What We Believe- Article VI, The Church (part 2)

Today we are going to look at the second paragraph of article six of the BF&M which concerns itself with the universal church of all believers. Here’s what it says:

The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.

Matthew 16:15-19; 18:15-20; Acts 2:41-42,47; 5:11-14; 6:3-6; 13:1-3; 14:23,27; 15:1-30; 16:5; 20:28; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:16; 5:4-5; 7:17; 9:13-14; 12; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:8-11,21; 5:22-32; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:18; 1 Timothy 2:9-14; 3:1-15; 4:14; Hebrews 11:39-40; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Revelation 2-3; 21:2-3.

To start, I do not like the way this paragraph is set-up. Yes, I agree that “[t]he New Testament speaks of the church as the Body of Christ” and that the New Testament speaks of the church universal, but I do not believe that these two things are meant to be synonymous, as it seems to me this paragraph is implying. Specifically, I do not believe that the New Testament speaks of the Body of Christ as being only that which is the universal church; I believe that the Body of Christ is also fully present in each local manifestation of the church, else by the argument in 1 Corinthians 12, we would be unable to say that each local autonomous congregation is fully equipped to do the work of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

As for the idea that there exists a manifestation of the church on a universal level, I believe that this truly is a biblical notion.  In Hebrews 12.23 we see mention of “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” where the word ‘assembly’ is actually the word ‘ekklesia‘ from which we often translate as ‘church.’  Similarly, there are many mentions of ‘the church’ in places where the idea of meaning one specific, local body seem to make no sense, such as Ephesians 1.22-23 (“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all“).

The idea of a universal “invisible” church (“invisible” meaning that its exact boundary is unknown, not that it is wholly hidden from sight) also plays out in the illustration of the church as the flock of God, whose Chief Shepherd is Jesus Christ.  In this metaphor, we see but that there is one flock being gathered under one shepherd (John 10.16), but for a time this flock is scattered about and being tended to by many smaller shepherds awaiting his return (1 Peter 5.1-4).

One thing from yesterday’s post that I would like to add.  At the end of the post we were considering  anything which we felt was missing from the “minimum” definition of the local church given by the BF&M and I left out something which at the time I felt was right but could not think of any Scriptural justification for it, that being that the church is to be noted by the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit.  Some places where we see this indicated are 1 Corinthians 3.16, which says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”, and Ephesians 2.22, “In [Christ Jesus] you[, the Gentiles and the Jews,] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

In closing, I would like to give you the affirmation of “The Church” from the Abstract of Principles, which I feel is as clean and sufficient a declaration of what the constitutes the church as could reasonably be made:

The Lord Jesus is the head of the Church, which is composed of all His true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to His commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches [i.e. the local church]; and to each of these churches He hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which He hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops or Elders, and Deacons.

2 Responses to “What We Believe- Article VI, The Church (part 2)”

  1. Keith Walters Says:

    You noted that “the church is to be noted by the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit” and that the BF&M left that out. Would you argue the same for the Missio Dei? Can a church who is not actively fulfilling the purposes of God truly be considered a church? I understand that there is a section on mission but a non-missional church is not a church.

    What would be a better way to phrase the relationship between the church local, global, and universal?

  2. Todd Burus Says:

    I think that the Missio Dei is covered in the BF&M where it says, “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation . . . seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth,” and yes, I think that this is a necessary component of the true church.

    When I discuss the relationship between the church local and the church universal (I typically neglect the church global, which may or may not be okay), I usually speak in language reminiscent of 1 Peter 2.9 saying something like, “The Church is the citizenry of the kingdom of God, all the redeemed of God throughout all time, and the local church is the local, visible manifestation of the kingdom of God in a specific time and place.”

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