But as we’ve dug deeply into soteriology, we’ve found ourselves bumping into another subject: ecclesiology, that is, the theology of the church — worship, organization, that sort of thing.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, one of best ways to discover God’s ecclesiology is through soteriology; that is, the church is a product of God’s initiative to save people. The church is deeply rooted in our salvation. We’re saved into the church, in fact, and so the two doctrines should fit together hand in glove. Foot in sock. And our soteriology should shape our churches.
Of course, historically, in the Churches of Christ, we’ve divorced the two doctrines. There are Five Steps of Salvation, which is what passes for our soteriology. And there are Five Acts of Worship and some rules about who should be appointed as elder or deacon. And Rom 16:16 — which evidently comes preprinted on our letterhead and bulletins —
(Rom. 16:16 ESV) 16
Greet one another with a holy kiss.All the churches of Christ greet you.
(Rom. 16:16 KJV)
Salute one another with an holy kiss.The churches of Christ salute you.
The rule, of course, is that your church may bear any scriptural name, of which there are many, so long as the scriptural name is “Church of Christ” or “church of Christ” but not simply “church” because that sounds like a nondenominational community church, and we’re nondenominational but insist on being denominated “church of Christ” or “Church of Christ,” the capitalization being a futile effort to turn a proper noun into a common noun, which comes across, not as biblical insight, but denial.
And it’s not an exaggeration to say that our ecclesiology pretty much begins and ends with those few topics. The question we want to insist on is whether a church is “scripturally organized,” with the assumption being made, utterly without proof, that being organized correctly is a salvation question. Hence, we defend with great zeal the doctrines of congregational autonomy and the plurality of elders in a given church, while paying very little attention to what the Bible actually says about church organization, worship, the assembly, and such like.
We insist on weekly communion but have a very shallow doctrine as to the meaning and significance of the communion. We can discourse for hundreds of pages on why multiple cups are permitted (or damning), with barely a pause to ask what the cup should mean for our assembly, our worship, and our lives.
We are defined by the issues over which we’ve divided, rather than being defined by the One who unites us. We’ve created a massive body of doctrine focused on trivialities that distract us from the things that matter most. Such as unity. And love. Indeed, there are some among us who delight in disparaging the “grace-unity heresy” — as though grace and unity are somehow heretical.
Let me put it this way. If you can flip through the Yellow Pages for your town under “Churches” and not be in tears over the division that we advertise to the world, you’ve missed the point of a church built on a single foundation: Jesus Messiah.
(1 Cor. 3:11 ESV) 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
This is (ahem) the foundational principle of ecclesiology. All churches that are churches at all are built on the foundation of Jesus Messiah. The question we should ask is not whether a church is scripturally organized but whether it’s scripturally founded, that is, whether its foundation is Jesus. Right?
Not once in his 13 epistles does Paul ask whether a church is “scripturally organized.” In four Gospels, there’s not a single lesson from Jesus on how to scripturally organize a church.
The scriptures are always focused on the Foundation. On whom is the church built? It’s either Jesus or it’s not. And if its foundation is Jesus, then the church may be well built or poorly built, but it’s a church.
(1 Cor. 3:12-15 ESV) 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
So how do we build a church on King Jesus as its foundation? Well, Paul has given us the answers earlier in 1 Corinthians (and we’ll be getting back to 3:12-15; please, be patient with me).
(1 Cor. 1:22-24 ESV) 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
(1 Cor. 1:30-2:1 ESV) 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Cor. 2:1-5 ESV) And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
It’s about … soteriology. It’s about what is taught that allows you to be saved. It’s the gospel. It’s the Great Confession. It’s that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah/King, crucified and resurrected. It’s what — by definition — all Christians, all believers have in common. This is what all who are saved believe.
And thus there is one faith and one church with one Foundation — the Yellow Pages and our disgrace therein advertised notwithstanding.
Now, I dare you to mount an argument that we should be divided over —
- apostolic succession
- TULIP Calvinism
- the use of the church treasury
- the church’s name
- the number of pastors a church may have
- who may administer the sacraments
— without appealing to lofty speech, plausible words of wisdom, or the wisdom of men. Damning and dividing over such issues are means of exerting power over others. Crucifixion, on the other hand, is all about giving up power.
(Gal. 2:20 NET) 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Greek for “crucified” is literally co-crucified. I have been co-crucified with the King. I died with him, giving up power and control and turning it all over to God. Jesus gave himself up for me, and so I gave myself up for him.
No demands. No damnations. No divisions. Just a single, foundational truth. Jesus died for me, and I responded by dying for him. Jesus is the foundation, and I’m added to that Foundation by faith in Jesus.
Any church built on anything else is not scripturally founded. And like a house built on sand, it will not stand. Rather, it will be so divided and factious that its true nature will be evident even in the Yellow Pages.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From Heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.
Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up,
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!
— Samuel J. Stone
All the versions on YouTube seem to skip the verse that begins “Though with a scornful wonder …” But those words are original. The hymn book editors just thought there were more verses than we’d care to sing, and so they cut out the verse that probably speaks most poignantly to today’s church.