Recommended: An extremely helpful and thorough look at the crucial elements of what makes the church the church.
What is a church?
This question is one that all Christians need an answer for. Today, we have all kinds of churches—seeker-sensitive churches, emerging churches, missional churches, purpose-driven churches, blogging churches, house churches, multi-site churches… You name it, there seems to be a church for it. But, these really have more to do with style and theological leaning than defining what a church is.
In Vintage Church, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears attempt to define exactly what the church is and how it can fulfill its mandate to transform the world as Christ has commanded.
For the majority of Christianity’s history, the definition of the Church has been assumed. The Nicene Creed states that “we believe in one holy and apostolic church,” but does not elaborate further than that. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote The Unity of the Church in 251, and no significant contribution to the subject was made until Wycliffe wrote The Church in 1378 (pg. 36). For 1000 years, it was essentially left untouched.
Realizing the importance of defining the Church before being able to really talk about it, Driscoll and Breshears establish the following definition, based on Acts chapter 2:
The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy (pg. 38).
This definition fuels everything else addressed within the pages of Vintage Jesus. Church leadership is defined (in large part built upon Driscoll’s A Book You’ll Actually Read On Church Leadership) as qualified men who meet the qualifications of biblical eldership (from 1 Tim. 3:1-7 & Titus 1: 5-9), under Jesus Christ. I found this to be a very important distinction to make: Jesus is the Senior Pastor of our church. Everyone, pastors/elders, deacons, ministry leaders, members… all of us are under His authority. This is a very humbling reminder that it’s Jesus who plants, grows, and (if needed) kills a church.
The sacraments (baptism and Communion), the necessity of unity, the importance of church discipline, how love is expressed, what it means to be a missional church, and multi-site churches are all covered in depth, and based primarily from Driscoll’s experience with Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I found these chapters particularly helpful in that they were not saying “this is the way to do XYZ,” but rather, “this is how Mars Hill works… perhaps some of it might be useful for your context.”
One of my favourite chapters was on the importance of preaching. I am passionate about good, strong biblical preaching. I get excited whenever I hear gifted men like Piper, CJ Mahaney, Matt Chandler, and so many more present the Scriptures faithfully and unapologetically. I love it whenever my own pastor preaches about what he’s really passionate about: the Gospel. This chapter is really an affirmation for those who preach Christ as the center of every sermon and every text, and I would say a soft-ish rebuke to those who would place man at the center of the biblical narrative.
Another thing I greatly appreciated was a maturity in the humor that is found within the pages of Vintage Church. Many of the jokes in Vintage Jesus, the “prequel” to this book, are somewhat juvenile, and sometimes down-right crass, and I am thankful that Driscoll reigned it in this time around.
In the end, I believe Vintage Church does an excellent job providing a helpful definition of the church for the 21st century believer, one that may be of great help to many churches that are struggling to define themselves and move forward in the work which Jesus has called them.