I recently sought to develop a carefully worded definition of the local church in fulfillment of a requirement for an apprenticeship I had over the summer. I consulted and leaned on a number of definitions already in existence, especially from the folks at 9Marks; but, ultimately, I wanted to pull the best from each definition and end up with my own wording. Here’s what I’ve landed on for now:
A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word of God and to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Christ and His kingdom through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances.
It will perhaps be noticed immediately that I have left out a few elements that may seem essential, or at least expected, in a “baptistic” definition of a church. For example, I do not say that a church is a congregation of baptized Christians. I also have left out any statement regarding the autonomy of the local congregation, or the two offices of elder and deacon. All three of these are intentional omissions. The reason is that I have sought to include in my definition only those elements without which a church is no longer a church.
A Presbyterian church may not have a single member who was immersed as a believer, and while that church may be unhealthy in that regard, it does not cease to be a church. A Methodist or Anglican church may not have any semblance of real congregational autonomy, yet it can still be a church. A church may experience a season in which there is no pastor or elders. Again, while I believe this makes for an unhealthy church, I am not convinced it ceases to be a church. Thus, I have sought to include in my definition those elements which are essential to the existence of a church: (1) believers in a local community, (2) intentionally committing to (3) regularly assemble together, (4) in Christ’s name, for the purpose of (5) interpreting, teaching, and proclaiming the Word of God, (6) affirming one another’s profession of faith in Christ, (7) overseeing one another’s discipleship, (8) worshiping God corporately together, and (9) observing the ordinances.
So, what do you think? Do you have any questions or need any clarifications? Did I miss any essentials? Is this definition a new way of thinking about it for you? Have you found a better definition you could share?