By Mike Bryant
Family Pastor at FBC Dalhart
Ecclesiology matters. In an age where hyper-individualism rules decisions making, ecclesiology matters. I can not count how many times I have heard the statement, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” or “I can worship God anywhere, so why do I need the church?”. This is such a heart-wrenching thing to hear as a pastor because we know the Bible teaches that community matters. Somehow, along the way, our culture has decided that church is an event we go to rather than a people we are. I know, that may sound like support to not needing the church: if the church is a people we are, why do I need to gather at a specified time? I hope this article can give you a new way to think about the church and why gathering is crucial.
To begin, we need a working definition of ecclesiology. Simply put, ecclesiology is the study of the church. The word comes from the Greek word for church, Ekklesia, and “ology” is a suffix meaning “to study.” As we think about “ecclesiology” in this article, I am hoping you will consider what you believe about the church, and why it matters. I am hoping you will consider the importance of the gathering of the Body of Christ. It is vital and central to walking with Jesus. It would have been rare in the First Century to even consider trying to follow Jesus without the Body of Christ, without gathering together on a consistent basis. Hebrews 10:23-25 tells us:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)
This passage tells us that we need each other for encouragement. In 1 Corinthians 5:12, Paul talks about those inside the church and those outside the church. This communicates to us that there was an idea of a group of people that identified together in a local area under the Kingdom of God.
I want to consider for just a moment what it means to be a people, or to be part of a group of people. If you are separated from a group, then the group is not whole. When you are a part of a people, you desire to be with the group. When you are separated, you feel incomplete. A perfect example of this is kids on summer break. Kids cherish summer while school is out, but generally, by the end of Summer, they are ready to go back to school. Not because they want to be in class, but because they miss being around their friends on a consistent basis. They miss consistent community. Now this is a very small example, this is not the same kind of community that should be experienced in the church. If we are truly part of the people of God, we should long to be with the people of God. We should long to be together. We should long for the opportunity to gather and sing to the one who made a way for us to be part of the Kingdom of God. We should long to get to hear how God is at work in one another’s lives.
Next, I want to consider that if we do not desire to be with the people of God here, what makes us think we are going to enjoy heaven? What is it we think heaven is going to be like? Sitting in a recliner, watching TV and napping? Retirement life with a repaired body that doesn’t hurt anymore? We do not really know a lot about what Heaven will be like, but we do know that we will be in the presence of God with the people of God. Gathering together now as a church to be in the presence of God is but a glimpse of what heaven will be like one day. So, let me ask again, if you do not enjoy gathering with the people of God in the presence of God now, what makes you think you are going to enjoy gathering with the people of God in heaven?
Now that we have considered what it means to be part of the people of God, we can come back to why ecclesiology matters. It matters because if we do not have a strong ecclesiology, then we will miss the glimpse of heaven God is giving us. If we do not have a strong ecclesiology, then we will get distracted by all the other opportunities available in our culture and miss one of the greatest blessings God has given us. If we do not have a strong ecclesiology, then every time something happens in our churches that goes against our preferences, or worse, we see the effects of sin in our communities, we will bail to another church. Or worse, give up on the community altogether. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
So, the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. “The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared (Luther)”.
When we forsake gathering with the Body of Christ, we are rejecting not only a gift God has given us, but also the privilege that is not afforded to all across the world. Bonhoeffer again writes in his book Life Together:
“…Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing.”
Again, ecclesiology matters. Without it, we lose community with one another as the Body of Christ, we lose community with God. We lose the beauty of the ordinances of Baptism and Communion. We lose the opportunity to walk with brothers and sisters in Christ when we are going through dark seasons. We lose the opportunity to walk with brothers and sisters in Christ when they are going through tough times. We lose the opportunity to grow when we disagree. We lose the opportunity to see the grace and mercy of Jesus as work in others’ lives. We lose the opportunity to celebrate how God is at work among us.
I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to give any of that up, and without strong ecclesiology, our culture will steal that from us without us even realizing it!
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common