What We Call Ourselves
We spent several Sundays discussing whether we should call ourselves a church. We are a small group which has only existed for a few months, we have no qualified elders and no building of our own – it might therefore seem odd to many that we call ourselves a church. But since the word “church” is a Biblical word, the question should boil down to whether or not the Bible would call us a church.
The word “church” in the Bible is translated from the Greek “ekklesia”, which means “gathering”. The same word is used of the gathering of people against Paul in Acts 19, most of whom didn’t even know why they were gathered. The word is derived from two words, literally “called out” – that is, a group of humans that are called out of somewhere for a particular reason. The word is used of the gathering of Jews in the Old Testament (Acts 7:37-38, Heb 2:12), and is likewise used of all Christians on Earth as a whole (1 Cor 15:9, Eph 1:22) – we are a “church”. Yet the New Testament also speaks of “churches”, meaning several local gatherings of believers. Nowhere is it written what the minimum requirements for the epithet “church” is, but we see that a congregation without elders may be called a church (Acts 14:23). Neither is spiritual maturity necessary (Gal 1:2) The only thing that comes close to being a “requirement” for a church in the New Testament is that it is a congregation of believers (1 Cor 1:2, 1 Thess 1:1-10).
The Bible assumes that every believer is part of a church. Paul often uses the phrase “in all the churches” in speaking of every believer. When Paul says he teaches in “all the churches”, he shows that newly formed and immature Christian fellowships may also be called churches – for certainly Paul preached in these as well, especially when he formed them after spending only a short period ministering in a new city. Every believer is therefore counted as part of a local congregation, which means that we also may call ourselves a church.
Yet we are careful in our use of the word “church” so people do not get the impression that we have well-educated pastors and glass paintings on the walls.
For these reasons we consider ourselves to be a church. This does not mean that we are a mature church that does not need to actively work toward maturity. But it does mean that we need to be faithful to the fellowship and to each other, gather regularly to exhort each other with God’s word to build each other up unto love and good works, share the blessings of each other’s spiritual gifts, pray regularly for the fellowship and the people in it, and do everything else that the Bible requires of a church.
We call ourselves “Bibelkirken”, or “The Bible Church”, because our focus on the Bible as the absolute truth and guide in both theory and practice characterizes us and separates us from many others.
Some thoughts on the local Christian fellowship:
- The Bible speaks of ���������������������the church” (all believers on Earth, e.g. 1Cor 15:9, Eph 1:22), and “churches” (which are individual groups of believers who regularly fellowship).
- Christians are commanded to have regular fellowship with each other (Heb 3:13). Here are a few of the many reasons:
- To sing together (Col 3:17)
- To pray together (Rom 12:12)
- To encourage and correct each other (Heb 10:24-25, Gal 1:1-5)
- To edify and be edified by spiritual gifts (1Cor 12:7, 14:26)
- To take the Lord���s supper (1Cor 11:23-26)
- To be under a Biblical authority (Heb 13:17)
- As a witness to the world (Jn 13:35)
- To act as God’s fountain of truth on Earth (1Tim 3:15)
- This fellowship is for believers (1Cor 1:2, 1Thess 1:1-10)
- This fellowship is called a ���church”, literally those who are “called out”
- In Acts 19:39, 41, the word refers to a group of people, most of whom did not know why they were there.
- In Heb 2:12 it refers to the Israelite assembly in the OT.
- A fellowship may be a “church” even though it is disorganized and without proper leadership
- Jesus’ disciples, who have never seen a modern “church���, are expected to understand what a “church” is in Mt 16:16, 18:17 – thus “church” should not require a complex definition
- The assembly of Israel is called a “church��� (Acts 7:37-38)
- There were many churches in Judea and Samaria (Acts 9:31) with leaders who had not been believers long enough to be qualified according to 1 Tim 3.
- Paul ordained elders “in every church” (Acts 14:23) – that is, the fellowships were churches before they had elders
- There were many seemingly small ���churches” in people’s houses in Rome – most of these are unlikely to have a plurality of qualified elders and a well-organized structure (Rom 16:5)
- Verses like 2Cor 8:18 seem to indicate that all believers are members of a local congregation ��� be the congregation mature or immature, large or small, new or old. Cf. 1Cor 4:17, 7:17, 2Cor 11:28, 2Thess 1:4
- Nowhere does the Bible require anything but faith and fellowship for a regular assembling of people to be called a church
- If we start saying that a fellowship must meet all the requirements of an ideal church to be called a church, we are forced to exclude all fellowships with only one elder, all fellowships that have disorganized meetings (1Cor 14:33), all fellowships in which a woman leads (1Tim 2), and all fellowships in which everyone did not love one another perfectly (e.g. Jn 13:35) would be less than perfect and therefore not a “church”.
- Much less should we say that a church should meet modern requirements like being registered in Brønnøysundregisteret or having its own building (vs. Rom 16:5, 1Cor 16:19, Col 14:15, Phm 2).
- A church, though it may be called a “church” while immature, should grow toward maturity
- Maturity and Biblical leadership is assumed for a church (Ja 5:14) and should not wait long to be established.
- Elders were appointed quickly in the churches of Galatia (Acts 14:23)
- If a church is to properly perform its task, it should fit the Biblical description of it.
Some thoughts about the church of Christ as a whole:
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.
Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?���
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
���Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!