The true “church” refers to the regular and intentional meeting of believers to worship God, to study His Word, and to serve one another as part of the body of Christ under a Biblical leadership structure. Let’s unpack those pieces one at a time.
Basic distinctions of a true church:
#1 A true church is regular and intentional
One of the most basic distinctions of a true church is that it meets intentionally and often. Hebrews 10:25 infers that a church does not neglect meeting together, but meets on a regular basis.
A true church outpost also has a basic means of bringing people into the assembly and sustaining their participation within the community. At the very least, this admission process includes these two ordinances: baptism and the Lord ’s Supper. Here’s why those two things are an important part of a biblical community:
- Baptism serves as a way for people to declare that they are no longer a member of the world, but a servant and a family member in the household of the Lord.
- The Lord’s Supper is an ongoing symbol that connects the believer to the finished work of Christ on the cross.
When the church frequently meets together, the main event is the teaching of the Word.
#2 A true church teaches the Word
Paul gave instruction about leading a church to his young apprentice Timothy in 2 Timothy 4. He said, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
The central activity of the church is the teaching and preaching of God’s Word. Luther defined the church as: “the congregation of the saints in which the gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments (or ordinances) rightly administered”
In the same way, John Calvin said, “Wherever the Word of God is purely preached and heard and the sacraments (or ordinances) administered according to God’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”
Both Luther and Calvin agree that at the most basic level, a church is defined by the presence of preaching, communion, and baptism. The purpose of biblical teaching is to help God’s people serve, build up, and edify other believers as well as reach out to the unsaved.
#3 A true church is marked by servanthood
The church has an obligation to build up and nurture those who are believers. Paul made it clear that the goal of the church is not to just make converts, but to bring people to maturity. Colossians 1:28 says, “28 Him [JESUS] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
Paul told the church in Ephesus that the church had gifted people in it in order to “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12-13)
There is a clear pattern in the New Testament that members of a growing and thriving church serve one another, working together to help the whole body mature in Christ. There is intentionality in the community of disciples.
It would be difficult for a group to be intentional without a form of Biblical leadership. Lastly, a true outpost of the church has a Biblical leadership structure.
#4 A true church is led by qualified leaders.
It is apparent that God believes the issue of church leadership is of the utmost importance because it is addressed four times in the New Testament. Each time, the scriptures go into the matter of leadership in great detail.
To put it in perspective, there is more written in the Bible about church leadership than there is about church government or how to run a worship service.
Nothing influences the church more than its leaders. Church elders and pastors have the task of protecting the doctrine of the church, overseeing church ministries, and managing the care of the body. When Canyon began to plant churches, we tried to learn from the principles in Titus 1:5, where Paul outlines Titus’ task: “5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”
- Apparently, people in Crete were becoming Christians, but they needed leadership in order to establish a true church outpost. Paul sent Titus, an elder-qualified man, to Crete to find and train other elder-qualified men for the purpose of leading the local church.
- In Cottonwood, Canyon Verde began with a handful of believers, but they also needed leadership in order to establish a true church outpost. Canyon Prescott Valley sent me and my family to Cottonwood. As an elder-qualified man, my task was to establish a new church and find local elder-qualified men to help lead it.
Church leaders sacrifice and serve God’s people because the local church is a spiritual family. These men are dedicated to the care of God’s people. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, that a church overseer must be able to manage his own family well because “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”