A Definition of the Local Church

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?

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We exist to exhort passionate followers of Christ to think more deeply about their faith, and to challenge deep thinkers to become more passionate followers of Christ. Throughout history, taverns have provided a venue for theological and political debate. Hoping to honor that tradition, welcome to the Tavern!
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13 Responses to A Definition of the Local Church

  1. Lynn says:

    Was looking for “training and equipping saints” but recognize that they are accomplished in: (5) interpreting and proclaiming the Word of God, (6) affirming one another’s profession of faith in Christ, (7) overseeing one another’s discipleship

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  2. “to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Christ and His kingdom” – Explain how the local church oversees one’s membership in Christ?

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    • The Tavern says:

      I worked with that for a while and couldn’t get satisfied… I couldn’t figure out how to succinctly say what I meant… originally I had it spread out into two statements, because what I meant was to affirm one another’s faith in Christ, and to oversee one another’s discipleship, ie, living out of their Christian life.

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  3. The Tavern says:

    Here are the last three versions of the definition before the one I posted:

    “A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to exalt Christ, to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word of God, and to officially affirm one another’s membership in Christ and His kingdom and oversee one another’s sanctification through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances.”

    “A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to exalt the name of Christ, to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word of God, and to officially affirm one another’s faith in Christ and oversee one another’s discipleship through the observance of the ordinances, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the equipping of the saints.” (Lynn, there’s your equipping-the-saints phrase!:)

    “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 affirm, strengthen, and oversee one another’s faith in Christ through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances.”

    I couldn’t decide which one married succinctness, clarity, and comprehensiveness in just the right way… any thoughts on those?

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  4. crosseyedjoy says:

    I like the succinctness of the third one. What if you replaced the word ‘oversee’ with ‘equip’? Or if it said “to equip, affirm, and strengthen…”

    The word ‘oversee’ implies to me ‘control’, whereas that is more the function of the Holy Spirit and volition, in my opinion!?!?

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  5. Lynn Jensen says:

    Perhaps one more word? “Encourage”?

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