at a fortuitous time. Currently, my wife and I are looking at planting a church in our area. Although I have been a part of several churches and have a good deal of experience in multiple roles, this would be the first time we would be starting from scratch. Thinking and praying about what kind of church God would have us plant has been an exercise that has benefitted from this study.
In this essay, I will focus on the local church. While the catholicity of the Christian church is an essential characteristic of Christ’s Body, it is the local church that is the organism for God through the Holy Spirit to increase his kingdom. A brief overview of each aspect of ecclesiology will be reviewed.
Church government should start with a board of elders πρεσβύτερος (Acts 14:23; 20:17). The pastor, by default, is an elder with equal voice and vote. The Elders of the church are responsible for the ministry of word and vision (Acts 6:4). Underneath the Elders would be the deacons who serve in ministry (Acts 6:1-7). The deacons are appointed by the Elders and ratified by the congregation. Although there is no biblical mandate for the exact form of church government, a semi-congregational form is the most pragmatic. Full congregational democracy tends to be unwieldy. Churches should develop by-laws that dictate the Elder board’s autonomy in decision-making and requirements for eligibility to be Elders and Deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:7-9). Annual budgets and any changes to the by-laws should be developed by church leadership and ratified by the congregation.
The Worship service, held weekly (or more depending on church culture), either Saturday or Sunday, should have three main focuses: declaration of God’s presence in worship, exposition of God’s word in preaching and teaching, and demonstration of God’s power in ministry. First, declaration of God’s presence in worship through music is essential. There is a solid Biblical history of music as a central part of worship (2 Chron. 7:6; Psalms 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76, 96, 113-118, and others; Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Rev. 4:11 and others). The music should lead the congregation into a state of worship focusing on Jesus and his work. Attention should be on the presence of God in the congregation, not on those performing the music. The style of music is up to the culture of the congregation. Many churches have traditional hymns, while others have contemporary worship songs. In the case of Sanctuary International, they use heavy metal music in their worship. The genre of music is not the issue; the focus of worship is.
The next component of the worship service is the exposition of God’s word in preaching and teaching. The proclamation of the Word of God in the congregation through preaching and in teaching is essential for building up the Body (Acts 12:24; Rom. 107:7; Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:1; 1:9; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Messages can be timely and address moral and cultural matters as well as doctrine. However, the primary focus should be on the Word of God.
Lastly, the church body is to practice what has been taught and preached. By demonstrating God’s power in ministry, worship and teaching combine in ministering to the congregation’s and the community’s needs. Utilizing all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (which remain in operation since the founding of the church in Acts 2: Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12; 14), the gospel is proclaimed through deed as well as word. This ministry time of praying for the congregation’s needs should spill out into the community in social action. All of this is done with thoughtfulness and order (1 Cor. 14:26-40).
Sacramental worship involves baptism and Eucharist. Baptism should be full immersion believer’s baptism (Matt. 3:13-17; Acts 8:36-38; Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:12 and others). The Eucharist should be celebrated frequently, weekly would be optimal.
Ephesians 4:11-16 lists five roles (or offices). Apostles are still in operation (although there was a special place for Jesus’ 12 disciples as the initial leaders of the church). Through missionary work, apostles plant churches and have authority over them while they mature. Prophets are to bring words from the Holy Spirit that exhort and encourage and are entirely in line with scripture – their words are not scripture themselves. Evangelists are called to preach the gospel and be used by the Holy Spirit to bring unbelievers to faith. Pastors care for people and minister to them. Teachers rightly teach the scriptures, theology, and doctrine. I believe that Elders and Deacons can fulfill these five roles. These roles are open to women as well as men.
Different denominations have different forms of macro-ecclesiology. Whether the denomination has regional conferences and general conferences (United Methodist), bishops (Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox), or superintendents (Christian and Missionary Alliance along with other Protestant denominations), there is no biblical mandate and few examples of how the wider church is organized. This fact is where I believe that denominational tradition and culture have wide latitude in operating their organization.
Developing an ecclesiology is just as important as developing a soteriology, pneumatology, or eschatology. The different areas of theology intertwine and work together to help the believer make sense of how God operates through the ministry of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ecclesiology is the theology of the corporate theological experience of the people of God.