January 15, 2021

Open Mic: What’s a “Biblical” Church?

'New England Church at Dusk' photo (c) 2007, Matthew Midnight - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/By Chaplain Mike

For our open thread discussion today, I would like to ask you some questions based on a quote I read the other day.

I am not going to give the source of the quote because I don’t want to get responses about the person or the ministry or tradition he represents. Suffice to say that he is a respected conservative evangelical pastor and that his work and writings have been reviewed positively here at Internet Monk.

So, in one sense, this is meant to be an entirely theoretical discussion. Take the statement at face value without consideration of the source and evaluate it. Let us know what you think about the approach taken and the ideas stated here.

In another sense, I don’t want comments to be all theory. Please give personal examples and perspectives from real-life congregational experiences.

Here is the quote—

Contrary to much popular wisdom, God has spoken clearly in the Bible about the purpose, leadership, organization, and methods of the local church. He designed churches to be a display of his own glory and wisdom (Eph 3:10). And he deliberately structured them to display for a watching world the close fellowship of the Trinity and the redemption that God has accomplished for us in Christ Jesus (John 13:34-35).

To summarize

“God has spoken clearly in the Bible” about the local church’s:

  • Purpose
  • Leadership
  • Organization
  • Methods

God “deliberately structured them” to communicate truth about himself and his salvation.

Here are my questions:

  • What is a “Biblical” church?
  • Is that a helpful adjective to use when trying to understand the ecclesial nature of our faith in Christ?
  • Does the Bible give us specific instructions about how a church should look and function?
  • If so, why are there so many approaches to “doing church”?

How do you respond to this statement? It’s Open Mic time.


  1. I seems anachronistic to treat the Bible is some sort of instruction manual for the Church considering that the Church came first.

  2. David Clark says

    Isn’t it obvious. My church is biblical, your church is not. Feel free to have “my” and “your” refer to pretty much anyone or anything, the sentiment stays the same.

    • Well, the other side of the argument is, while some say “My church is Biblical,” others say, “Your Bible is churchical.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      David, that IS often the de facto definition.


  3. “Is that a helpful adjective to use when trying to understand the ecclesial nature of our faith in Christ? ”

    In my experience “biblical” is never a helpful adjective. The common meaning seems to be – “The correct understanding of the (whole) bible as we see it”. like their is no real debate. when I speak I try to always say “as scripture tells us…..” & actually point to a reference in the bible.
    to point to a reference in the Bible is much more concrete – to say “biblical” can be very subjective.

    • Good point. The inclusion of the adjective “biblical” is done to indicate to the reader that there are un-biblical alternatives and options he or she must be on guard against.

      If I say my church is biblical, what I am really doing is warning you about the un-biblical churches out there and positioning myself as the only purveyor of truth.

      I say it is never a helpful adjective. I would not use it in any church communication I was involved in unless I had to.

    • Maybe “Biblical” is more an unattainable ideal to be strived for than a goal to be met or a standard which, once achieve, can be put on autopilot.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Biblical”, “Scriptural”, “Godly” — all too often it doesn’t mean a thing. Just a word to trot out.

      (rant coming up)

      This weekend, my writing partner is shopping out our novel to agents while teaching two seminars (flashfiction and imaginative genre fiction — SF, Fantasy, Horror) at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers’ Conference. When I checked their website and schedule, the big blurbs were all “Culture War/Spiritual Warfare” about Fighting Moral Decline and Restoring a Christian America. All Culture War, All the Time.

      WIthin the past two weeks, I have read My Little Pony fanfics that have more Gospel in them than all these Culture War Christians Taking Back America. I am NOT making that up. How about a MLP/Alan Wake horror crossover fanfic that includes a Harrowing of Hell scene (descending into the Dark Place to set a captive free) and a god-figure who self-sacrifices her godhood, immortality, even her life so a beloved dead mortal can be Resurrected? Or an epic “Reluctant Antichrist” fantasy by the same author about a cult resurrecting/reincarnating the local Pony Dark Lord, except said remade Dark Lord has free will and doesn’t want to be Dark Lord — and whose final showdown/Last Temptation (just posted up) restates the Baptismal Promises I repeat every Easter — “I reject Satan. And all his works. And all his empty promises. And all the glamor of evil.” in different words? What have colorful cartoon ponies got that all these Bibllical/Godly Christian Culture warriors don’t?

  4. A few of the schools of thought I’ve witnessed:

    Some will see their church as busy, organized, attractive, and drawing massive crowds week after week. God is clearly blessing it because of its growth, and God would not bless anything that’s not “biblical.” Therefore it must be “biblical” because it’s successful. There will be critics just because haters are gonna hate.

    Others will see their church as small, holy, and set apart. It does not draw crowds because Jesus preached a divisive message and people are not willing to change. Large churches are drawing crowds because they are worldly and don’t preach The Truth. These folks see their churches as “biblical” because they’re set apart, not polluted, holy. There will be critics who are compromisers of truth.

    And for others it’s all about organization. They have or don’t have ordained pastors. They have or don’t have a council of elders. They have or don’t have females in leadership. They have or don’t have paid leadership. They have or don’t have a rotation of preachers. Yet each of the “have’s” and “don’t have’s” clearly see themselves as following the bible’s prescribed methodology for organizing the church. Oh, and they both passionately practice the doctrine of priesthood of all believers.

    After seeing much of the spectrum in practice, I’m made a preliminary conclusion that the bible speaks a little bit to organization (elders) and method (fellowship, worship, sacraments), but it speaks much, much more about how the church should live and behave, both inside and outside of church boundaries.

    • Love that last paragraph. GOD seems to have put the big push on Kingdom values and living. Not nearly so much on how it would specifically play out. Maybe similar, and let me repeat MAYBE, how HE intends marriage: your exact structure won’t be mine nor should it be.

      • Completely agree with the last paragraph, as well. Best comment of the day. If Christians were more Christ-like, the church would be a lot easier to define.

        As for my opinion, I think that this guy nailed what a Biblical church looks like in a recent blog post…:o)

        I think the link to a recent blog post pretty much nailed the answer to the question…:o)


        I’m inclined to say that the Didache, Justin Martyr,early church fathers, etc… had a great deal to do with defining what a Biblical church looks like, in addition to Paul’s letters. Too bad a large portion of Christianity ignores most of the aforementioned, outside of Paul…

    • Bam! You hit the nail on the head. Thanks!

  5. Pam Burns says

    A church meeting to me has confession and a reading of the Word, a sermon, music, Communion, prayer, and fellowship. The church itself is that group of people who care for its members–pray for them, visit them when sick or bereaved or needs help with moving or a new baby, or a loss of job, etc. We need to be that example of Christ’s arms in this world so that those who see us and know of us say–“My, how they love one another!”

  6. Tom Bader says

    A “Biblical” church means to me one in which the Bible as the inerrant word of God is preached from on each Sunday. The Bible is the human’s owners manual, service manual and spiritual manual, but it can be difficult to understand parts of it in relation to our everyday lives…that is the preacher’s responibility each week to their congregations.

    Does the Bible give us specific instructions about how a church should function? As with so much of the Bible, the answer to the word “specific” is yes AND no. some pieces are very specific, others are rather vague and open to interpretation…and that is where the variations between churches comes from. Some churches key in on one particular referance in the Bible and develope an entire religion around it (such as the snake worshipers in TN), which I feel is not correct. Others select a particlar reference in the Bible to include in their worship (such as no musical instruments in the service), which I feel is mistakenly appling a limited reference to a large product.

    In a recent issue to the Layman (a publication ot the Presbyterian Lay Committee), Carmen Fowler LaBerge, Executive Editor, wrote that she thinks christian conservatives of today do not realize how far right they really are. Her point is that by the standards of the early church, even the conservative denominations are really liberal. We have ordained female Pastors, Elders and Deacons, women and men wear jewelry to church, women wear short hair to ;church; and so many other culturaly acceptable things today which are in violation of Biblical standards. Those of us who spout the line “We need to return to the old religion” (and I am one), need to specify the year “old” means.

    • “The Bible is the human’s owners manual, service manual and spiritual manual…”

      With respect, I think this is the source of the problem. A wrench was never made to drive a nail, and no book in the Bible was written as a manual of any kind!

      You can’t “build” a church by reading the book of Acts. That would be unbiblical, by definition!

      The purpose of canonising the *Apostolic* writings was to give credence to the *Apostolic* churches, over-and-against those who set up their own churches with various doctrines. You can proof-text as much as you want… but if you can’t trace a church’s history back to one that was founded by an Apostle, it ain’t “biblical.”

      So I guess the adjective “Biblical” is only truthful when it means “Apostolic”… but that is really a more useful term now, isn’t it?

      • Glad you said it, Chris. The bible, actually a collection of writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, is NOT a manual for ANYTHING! That kind of reasoning leads to literalism which, in turn, leads to trying to understand 1900 year old Greek and Aramaic texts by imposing a 21st century matrix upon it.

        • I think your statement goes too far when you say “NOT a manual for ANYTHING.” But then I guess it depends on how you are defining “manual.”

          “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

        • Amen. I do not write “manuals” to my grandmother, nor did Tolkien write a “manual” to inspire wonder and imagination in his readers. These silly terms we impose on Scripture do much to promote the “magic book from the sky” type of view that way too many people have of the Bible.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            These silly terms we impose on Scripture do much to promote the “magic book from the sky” type of view that way too many people have of the Bible.

            Dictated word-for-word by God. Just like the Koran, except in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe.

    • ah, the “culturally acceptable” argument, a law by which we are all condemned if we are to mimic the (church?)culture of 1st century Mid-East peoples in order to be biblical.

  7. Jeff Reynolds says

    When I think of church in a biblical sense, I think of mobility. It’s not a “If we build it they will come” mentality, the kind that seems most prevalent today. The vast streams of humanity passing by in the street will never blacken the doors to the church. We have to go to them. Mobility. Isaiah 66 says that they are all blind, chained, and in prison; they can’t even see let alone come. We need to be angling from small boats in the middle of the channel, not opening the fish processing house and waiting for arrivals. Mobility. Go where the fish are, build relationships, and work it out over time, one at a time, life on life, not by mass production or mass media. Yes, as we do that we’re also using our corporate gifts and ministering to the sick and wounded among us. Sunday morning is not the work of the ministry; the focus has got to be outward and decentralized, not inward with an 11 AM “weekly program. That program is fine for refurbishing the warriors and training them, not for conducting evangelism.

  8. Brother Bartimaeus says

    A “biblical” church is somewhat clearly laid out in Acts. Sell everything and give the money to the church, where the money is used to create a commune that continually caters to caring for the poor, orphaned, and widowed. If you hold back a tittle, then a quick and gruesome death awaits.

    I just finished Dunn’s new book on the 1st Christians and they don’t even worship Jesus as they ought to according to the creeds!


    • “If you hold back a tittle, then a quick and gruesome death awaits.

      Where’s that come from? Peter said the issue was not that they with-held a portion, but that they lied about it. And not just lied to men, but to the Holy Spirit.

      Keeping a portion of the proceeds wasn’t the issue.

      • Brother Bartimaeus says

        Point taken. Please amend above, “If you hold back a tittle and lie about it, then a quick and gruesome death awaits.” ‘Cause no one today in a “biblical church” lies about their net worth as the collection plate passes.

        On a side note, of course it was the lie, otherwise it wouldn’t be a NT Adam & Eve story.


    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

      Yeah, that model didn’t last long…

  9. I cant help but notice that the verses used for reference in the quote seem to only half say what the author is saying. And what the author is using them to “back up” is not the intent of the passages in context. It’s not really a contradiction. The author is simply saying something more, or different. than the text that “supports” what he is saying.

    In your question, by “Biblical”, I assume you mean what is ideal or intended in the writings of scripture. Plenty of people have already attempted to answer that. So I will answer to the church described in scripture. And my answer is “dysfunctional”. Look at all the messes that Paul has to address. But somehow we think that there are “6 steps to the church God wants”. Of course in 2000+ years of church history, it is certainly we who can get it “right”.

  10. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    What is a “Biblical” church? I think we can all agree that we won’t find a checklist in the bible to answer this question. However, I think there are a few things that seem pretty universal based on NT teachings. Some examples:

    It obviously ought to be rooted in Christ and his teachings as received through the Apostles. In the Epistles we often see the admonition to keep on in the faith that has been “received.” This ain’t something we get to make up in a vacuum.

    While there is a sense of universal priesthood and individual responsibility, the NT teachings clearly have an authority structure in which the roles/offices of deacon, presbyter/elder and bishop/overseer are mentioned. Whether there’s a clear distinction between the elder and overseer isn’t quite as clear in the NT, but the fact of an authority system is. Authority structure implies that there is community. No men-‘n’-Jesus-doin’-our-own-thing in the NT church.

    The NT picture of the Church shows it to be both universal and local. You can’t really have one or the other on this. It has to be both.

    Matthew’s Gospel and 1 Corinthians give us a examples and methodology for exercising church discipline. This has been overlooked to serious detriment in some circles and radically abused in others to seriously detriment.
    The goal for such discipline is to protect the community and to lead the sinner to repentance and reconciliation. It’s not to give the leadership a carte blanche. I’ve seen this done well once. And it was amazing. Mostly I’ve seen it either ignored completely or used as a leader’s ego trip.

    We see discipleship and growth discussed throughout the text. Lecture-and-concert isn’t biblical church. It needs to be deeper and more transformative than that.

    We see the Lord’s Supper as important to worship. We also see instruction/teaching as an important part of worship. We also see the instruction that worship include the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

    These are the things I get off the top of my head. I’m sure there are others, but it seems to me that these things are well summed up in either the ancient marks of “One, holy, catholic, and apostolic” or the Reformation marks of “where the Word of God is rightly preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered (and sometimes included is the proper exercise of church discipline).

    It ought to be representative of the “one new man” that breaks down barriers between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, black and white, educated and ignorant, etc. It should represent the Family that includes folks from all social strata, ethnicity, cultures, etc.

    Is that a helpful adjective to use when trying to understand the ecclesial nature of our faith in Christ? Not really. I think there are too many grey areas as to specifics.

    Does the Bible give us specific instructions about how a church should look and function? In some areas. It’s good on some general principles, but less specific on some of the details, especially cultural ones.

    If so, why are there so many approaches to “doing church”? I think this is often a case of majoring on the minors. By taking one element and making a banner out of it, you break down the unity. Also, I think we’re less able to deal with variety in those grey areas. Rather than seeing them as legitimate grey areas where we can agree to disagree (the elements that are referred to in Greek as adiaphora, we want to make those secondary issues primary and force a consensus when once isn’t given in Scripture.

  11. Paul Davis says

    I’m not sure there is such a thing, as mentioned by others the Bible is not a checklist for how to run a church. Certainly you can find some of the information in there, but the Bible is not about church, it’s about Jesus and the story of his family down through the ages, starting with the sin of Adam and ending with Pentecost. There can be found in the epistles information about how the various churches struggled, but Paul makes it clear that a great deal of the information each of the churches received was by word of mouth, and not written word.

    Certainly the Apostles, and those they handed the reigns too didn’t have what we would consider a ‘Bible’ church, they just had ‘Church’. It was all pre-Bible, so to me the whole concept of a ‘Bible’ based solely on what information can be gleaned from the ‘Bible’ seems like an odd idea. There has to be more than just what we find in scripture…

    Just to be clear, I’m not advocating the Catholic position, even though I am Catholic. In my studies, as they move deeper and deeper into the history of the church before the Council of Hippo, I’m finding a world that as a Protestant I never knew existed, and it’s changing the way I think about ‘Church’ and what I read in scripture.

    Just my $.02…


    • Paul Davis says


      so to me the whole concept of a ‘Bible CHURCH’ based solely…

      And this time I was on a computer and not my iPad, I’ve determine the operator is defective 😉

  12. Randy Thompson says

    I think the Bible is very clear about loving God, loving each other, and loving your neighbor enough so that your neighbor meets Jesus in you. It’s also clear that there is authority in the church, and that this authority is rooted in serving others (which is an aspect of loving each other). It’s also clear about initiation into church through baptism, and remaining intimately united with Christ through Communion/Lord’s Supper/Eucharist. Finally, the Bible seems clear about the Church being Christ’s presence on earth, calling people into His Father’s Kingdom.

    Everything else is details, and usually as much about personal preferences and proof-texts as it is about the Bible.

    • I like your answer, Randy. There are times I just don’t want to think about any of this and just want to say, “Just treat people the way you want to be treated. And pray.” But I know that is too glib an answer and even doing those two things is very difficult. It’s the part of how we gather as a people and how we worship that gets people all worked up.

  13. Biblical like Corinth, Galatia, Philipi, or Laodicia? If so, if your church is fubar-ed, then it is “biblical”.

    • Paul Timo says

      Wow – good point!

      Many (most?) of the new testament books outside of the Gospels and Acts are addressing problems at local churches. They give a glimpse into how the larger church was organized and how local churches functioned. They really don’t provide an explicit point by point guideline for “how to do church”.

  14. David Cornwell says

    Earlier today I thought I knew how to come to a conclusion. The way I was going to arrive at this: A list of things that the church IS NOT, followed by a list of things that the church IS, or should be. The problem arrived when I was writing and the list of negatives got longer and longer, and they were all arrived at by observing the present day “church.” My list of what the Church should be would be noticeably shorter and of a positive nature. There are clear examples of both in today’s world.

    I’m not sure the type of organizational structure is spelled out that clearly in scripture. I am aware of wonderful churches with different types of structures especially locally. I’m not aware of any general denominational structure that doesn’t have clear weaknesses as well as strength.

  15. Dear all,

    Sheesh! Mike, one could write a dissertation on this subject. To put it simply, “biblical” would mean being shaped and molded by Christ and having the bible as an authoritative guide. Emil Brunner’s book “The Misunderstanding of the Church” had a big impact on me. Also, Frank Viola’s books have influenced me considerably. To make it short, “biblical” is seeing the trajectory of God’s eternal plan through Christ which means faith is deeply personal and communal. I’d love to cite examples but our present instutionalized churches are, more often than not, negative expressions of what the church could be.



  16. There isn’t any such thing as a “biblical” church. There is no NT parallel to Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Though it is clear that Jewish temple and synagogue practices were adapted to Christian worship and the OT temple practices were themselves interpreted in light of Christ (Hebrews). And that’s not surprising, really, The letters were largely written to address problems and we get some insight into worship in the negative sense if a letter was addressing a particular problem. But by large, none of the NT writings document the normative practice which had already been traditioned or handed over orally in the absence of such problems. Those looking for a blueprint to Christian worship in the NT are basically wasting their time, IMO.

  17. Elizabeth says

    Ok, I’ll take a stab at it…..

    Church should be the organizational framework that comes out of the desire of a group to follow Christ. To enourage oneanother, help oneanother grow spiritually and hold each other accountable towards that one, all consuming goal.

  18. Pardon me if my Catholic is showing, but to ME, “biblical” means literal interpretation of all scripture as inerrant and absolute literal truth….as interpreted by….any given self-ordained pastor. It is 6000 year old earth-seven day creation-looking for the original Arc folks.

    Which strikes me as pretty silly…..and involves hiding under a rock.

    Perhaps not the best analogy, but to me it is like asking a master chef to recall his decades old best recipes, and writing them down entwined with his autobiography and memoires. And THEN going back to the book and saying, “No, you can’t add the rosemary until after after you stroll the down Fifth Avenue and chat with Richard Nixon at the little cafe!” The rosemary is obligatory to the recipe, the rest is a story.

  19. This quote sounds like it came from a “biblicist” (i.e. someone who supports ‘biblicism” as Christian Smith defined it).

  20. Yes, the Biblical Church.
    – there can be no musical instruments but lyres & harps
    -Men only (too much danger a woman might speak and cause confusion)
    -if there must be a woman there she is to wear a covering, no ear-rings & long dresses (see Islam)
    -Polygamy is biblical (see mormons)
    -we should also pray for the death of our enemies & their children (very biblical)
    -Slavery is NOT a deal breaker

    if I find a “Biblical Church” I think I will run & call the cops 😉

    • I came across a book one time written by a Baptist pastor who was denouncing alcohol usage by Christians. In particular he was denouncing those churches that used real wine in their Communion services. He told the readers of this book that he had the Scriptural right to pray for their death, if they were involved in one of these churches that used real wine during Communion.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        How does that differ from putting a death hex on someone?

        Like what Witches were always accused of doing?

  21. I would like to add what the Lutheran Confessions suggest about all this just as a different point of view is all.

    In the apology (latin for defense as in the word apologetics) of the Augburg Confession, the Lutherans suggest the following understanding of the Apostles creed:

    they say that the holy Catholic Church is a government exactly like any other government such as civil government or the government we call family. That means that God rules in the Church in the same way he exerts his rule over civil government and the family. he governs in with and under lots of seemingly man made rules . The entrance into this church is the Law of Christ that requires everyone to be baptised. So to find out if someone is a citizen of this government is to ask someone if they have been baptized.

    And the pastors rule over their churches and maybe bishops rule over pastors. and we are to obey them because they do not bear the sword in vain. This is why st paul could order his members to follow jewish dietary laws and be circumcized. and have women wear their hair long and men not cut their hair and so on… and then later on, under different circumstances, he changed the rules. he said that people who ordered circumcision and jewish dietary laws deserve to be castrated! and it is why we should read st pauls rules and those in Acts as description rather than prescription. the rules of government that fit societal norms and society in ad 30 would simply not be useful today.

    Then where is the heavenly kingdom of God? the communion of saints is in with and under that holy catholic church. it consists of a) those who followed the external command to be baptized and b) do not trust in that or any other outward act, but instead trust in the Promise and that God has located that Promise in Baptism. The communion of saints then is the total of all who have totally invisible faith in Christ. and they will all be found in that outward Holy Catholic Church that is just like any other earthly government and includes true believers and hipocrites.

    So there are rules. Some are divinely commanded external rites. the prayers, the supper, baptism , the forgiveness of sins. and these will drive other non commanded external rites. But these rites will look the same because the saints love each other. not because there is any hard and fast rule demanding certain orders. and that rites and ceremonies and rules are good and salutary is so because sinful men need this order imposed upon them. especially the religious ones.

  22. it is an unsettling idea really to use the term “Biblical Church” with its loaded implications & uber-correctness.

    but if we begin with our own spiritual journey, we are better equipped to deal with churchness & how that should look…

    i started out as an individual believer+disciple. no group dynamic at play during my encounter with Jesus. He simply made the invitation to follow. now it is true that He introduced me to others in the divine family. and yes, i did involve myself in faith expressions+gatherings of other saints in what has been identified as church, or worship, or communal gathering. since Jesus is our Example, sacrificial love should be central to our interactions with those of the faith community we choose to be a part of. we are admonished repeatedly in the epistles to be radically loving, patient, accepting, sensitive to, encouraging, assisting in practical ways, etc. the underlying theme & obvious outward sign to the world should be this otherworldly love for each other. such a dynamic should be the sweet fragrance others are attracted to, or at least acknowledged as being peculiar…

    love, grace, care, family unity, devoted service all part of the church identity. sound teaching? tradition(s) practiced & respected? order+structure? elders & other gifted individuals to oversee the church’s practical functions? a place to meet? ordinances+sacraments? can these be included without distracting or getting in the way of our identity? can there be anything about being ‘church’ that is neutral & not God-centered, Jesus honoring, Holy Spirit enlivened? of & in the world to be salt & light, but not of the world or its systems? a true kingom representation set apart?

    if we are talking theory, then i must say the nth degree of sincere love Jesus wants to be hallmark of His Church consisting of His followers, the greatest challenge facing it…

    “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”

  23. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    I’m currently reading Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Evangelism in which he makes the case, based on what we see in the first three or so centuries of Christianity, that discipleship, spiritual formation, and evangelism are to be much more holistic than we’ve seen over the past 1700 or so years. He also makes the case that such things MUST happen within the church otherwise we’re not being true to the biblical and early church picture. Despite a lot of the pathology we see in the modern Western church, I think Webber is completely right. And I think that means that the church is bound to be somewhat institutional (which doesn’t necessarily count out authenticity, intimacy, love, etc). I don’t think a weak ecclesiology in which the individual’s spirituality is the most important element matches with what the Apostles taught. Such a weak ecclesiology would certainly be completely alien to the concept of the Kingdom (and its intentional allusions to Israel’s sense of identity, election, etc) that we see in the Gospels. Don’t get me wrong, I like the call in some of the fuzzy-ecclesiastic circles (e.g. the emergent crew) for a bid to reclaim the simplicity, sense of community, authenticity, etc. that seems to be lost in a more institutional church setting. But I think that’s gotta come from a stronger understanding of what the Church (both local and universal) ought to be than from a weakening of it.

    I seem to recall St. Cyprian saying something about that…

  24. Pastor Jeremiah says

    Hi there – long time reader, first time responder! I find it generally good practice to never join in on conversations on the internet – they never seem to go well – but sometimes my fingertips get the better of me.
    I am somewhat dismayed at the inability of people to respond to what was asked in the main article. Everyone has been arguing about a word and in doing so I feel we have lost a great discussion (welcome to dialogue on zee interwebz).
    I would agree with the initial quote: God has spoken clearly in the Scripture about the Church’s purpose, leadership, organization and methods.
    So then on to the questions!
    ? What is a “Biblical” church?
    Any church that seeks to know God as revealed in Jesus Christ and experienced by the Holy Spirit …and then become Him to a world that does not know Him.
    ? Is that a helpful adjective to use when trying to understand the ecclesial nature of our faith in Christ?
    As revealed in the other comments here – that is possibly one of the least helpful adjectives we could use… It is a term that is so meaningful to any given person that it almost has no general definition that we could agree upon. Whether that brings good or bad feelings or indifference we all have a fairly deep response as to why we feel that way about that word. Do I know of better adjectives to use? I would prefer to have someone say my church is Christ-like – it’s Him we’re called to reflect not the “Bible”.
    ? Does the Bible give us specific instructions about how a church should look and function?
    Yes, but they’re also general enough to keep this dysfunctional family of faith very interesting. As noted in the quote above and stated clearly in Scripture we (the Church) are to have a structure and exhibit behavior (in the corporate sense of those terms) that reflects God to this world. It’s that simple and clear… the fun comes with the next question.
    ? If so, why are there so many approaches to “doing church”?
    Because there are as many ways to reveal God to this world as there are ways that He reveals Himself to us. Because there are also as many ways for us to reveal Him to those who need to experience Him as there needs to be met, wrongs to be righted, wounds to be healed, and lives to be transformed. The beauty of being “in Christ” is that we are opened up to the creative diversity of the Father, who created this world and everything in it so that throughout all of history no thing, no person, no creature has ever been repeated, but they all have been connected, to each other, their forbears and their surroundings. Churches are and should be as diverse as the nature and imagination of the person whose name we bear and whose image we reflect.

    • I appreciate your reply, but doesn’t your “there are as many ways to reveal God to this world as there are ways that He reveals Himself to us” work against the claim the quote is making?

      It seems to say that God has “deliberately structured” the church and revealed that structure to us in the Bible, including its leadership, organization, and methods.

      That doesn’t sound to me like we have a lot of room for creativity!

      • Pastor Jeremiah says

        I don’t quite take it that way. Look at creation. God deliberately created a variety of species of plants and animals and as time has moved on they interact with each other and their environments and change happens, new species are born (I am speaking in a micro evolutionary sense not Darwinian so please fear not if that is a particularly sacred cow of yours o reader!) Look at the endless diversity that God creates with only a handful of elements. He is limited in the chemicals found on earth and how they interact but what they produce is nuanced and varied and different… (forgive me for my less than stellar scientific descriptions)…
        Maybe it’s better to use a Pauline analogy with the body. We all share a basic design and in that design we are created “Imago Deo” but as you look around that image is varied, how bodies are shaped or operate are all different. Did all of the biblical authors write about the same God? Yes. Did they all have the same understanding of God? Human experience says no. They could not have possibly all had the same mental picture or understanding of God but they all knew Him and they all in their own unique way revealed Him to the world at large.
        I think there is a deliberate structure. The body must have a head. But how that head looks and operates is, I think, special to each church. My head operates in it’s essentials the same as my wife’s and the same as yours, but how we produce thoughts, how my mind understands and organizes and such is (at times) shockingly different from my wife’s. So it will be with churches. We all have a head in Christ, His headship is reflected in an earthly headship of pastors/bishops/elders/deacons/etc. But how that earthly head operates and is structured to produce is different depending on the leaders, the congregation and so much more. We have room to be creative to work to our strengths, compensate for our weaknesses and to best reflect the capabilities and structures of our bodies.
        The Bible is clear about our organization we are to organize around our heads as the body is organized “around” it’s head. We, as heads and as “members” need to recognize those who around us in our local churches and operate as productively as possible – be creative with what you have to work with.
        The Bible is clear as to methods: they must be God fearing, Christ honoring and Spirit led. Notice how much time is spent in the NT making clear statements about what are unacceptable methods/behaviors/practices for a church but how little time is spent telling us exactly what are the acceptable ones… because we are free to be creative in God fearing, Christ honoring and Spirit led.
        I think we lose when we limit ourselves to a human understanding of structure, organization and methods and lose sight of a limitless God at work in that structure, organization and methods. To me saying that there’s no room for creativity is almost like saying Christ lacked creativity because He only did and said what He saw and heard the Father doing… Truthfully He was deeply limited in what He said and did but the expression of those acts and words was limitless because they imitated a Father that has no limits within the structures and designs He created and set in place.

        • Pastor Jeremiah says

          I’m looking at my two ‘Wall of Text’ posts and thinking I need to go to sleep and see if I’m less wordy in the morning!

  25. I will add just one point. There is often a tremendous chasm between being “Biblical” on paper and in practical reality. I left a church where the pastor was often proclaiming that he was “anal” about being Biblical. He set up elder boards, deacon board and etc. However, in reality, it was an extreme dictatorship in the order of what Howard Snyder called the Superman pastor. If anyone opposed him they would be “off with their heads.” So, most would say it was a very Biblical church (in form) but in my opinion was the antithesis to a Biblical church in practice.

  26. I cheated. When I got home, I googled the quote. I’m not familiar with his writings. Based on the quote, I assumed reformed and/or Baptist background.

    I actually think there is a lot of truth in the quote: the church is an earthly reflection of the eternal fellowship of the Trinity. Jesus put it this way: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). Oneness is probably the most alien attribute of God for sinful humanity to comprehend. We call authoriarianism or tolerance oneness; but these human examples have nothing in common with the oneness of God.

  27. Harvey Cooper says

    What is “9Marks”?

    • An organization of like-minded churches based out of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., pastored by Mark Dever. The churches involved in this organization are usually Baptist and Calvinist in their practice and theology.

  28. Charles Joshua Lake says

    Since this is an open forum and not a paper I have to submit, there are certain considerations I wish to throw in, in light of the insightful inputs shared by all so far.

    1) Efforts to construct a “Biblical Church” in one’s mind tends to run into 2 paths. a) A doctrinally faithful organization of God-worshipping individuals working towards realizing the great work of God on earth as it is in heaven, based on its rigorous interpretative methods. b) The other is a strict literal slavish following of all the details mentioned. Where no details are furnished, apply the “higher level rules”. The problem with a) is that it is ultimately based on a set of interpretations at various levels of resistance against time and culture. The power of truth shifts from to and fro from the clergy to laity over time (from verbal transmission to scribing to printing to the internets). Worst case scenario: whoever holding the power may not be holding it for the right reasons, what is the Bible but a convenient emblem of power over a group of people. b) leads to funny and weird cults. Or National Socialism of Religion.

    2) Not to belabour the point already made… “My” Church will always be more biblical than “Your” Church. If not, I must really hate someone in “Your” Church, or there must be some other socio-economic reasons.

    3) The horror if there is a mega organization called The Church (nothing to do with The Church known as the Bride of Christ) run by a select group of really really powerful pastors and churchmen (Think RC Church x 100) over the whole world, in the event that the internets unite the whole world due to a massively successful evangelicism campaign and the world finally woke up to the gospel. Tower of Babel Mk II will be completed and be ready for destruction.

    4) Any sermon can be twisted in one way or other to be marketed as being somewhatbiblical (I have heard of sermons quoting select verses from the gospels/proverbs to support the message of how to save on your shopping to give to the church). Not all sermons can be twisted to be delivered as being gospel/cross/Christ centered.

  29. This may want for explanation but it does seem that the scripture gives light on the church…both local and universal. It is a mystery……it purpose is eternal….it’s leadership is not official…it organization is spiritual….and it s methods are not what you would naturally think. That doesn’t mean you can’t see it…..but it is in a form that the natural mind doesn’t recognize.

  30. Well, experience colors our opinions: my opinion is going to be colored by the fact that I’m coming off of a 5 year stint at a church that ceased to preach anything that resembled the Gospel, or show any explicit interest in Jesus whatsoever. I really don’t know where I (or the Bible) stands on issues like organization or government, or the specifics of how services are conducted. But I think what’s clearest about the church from the NT the is the presence of Jesus- his disciples abiding in him, in his word, and expressing love for him. There are of course some other non-negotiables, like the fact that we are to love one another, and I think the sacraments should be present(although the specifics might be up for grabs), and certainly the Bible ought to be read.

    The idea that “God has spoken clearly in the Bible about the purpose, leadership, organization, and methods of the local church” sounds like “Bible as handbook for life” type thinking, and is the kind of “wisdom” that usually seems to lead Christians into lengthy discussions about things other than Jesus Christ, and therefore I’m skeptical. With that said, the rest of the quote after this line sounds good to me. So I don’t know exactly what the author’s intentions are. If God’s purpose for the church is to glorify him, I’m right on board. If it’s to glorify him by having a tithe-supported machine with a pastor-centric cult of personality(cause that’s what the culture wants, you know) then you can count me out.

  31. Eric Morst says

    So I have been to several different fellowships of varying structures. All claim to be Biblical and support the idea that places with a different structure are somehow inherently wrong. One example rests here: A fellowship has an Apostolic Doctrine and claims in the name it carries that they do it the way the Bible says and all others are okay at best. Another claims no denomination and that all others that do so are divisive by nature and therefore unbiblical. These turf wars are usually caused by small rudiments and not severe doctrinal divisions. One example I have is the deconate. In the Bible deacons were men almost by default. The way in which the community that the Church existed found men to be in a position of authority and women to be subservient. In modern times women have authoritative positions and in many Protestant and some Catholic fellowships have leadership positions in the fellowship. Many arguments and claims for doing it the Biblical way have been leveled across the discussion table about this issue. Then there is the issue of whether or not a person can drink beer, wine, and liquor. Or can a person participate in secular activities. My opinion is that the Bible IS clear about:
    God gave us the rules, regulations, and liberties that we need to fellowship properly. There are going to be style differences because we are individual and God can and does speak to us and sometimes tells us to do things differently than He told others.

  32. Christiane says

    that’s what Saul persecuted, and then he heard the Voice of Our Lord

    ‘why persecutest thou Me’?

    we get lost when we take our eyes off of Christ

  33. A little late to the discussion, but here’s my 2d worth.

    •What is a “Biblical” church?

    A merry band of misfits and renegades who have banded together to live out the claims of the Gospel of Christ within their cultural context.

    •Is that a helpful adjective to use when trying to understand the ecclesial nature of our faith in Christ?

    Probably not because of so many conflicting claims. However, the Bible, especially the NT, certainly does inform our understanding.

    •Does the Bible give us specific instructions about how a church should look and function?

    Some, but many of the NT instructions are time and group specific. There also appears to be a high degree of structural differences between ekklesia addressed in the epistles. Except for the Pastorals, Paul doesn’t make much (if anything) of positional leadership in the congregations, but rather makes what we tend to think of pastoral functions the responsibility of the entire congregation (I think the rigid leadership structures Paul called for Timothy to institute were the remedy for an ekklesia gone bad from proliferation of false teaching—a remedial situation which was not Paul’s “norm”.)

    If we’re looking for “specific instruction about how a church should look and function” then I think the letter to the Ephesians can be looked to for an answer: We’re to look “like Christ” and to reveal through action and word the wisdom of God to the world.

    •If so, why are there so many approaches to “doing church”?

    Culture, time, and local context will dictate differences of approaches, yet in all times and places the Body of Christ will live and love in such a way that will reveal the reality of the Living Jesus Christ, testify to the promise and hope of the resurrection, and will be a direct affront to the zeitgeist of the age.


Speak Your Mind