What is the Church?
Surprisingly, not many Christians seem to be able to offer a straight answer.
With new tools and technology opening up so many new expressions of church, such as video venues and church on the Internet, the question seems to have gotten lost and fewer people are left with a clear answer.
"It dawned on me," said Mark Driscoll, a well-known and controversial pastor, during a conference on the local church Thursday. "We live in an age when in some ways ecclesiology is being redefined."
From a sacred building in historic times to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in the modern era and now to "some sort of authentic community" in the postmodern era, the definition of Church has hardly been clear.
Even among pastors he came across recently, Driscoll, who is preaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, said he has not heard a "clear, functional, working, biblical, historical, rooted, theological definition of the Church."
A lot of times, some ministers are caught up in "looking for a new trick, a new tactic, a new angle" to being the church, Driscoll noted during the Advance conference in Durham, N.C.
But, what is the Church?
To answer the question, Driscoll offered first looking at Jesus, who is the head of the Church.
"If you start by looking at the Church you'll be very confused. If you start by looking at Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Church that comes in the wake of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I think the Church will make a lot more sense."
Jesus, he explained, was clearly a man on a mission. Sent by the Father, Jesus came humbly, went to the cross, rose, and reconciled people back to God.
"Church is Jesus' people by the power of the Holy Spirit," Driscoll said.
Offering a more complete answer from the pages of his latest book, Vintage Church, Driscoll defined the local church as "a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and communion, and are unified by the spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scattered to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God's glory and their joy."
The long definition contains eight elements to being the Church.
First, while all are welcome to the church, official members should be regenerated, Driscoll said, emphasizing the need to distinguish.
Regeneration, he explained, is the Holy Spirit's work in a person – which means a transformed heart, new desires and being a new creation, as the New Testament states it.
"Regeneration is the opposite of religion," Driscoll stated. "Religion is what people do for God. Regeneration is what God does in, through, for, with and in spite of people."
The second element to the Church is qualified leadership, followed by gathering for preaching and worship.
And preaching, Driscoll stressed, precedes everything else in priority.
"Preaching is preeminent and prominent. Everything else that happens in the Church follows the preaching of God's word," he said.
Confronting pastors on the issue of biblical preaching, Driscoll shouted, "Some of you ... are cowards!"
"You are looking for ways to not preach because you have fear of man issues, you like to be liked, you need to be needed, you suffer from co-dependency with your people and it's co-idolatry!"
He continued, "You young men in particular, you need to get over your fear of man issues! It'll get you not to preach or preach in a way that is not acceptable. It will cause you to give suggestions rather than commands and you will be a false prophet even if you went to seminary."
Simply put, "you job is to preach the Gospel!" Driscoll said to "Amen's" from the conference crowd.
And Jesus has to be the centerpiece of every single sermon, he added.
It's not about "seven steps to this, a sermon about how to be all you can be, [or] live your best life now," he said. "It's about Jesus."
While some churches have placed more emphasis on being the Church through acts of service, Driscoll reminded Christians that the Church is also to be passive and receptive, not just active.
"Much of what constitutes Christianity is not what we do but what we receive" (i.e. justification, Holy Spirit, grace of God), he said. "That's how you become a Christian – you stop doing and you receive what Christ has done."
The other elements Driscoll listed that make a Church include sacraments (communion and baptism), being unified by the spirit, discipline for holiness, obeying the Great Commandment to love and obeying the Great Commission to evangelize and make disciples.
"The Church exists to reach the nations," he emphasized.
The Advance conference, themed "Resurgence of the Local Church," continues through Saturday featuring such renowned speakers as Baptist theologian John Piper, missiologist Ed Stetzer and Southern Baptist Daniel Akin. The conference is sponsored by Resurgence, Desiring God, Vintage 21, Mars Hill Church, Christ the King Presbyterian Church, Treasuring Christ Church, The Summit Church and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.