In the Bible, the word we have as “church” is an assembly or group. Who is gathered together, and why? By inference, the church assembly is a gathering of Christians, beleivers in the person, work, and teachings of Jesus Christ. By instruction, they are gathered to encourage, admonish, and exhort [ed.] one another.

Now this could hardly be a perfect definition, but I deliberately avoid including therein some church-related things on which I might opine; sacraments, leadership, doctrine, etc. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism and several other issues are important, and intelligible, but not, I think, essential to church as described in the New Testament. I think that I understand what the Bible teaches about these matters, but if I come to joining a church, the question will not be, “Do they have the right Lord’s Supper?” or “Do they have correct baptism?” The question will be instead, “Are these believers gathering to encourage, admonish, and teach one another?”

2 Comment on "Church"

  • How can we encourage, admonish, and teach one another if we do not rightly understand the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, etc? Are they not part of the teaching, encouraging, and admonishing?

    Is infant baptism teaching the correct thing? Is the doctrine of universal salvation true encouragement?

    I think you know what you meant in your own thoughts when you said,

    if I come to joining a church, the question will not be, “Do they have the right Lord’s Supper?” or “Do they have correct baptism?” The question will be instead, “Are these believers gathering to encourage, admonish, and teach one another?”

    but that statement very easily comes across to a reader as incredibly undiscerning. Every person who goes to every church will say they are encouraged, admonished, and taught. Then if you limit it to “one another”, plenty of far out “Emergent” churches will boast that their members encourage, admonish, and teach each other (of course, peer-to-peer activities are all the fad everywhere, so members in more and more churches across denominations would also lay claim to this “one another”). That makes them de facto acceptable?

    Obviously not.

    It is said, “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” but we must ask, what does it mean by in my name? That will define the gathering.

    It is said that the greatest commandment is love. But what does it really mean to love? Plenty of people will tell you that love means a warm fuzzy feeling, or shoveling all our differences under the rug. Yeah, that’s love and it makes church life work.

    In the same manner, what does it really means to “encourage, admonish, and teach one another”? I think your statement muddled the matter rather than making it clearer. How can anyone who truly understands what it means to teach, encourage, and admonish hold that preverse leadership and corrupt doctrine are exterraneous matters?

    True “encouraging, admonishing, and teaching” requires truth in doctrine. If people are spewing out the ignorance of fleshly minds they will be (spiritually) discourging, confusing, and leading each other astray.

    Am I saying true “encouragement, admonishment, and teaching” requires perfection? No, not in the human vessels used. But the New Testament does distinguish between important and unimportant matters, and I am startled by how casually you dismiss the understanding of what the Lord’s Supper and Baptism means as “not essential.”

    Aspects of how the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are administered many not be essential, (dunked or sprinkled, in a tub or in a river, the controversy rages) but what those acts mean–what the Bible teaches on these matters–is of critical importance.

    Does the Lord’s Supper save us? Does it earn us the blessing of God? Does Baptism save us? Does it garner favor to our account?

    In my conviction, gross failure on these accounts is a gross preversion of the gospel, and from such people we should come out and seperate ourselves. So, for me, correctly understanding what the Lord’s Supper is, and what Baptism means, are questions I would ask.

  • Arlan Post author

    I was deliberately begging the question, or several questions. What qualifies someone as a “beleiver in the person, work, and teachings of Jesus Christ”? Don’t all the rest of the important meanings you are concerned about fall within at least the teachings of Christ, if not just as much the person and work?

    Of course someone not familiar with the rest of my beliefs would never begin to pick up on what I might mean within that, but then, I don’t direct this blog to people who don’t know me.

    To perhaps illustrate what I meant: If a group of beleivers thought that salvation was imparted by baptism, I could not join that fellowship because that would deny a fundamental truth about the salvation Jesus offered. However, if some group that I considered to have basically sound doctrine would not fellowship with someone unbaptized, then I could accept that and go along with it. I think refusing to accept as a full fellow member a person not baptized logically implies that someone is not considered truly saved by grace without some water. But I would let the strict logic of the matter go–assuming, again, that I felt it was an issue of semantic confusion, and they did not truly think that water effected salvation.

    When I wrote the post, I was thinking of the Plymouth Brethren that do not permit women to speak during their meetings. I found this unacceptable, yet I could not think of a satisfactory reason for why this should preclude fellowship. I mean, it was an obvious issue for me, and I could point to scripture to back me up in my opinion–but it was not on the same level as the deity of Christ, or the sovereignty of God.

    You could say that it was a crucial issue, that it misses something at the very heart of the gospel, except that the same assembly had no qualms about their women speaking freely in other contexts–even teaching, as long as it wasn’t in “church”! Ironic. So what makes this permission to talk during a specific slot of time so important?

    Simply that it contradicts the principle of the very practice it is a part of. How can you have fellowship if all fellow believers (including women) are not free to participate?

    Or to take another issue concerning women: assuming I believe that women are to wear head coverings in the meetings of the church, do I then refuse to be a part of an assembly where the women don’t? Particularly if I felt this custom applied only to the “public” (as it were) meeting of the church? I would say no. Perhaps only because I still don’t fully understand why this is important to Paul in that he deals with it so forcefully and at length (comparatively). In the hypothetical, my own wife and daughters would wear the headcoverings, but if the others did not, that is between them and God.

    Conversely, there could be a fellowship whose stated doctrine (on the Lord’s Supper and Baptism and other points) I found entirely correct, yet still could not join because they did not actually uphold a mutual encouragement, admonishment, and exhortation [Ed: I revised “teach” to “exhort” in the OP].

    As you and I have discussed, there are many believers in the world that we would acknowledge as beleivers, yet whose fellowships we could not attend. So my inspiring question was, “Why? What is essential to church?” We might have to do with these believers in all manner of ways except their church. If we are not treating them as unbeleivers due to some error, then why not full fellowship? What constrains or defines the fellowship?

    I think I did answer that question in my post, though perhaps the thought would have benefitted from stating the question. But your great concern about baptism and the eucharist I think is fully answered in defining the fellowship as of “beleivers.” I don’t think there is anything that is crucial to me about either the Lord’s Supper or Baptism except that it only involve credibly professing Christians. Yet there is much more about each that I think can be rightly and meaningfully discerned from Scripture about each.

    Regarding the Lord’s Supper: Every week or once a month? Wine, or grape juice? One cup or many? Silver or plastic? How silly to care! Yet I think I could give an answer to each, and say what in the Bible caused me to answer so.

    I think this all falls under what you call “administration.” I think, between your comment and mine, we are very nearly at the same point.

    But we may still have some lingering concern about the importance of the general subject of doctrine. There are, it may be, so many doctrines, and each of them is important, but which would really preclude fellowship? If someome thinks that creation was not the absolute beginning or that it did not span literally six days, they are gravely wrong; but could I then not fellowship with them? I don’t believe so. Or if they thought the nation of Israel was going to be a global Waco where we will all make a grand last stand–I think they seriously misunderstand scripture. But could I fellowship with them? If they were believers in the person of Christ and his unilateral salvation, yes.

    The original post is not meant as an exhaustive statement on the church; rather the opposite. The first paragraph is as minimal a definiition as I could figure out how to write withouth being too abrupt introducing the thought or too longwinded getting around to it. It is a reference point from which to make further essays on the church.

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