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The Christian Understanding of the Church

This is the ninth of an ongoing series of articles exploring Calvary Grace's Congregational Confession of Faith.

IX. The Church

We believe in the universal church, a living spiritual body of which Christ is the head and all regenerated persons are members. We believe in the local church, consisting of a company of believers in Jesus Christ, baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and associated for worship, work, and fellowship. We believe that God has laid upon the members of the local church the primary task of giving the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world. We believe that local churches are called by biblical example and by their union in Christ with the universal church to cooperate with one another in our mission to proclaim the Kingdom on earth.

At the very beginning of the Bible, God created man in his own image—and specifically, he created this “in his own image” man in two genders—male and female (Gen. 1:26-28). He then appointed that a man would leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife to create a new family. Yet God was working on something even more important, profound, and eternally significant than the biological family. The Apostle Paul, in reflecting on this text, marvelled: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph.5:32). In other words, the union between Christ and the body of the redeemed in all ages, the church, is the goal toward which all biblical history progressed.

If the church is so vitally important in God’s program that all of history culminates in it and even the family takes second place to it, it’s almost impossible to overvalue the church—and all too easy to undervalue it. That’s why our Congregational Confession of Faith devotes this ninth article to the church.

The New Testament uses the term “church” to refer both to the universal church—all who belong to God in all ages—and the local church, like our own. It’s important to stress that we believe, along with the Baptist tradition, that a local church’s membership is, as far as is possible, to reflect the universal church in being a gathering of born-again, confessing believers—as opposed to simply people who were baptized at one point in their lives, or believers plus their unbelieving children. While this ideal cannot be perfectly attained in this sinful world, the Bible’s instructions to guard against sin in the church and to put out those who are unrepentant make clear that local churches have a duty to strive to ensure they are composed of genuine believers.

The doctrine of the church has some very real and practical implications for our lives as Christians. Note that the task of giving the Gospel to a lost world is, in this Confession, described as given to “members of the local church,” not just professional, paid leaders. You are ministers of the Gospel. Our job as elders is to train you for ministry, not to do it for you!

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