Our Christian identity is caught up in the question: “What is the church?” Over a series of weeks will we be examining this question.
The series begins with setting the foundation from which God’s people (‘the church’) will be formed: God’s perfection (aka God’s holiness). As the series progresses incredible statements are made about God’s people, the purpose of this week then is to ground the entire series in God’s perfection and to being to open up the identity of God’s people though 2 Corinthians 5:17-19.
In weeks two and three we will explore the four characteristics which the church is given in the Nicene Creed: Holy, One, catholic; and Apostolic. We will be exploring the biblical justification for these characteristics along with what they actually mean.
Up to this point in the series ‘the church’ has been spoken of in general terms and it’s definition has been a little vague (though it’s clearly not a building, nor institution). Actually defining ‘the church’ from scripture is not as straightforward as may be thought. While a simple word study in the scriptures reveals that the critical word in the New Testament is ekklesia—to denoting ‘God’s group’ of people. However one single word is not sufficient to encapsulate ‘God’s people’. The breath and diversity in which the church is described in the New Testament is shown in work by Paul Minear, who has shown that there are more than 80 images in the NT that he believes “refer, in one way or another to the church.” (Minear, Images of the church in the New Testament, Louiseville: John Knox Press, p.28.) We will then explore what are arguably the three key scriptual indices for the church in the next part of the series:
- ekklesia—God’s people assembled/gathered.
- Body of Christ.
- Koinonia—God’s people in fellowship/participation/sharing.
For the next three weeks, three critical aspects of our identity as the church will be examined as we consider our life together and our interaction in the community. Firstly we will see perhaps one of the most lofty descriptions of the church, that though it ‘the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…’ (Eph 3:10-11). Secondly we will see our roles as servants. Next we will consider what orientation we have towards the use of the abundant gifting that God has showered on his people.
In the final week we will look at the two Sacraments ordained by Christ (The Lord’s Supper and Baptism) and the important role that these play in the life of the church.