When Is A Church A Church? -- By: Dean Ernest Pickering

Journal: Central Bible Quarterly
Volume: CENQ 05:4 (Winter 1962)
Article: When Is A Church A Church?
Author: Dean Ernest Pickering


When Is A Church A Church?

Dean Ernest Pickering

Central Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary

“There are so many different churches. Which church is right? “Who has not encountered this complaint from those who, having surveyed the contemporary religious scene, are hopelessly confused by the maze of religious institutions bearing the name of “church.” The modern ecumenical emphasis has created an atmosphere quite hostile to any dogmatic, specific definition of a church, and interdenominational evangelical thought, with its primary emphasis upon the “invisible church,” has little time for careful and exacting definitions as to the nature of a true church. In the thoughts of many believers the exact organization and polity of a church is relatively unimportant, providing the church is “fundamental,” that is, expounds the great truths of salvation in Christ without tinge of liberalism. “Are we not all one in Christ?” it is asked. “Why spoil our fellowship and cause unnecessary bickering by insisting upon one type of a church as more Scriptural than another.”

Let it be emphasized from the beginning that all believers are one in Christ. This does not mean, however, that all believers are obedient to Christ, are living according to the teachings of Scripture, or are members of a New Testament church. Nor does the doctrine of the oneness of believers automatically discredit or minimize the importance of proper church organization and practice. The Bible teaches the union of all believers in Christ, their living Head. It also teaches the nature and operation of a local church. The two truths are not contradictory nor does one exclude the other.

What is a true church? What are its characteristics, doctrines, and practices? This is a question of major

importance since the word ecclesia, “church, “is used approximately 116 times in the New Testament and the vast majority of these references are to the local congregation. It is inconceivable that Christ would have left the task of world evangelization to local assemblies of believers without ever defining the nature, powers, and responsibilities of these assemblies. Since the New Testament speaks so often of it, a picture of a gospel church can certainly be gleaned from a study of its pages. When is a “church, “(so-called by man) really a church (as viewed by God)?

I. A Body Of Believers

Attentive study of the New Testament reveals that a local church is clearly a body of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. A church is not simply a refuge for those who are religious, those who want to “help others, “or those who desire to help themselves. It ...

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