A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. [NOTE: The Church is people not places.]
Matthew 16:15-19; 18:15-20; Acts 2:41-42,47; 5:11-14; 6:3-6; 13:1-3; 14:23,27; 15:1-30; 16:5; 20:28; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:16; 5:4-5; 7:17; 9:13-14; 12; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:8-11,21; 5:22-32; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:18; 1 Timothy 2:9-14; 3:1-15; 4:14; Hebrews 11:39-40; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Revelation 2-3; 21:2-3.
The Bible’s main way of talking about God’s relationship to humanity is the image of a partnership. This video traces the way God entered into a series of formal relationships with various human partners in order to rescue the world through Jesus, the ultimate covenant partner.Covenants, The Bible Project
The doctrine of the church describes the character and activities of the community of the redeemed in the present age.
The doctrine of the church brings us to the one arena of theology that is really the matrix from which all theology comes. It is not that the church has authoritative foundational power to declare theology but that anyone who does theology is doing so in the church, has learned doctrine from the church, and is participating in the life of God’s people. He or she is not some kind of a free agent who’s off in a corner by themselves figuring out doctrines they want to believe.
The doctrine of the church can deliver us from individualism, from the idea that Christianity can all somehow be reduced or concentrated to fit into my experience, my personal relationship with God. As important as that relationship is, God has something much larger in mind. All of God’s ways move towards the end of establishing the people of God, who he has called out from the world to be set aside as his.
The doctrine of the church covers a wide field. To say what a church is, you have to discuss the church’s attributes, its institutional life, and its mission. Among the church’s attributes are these four traditional marks: (1) it is one, (2) holy, (3) catholic, in the old-fashioned sense of “universal,” and (4) apostolic. While there are many individual churches, they are to be understood as local, regional manifestations of the one theological reality, which is the church of Jesus Christ.
The church is holy and is called to be holy. It is catholic or universal in two senses: it goes back all the way through history, universally. As long as there has been a church, all of the people involved count as the church. Around the world, in a wide diversity of different places and cultures, wherever Jesus Christ has had followers called together and called out from the world, that is the church. The church is also apostolic in the sense that the mission of the church is based on and perpetuates the ministry Christ committed to the apostles.
The Bible also gives instruction on the institutional life of the church, answering questions as commonplace as, “How do we run this organization?” Though we’re informed by the best wisdom available to us in our time, we’re actually mainly taking our lead from the New Testament’s guidance in the offices of the church and the order of our life together—especially in the ordinances or sacraments that have been committed to the church. The two that stand out, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are the ones that can be traced directly back to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not practices we made up; no, we received them from the Lord Jesus Christ when he instituted them as the foundation of the church’s institutional life.
“Ecclesiology,” the doctrine of the church, also includes reflection on the church’s mission as given to us in the words of the New Testament. This mission includes at least three categories, from the relation of the church to society and even to political realities; to evangelism and discipleship, which is the core spiritual mission of the church; to action that we undertake to witness to the mercy and justice of God in the world today. Having all three of these on your map doesn’t mean you’re going to be a perfect church or be delivered from all the possible missteps congregations can take in our witness to the world. But it does mean that with our doctrine of the church right, we can keep our wits about us and try to carry out the full mission of the church in our age.
Fred Sanders, “The Doctrine of the Church,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).