Why Not Ecclesiology?
It is an extraordinary thing that those who profess to care so much about Christ should seem to care so little about what His Word says about the church. Ought we not to concern ourselves more about this great doctrine than we do? Most certainly! Christ died for the church. It is His bride, His building, His body. When He left the world He commissioned it to disciple all the nations. How, then, can we conclude that the way we view the church is inconsequential in His eyes? We do not honor the Lord Jesus by ignoring His instructions.
Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that the gathered church is to reach out to the lost in such a way as to minimize the difference between believers and non-believers. But if you will read the New Testament you will see that the purpose of the gathered church was not evangelism. Indeed, it was not even worship. To be sure, worship can and must take place when God’s people are assembled. But worship, as it is taught in the New Testament, is a daily activity, not something that is relegated to Sunday. The modern habit throughout the twenty-first century church is to downplay this subject. After all, we have our “worship” services, our “worship” guides, our “worship” leaders. Clearly, however, the New Testament knows nothing about these man-made terms. When, then, should we worship? Anyone who has read Rom. 12:1-2 will know the answer.
In the book of 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul is very careful to lay out principles governing Christian gatherings. He makes it plain that believers did not gather for public witness to the outside world. These were not evangelistic services at all. Rather, the church gathered for fellowship and mutual edification. It was a type of gathering in which believers came together with differing gifts. Just read 1 Cor. 14 and you will see that this was a bona fide fellowship meeting. Everything that was done was done in order to build up the church. Whether you came to this meeting with a psalm, a teaching, or some other contribution to make, you exercised your gift in the interest of those around you. “Let all things be done for edification” was Paul’s watchword. This same view of the church is to be found in Ephesians 4, where Paul emphasizes that the church is built up only as each member of the Body does its part. He is emphatic that the fullness of Christ can never be attained by any one Christian. Each believer has a gift, and each one must give that gift away to the whole church.
Paul’s teaching sheds a flood of light on what the gathering of the people of God looked like in the early church.
1 Co 14:26 clearly states [writes Steve Atkerson] the prerequisite for anything that goes on in a church meeting: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” The word “strengthening” is from oikodome and means “edifying, edification, building up.” Certainly as we worship God corporately we are indeed strengthened. However, the ultimate focus of the meeting is to strengthen the church. It is not the Lord who stands in need of strengthening, but the Lord’s people. In this sense, the weekly assembly is for the benefit of the people present. A church gathering is to be designed to edify believers and to this end it is to be man-centered as well as God-centered.
Atkerson is right. If we would truly be a New Testament church and be pleasing to God, we should ask Him here and now to teach us ecclesiology – the New Testament pattern of church life.
May 4, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.