The church’s approval rating these days is slightly above that of the U.S. Congress—not exactly encouraging news for the faithful. In some ways, the church’s low approval rating is well deserved. Believers can blow it with the best of them. Still, the church marches onward. Rumors of her death have been greatly exaggerated.
But cultural prognosticators are telling us that something new is afoot. A revolution is coming (and is now here) in which Christians will abandon the institutional church in favor of simpler expressions of the faith that are supposedly purer and more biblical. Church is out, and fellowship is in. Religion is out, and spirituality is in. Organizations are out, and organisms are in. We’re told that:
- Believers will meet in Starbucks in twos and threes and simply be the church.
- Christians will meet on park benches or around the backyard swimming pool.
- A handful of Christ-followers will gather on the back porch, singing and swinging.
This is “God Decentralized,” according to the New York Times Magazine, and it meets with the approval of many who call themselves Christians in these postmodern times. Such an approach, we are told, is a better version of the church—a purer, more biblical expression of Christianity.
In other words, they believe the word “church” is simply plural for Christian. So if three Christians meet in the produce section of the local grocery store, and they talk for ten minutes about what God is doing in their lives, they just had “church.” But is that true? Does that accord with what Jesus taught about the church? Does it accord with what the rest of the New Testament says?
In this series we take a look at what the Bible says about the church. Part 1 focuses on Jesus’ two uses of the word in the Gospel of Matthew. The first speaks of the Church Universal, and the second speaks of the Church Local. What do these terms mean, and how do they relate?
Our goal in this series is to answer the question, “What is the church, and why are we here?” Another goal is to train ourselves to see the church as Jesus sees it—as uniquely precious, supremely valuable, and infinitely glorious—despite its many flaws.
In Part 1 we discover that at its most basic level the church of Jesus Christ is a community of believers rescued from sin and released for service. It’s God’s New Society. And it’s still very much alive all over the world.