How would you define a church?
There are a lot of ways that people try to define the church, but one of the most common today has been in reference to Matthew 18:20:
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This verse has kind of taken on an interesting meaning over the years. As I alluded to a moment ago, these days it’s most common application is as a definition for fellowship with other believers—which for some is the all encompassing definition of the church. Were this the case, it could be safely argued that two Christians going out for a beer & chicken wings and having a conversation about their personal reading is “church.”
However, this is not the case.
While it’s true that where two or three are gathered, Christ is with them… it’s not a definition of “church.”
It is, however, an aspect of church discipline.
A crucial element of being a church, however you define it, is the practice of church discipline; meaning that we do not excuse ongoing, unrepentant sin in the lives of fellow believers.
The preceding verses make this clear:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt. 18:15-17).
When dealing with a personal offense, if I were to sin against you, it would be your responsibility to come to me privately and discuss. Now, I could be in complete agreement that what I’ve done is wrong and repent—or I could suggest you’re off your rocker and refuse. So then what happens?
You come back with two or three witnesses. These are people who actually witnessed the confrontation between the two of us. Now here, two things can happen: Either they confirm your testimony and call me to repent, or they refute it and call you to repent. In either case, if the offender refuses, it is then taken to the church—our community of disciples. And even then, if I, as the offender, refuse to repent, what is to happen?
I’m to be denied fellowship until I repent. I am to be disciplined.
On whose authority?
That given to us by Jesus Himself:
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven (Matt. 18:18-19).
So if we look at the totality of this passage, of which Matt. 18:20 is the conclusion, a church is more than a couple of Christians getting together for some fellowship time.
A church is a community of disciples who practice church discipline, guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.
While this is still not an exhaustive definition, as it does not address leadership within the church itself (more on that later), it’s a good starting point.
So, how would you define the church?