Theology 101 Notes: Doctrine of the Church
These are notes from week 6 of our Theology 101 group, Doctrine of the Church.
Doctrine of the Church
The Church and Its Mission
The Church is the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-27) and has a three-fold purpose: To evangelize the world (Acts 1:8 & Mark 16:15-16), to worship God (I Cor. 12:13), and to equip for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16 & I Cor. 12:28, 14:12).
The Ordinances of the Church
Baptism in Water
The Scripture teaches that all who repent and believe in Christ are to be baptized by immersion (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a public profession of faith in Christ. It is symbolic of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It is a declaration to the world that we have died to sin and have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
The Lord's table consists of two elements: the bread and cup. Those elements are symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. Communion is a memorial of Christ's sufferings on the cross and a celebration of our salvation. It is an opportunity for a believer to examine himself and experience forgiveness.
- From National Community Church Statement of Beliefs
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:18-19
Ecclesiology: the study of the biblical teachings concerning the church and its practices (Horton, Systematic Theology)
Church: the community of all true believers for all time (Grudem, Bible Doctrine)
Church: a people standing in covenant, who are a sign of the divine reign and constitute a special community. (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
Ekklesia is the Greek word that is used to refer to the church in Biblical writings. It was a commonly used word in first-century Rome, and it connoted an “assembly.” In Theology for the Community of God, Grenz wrote, “The choice of ekklesia as the designation of the Christian community suggests that the New Testament believers viewed the church as neither an edifice nor an organization. They were a people—a people brought together by the Holy Spirit—a people bound to each other through Christ—hence, a people standing in covenant with God. Above all, they were God’s people.”
Identity of the Church
The New Testament gives us several pictures of how Jesus intended the church to look. There are several relational metaphors, including a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 4:15), the family of God (1 Timothy 3:15, Ephesians 2:19, John 1:12, Galatians 4:6-7), the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:22-32, Revelation 21:9), and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9, Hebrew 10:19-21). The New Testament also uses agricultural pictures such as branches on a vine (John 15:5), and olive tree (Romans 11:17-24), and a field of crops (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
“Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Mystical Church: the one body composed of all believers of all ages (Hebrews 12:22-23. (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God) This has also been called the “invisible church.” It transcends time and spatial boundaries.
Universal Church: the body of Christ followers on earth at any given time. It transcends spatial boundaries.
Local Church: the visible fellowship of believers, gathered in a specific location. It is the most concrete expression of the “church” and has been referred to as the “visible church.”
Mission of the Church
The mission of the church can be separated into 3 large categories- our outward mission of evangelism and service, our upward mission of worship, and our inward mission of discipleship.
- Evangelism: proclamation of the Gospel to unbelievers. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine)
- Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
- Mark 16:15-16, “And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
- Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Evangelism is more than just speaking the Gospel; it is also demonstrating the love and mercy of God through action (Acts 11:29, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 1 John 3:17)
- Worship: the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his “worthiness” becomes the norm and inspiration of human living. (Ralph Martin, The Worship of God, see Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
- Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
- Discipleship: becoming a complete and competent follower of Jesus Christ. It is about the intentional training of people who voluntarily submit to the lordship of Christ and who want to become imitators of Him in every thought, word, and deed. It is about being and reproducing spiritually mature zealots for Christ. (Barna, Growing True Disciples)
- Ephesians 4:12-13, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
- Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”
- Galatians 6:2, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Ordinances of the Church
The acts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist, etc) are symbolic acts through which we celebrate God’s salvation, declare our allegiance to Christ, and affirm our presence in his church.” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
Sacrament vs. Ordinance
Those who hold to the sacramental view of baptism and communion believe that these practices are gifts of God to his church by which he conveys grace and blessing. Those who view the practices and ordinances view them as practices that were ordained by Christ and the church practices in obedience to him. In the sacramental view, baptism and communion are vehicles of grace. In the ordinance view, baptism and communion are symbolic of the grace we have already receives.
In Theology For the Community of God, Grenz argues for a balanced approach: “We continue to observe these acts because Christ ordained their use. Our Lord gave us the ordinances for a purpose, namely, to be the means to express our loyalty to him in a vivid, symbolic manner. Because they are oaths of loyalty—beautifully symbolic vehicles for confessing our faith in Christ—they are closely bound up with the reality they symbolize and are channels of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. And they are sermonic pictures that graphically depict the truth we verbally declare in the gospel message.”
We must consider two primary questions:
- What is the appropriate mode of baptism?
- Who should be baptized?
Baptism has taken three primary forms: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. At National Community Church, we embrace baptism by immersion.
- The terms “baptism” and comes from the Greek word “baptizo,” a non-religious term meaning to dip, dunk, immerse. The word was originally used to describe sunken ships, a person who had drowned, a person deep in debt, a dyed cloth, swimming, etc. Until New Testament times, it was used to describe dipping or dunking a substance in a liquid.
- Full immersion paints the most vivid picture of what baptism is—the identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection
- Romans 6:4, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
- Colossians 2:12, “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
- Full immersion seems to be the practice of the early church, as reflected in certain Biblical passages:
- Mark 1:5, “and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River”
- Mark 1:10, “Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;”
- John 3:23, “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.”
“Historically, baptism has not been understood to be an optional practice. It is commanded by God. But there has often been disagreement about whom baptism is for, how it should be done, and why it is significant.” (Across the Spectrum)
- Infant Baptism- Infant baptism is practiced by many denominations, but they vary quite significantly in their understanding of its meaning and purpose. For instance, Roman Catholics baptize infants in order to remove original sin. Eastern Orthodox traditions baptize infants as a rite of joining them to the Church. Protestant paedobaptists embrace the covenant view of baptism. Protestant paedobaptism is argued on the basis of three things: 1) baptism is an initiation of children into the covenant of God, 2) the book of Acts records household baptisms, and 3) baptism is the New Testament form of circumcision.
- Believers’ Baptism- proponents of this view believe that baptism was intended to be a part of the disciple-making process after an individual crossed the line of faith. Scripture passages to support this view include Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12, Acts 10:44-46, Galatians 3:27. These passages all assume that the baptism candidate has already made a personal decision to follow Christ.
Likewise, National Community Church embraces believer’s baptism by immersion.
To read more on this topic, see Across the Spectrum, Chapter 14, The Baptism Debate.
While baptism is experienced once as a public expression of faith and identification with the church, communion is a regular, ongoing experience that Christians celebrate to signify their continued fellowship with Christ and his followers.
It is a repeated affirmation of what we initially declared in baptism—namely, our new identity in Christ. (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
Communion was instituted by Jesus on the night before he went to the cross. (Matthew 26:26-29). Paul teaches about it in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.
The Purpose of the Lord’ Supper
- It functions as a memorial meal- “do this in remembrance of me.” In celebration of it, we symbolically enter into the story of our Lord.
- It is a proclamation of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 11:26)
- We participate in the benefits of Christ’s death (Matthew 26:26)
- It spiritually nourishes us (John 6:53-57)
- It brings the followers of Christ into unity around the table (1 Corinthians 10:17)
The Presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper
- Roman Catholic- transubstantiation
- Luther- consubstantiation
- Zwingli- memorial
- Reformed- spiritual presence
In Theology for the Community of God, Grenz argues, “The Lord’s Supper is not a means of grace that works apart from faith (ex opere operato). Instead, it is a symbol of spiritual truth and a reaffirmation of his loyalty to Christ. Only believers can testify to the gospel reality depicted by this act. Likewise, only those who are in fellowship with God are able to reaffirm personal loyalty to Christ by this act. For these reasons only Christians ought to partake of the elements (1 Corinthians 11:27).”
To read more on this topic, see Across the Spectrum, Chapter 13, The Lord’s Supper Debate.
At National Community Church, we engage in communion regularly to remember the sacrifice of Christ and to live in the fullness of the new life he has given us. The table is open to all who profess their faith in Christ.