The Organisation of the Church


When do we call a group of Christians a church? What distinctive marks does it have to have to qualify as a church? At what point would you call a church apostate and say they were once a church but they are a church no longer? What is the bare minimum for having a church? Isn’t a church when 2 or 3 are gathered?

Is it a church when:

  • A few friends meet at a coffee shop to discuss the spiritual message in a film like the Matrix?
  • When a family is having its daily devotions?
  • When the staff of a Christian publishing company meet for morning prayer before work?
  • When the staff of a Christian book shop go on a retreat together?
  • The group of ladies on a ladies retreat?
  • When the youth group meets?
  • When a home cell meets?
  • When two Christians are enjoying God’s creation doing a round of golf?
  • When the bible college students and faculty meet for chapel?
  • Are mission agencies and evangelistic ministries churches?
  • Is a soup kitchen event church?

I want to show you why none of these scenarios are properly called, church. As our point of departure we will be using what the Reformers called, the marks of the church. The later reformers and reformed confessions came to a basic consensus that there are three basic ingredients to a true church: the true preaching of the word of God, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the administering of church discipline. Implied within these three is a fourth mark, properly appointed officers of the church, in particular elders who both teach and oversee the disciplinary aspects of the church. And still further the mark of membership is implied as a fifth mark.

Last week we looked at the church as an organism, the Spirit wrought, gospel created reality of our unity, and we showed how what we are determines how we are to act and how we grow. Today I want to continue looking at what the church is, but the other side of the coin, the church as organisation more than organism. We will begin by looking at the marks of the church, and then secondly look at the means of grace.