There are two perspectives (in my mind) that we can consider the church through.
First, in God’s view it is ecumenical/universal assembly of Christians (across time and geography) which exists in local assemblies of Christians.
Second, from a human perspective it is the plural word for Christian…a gathering of Christians…or the place they gather. I’m not going to be discussing the church as location/building, rather the church as assembly.
From my definition of what it means to be a Christian (in my post What is the Church 1.0) I would add to it that once a person is saved they are saved in the context of community. Everyone, including Adam and Eve, was created in the context of community, and when saved one is engrafted (Rom 11:17) as a member into Jesus Christ’s body/bride/church/etc., namely the Christian community.
A Christian does not exist outside of the context of community. There might be a circumstance where a person is physically separated from others (e.g. solitary confinement), but that person is still in some sense part of the Christian community and has fellowship with God by the gracious gift of faith. It seems that a Christian who is free from prison or persecution would have the desire to gather with fellow redeemed sinners. However, in the past even the church under persecution has shown that they will gather no matter what. It seems that much of the fruits of the Spirit imply community (How can love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control [Gal 5:22-23] be seen...let alone even exist outside of the context of relationship?). Here is a snippet from a paper I wrote on the church that is relevant:
No church is perfect. Many Christians have grown dissatisfied with the institution of the church. They have either been hurt by rigid policy (biblical or unbiblical) or emotionally by the Christians that are members. Much of this may also be a byproduct of the pragmatic contrasted with the biblical faithfulness philosophy of ministry. This has driven people to the practice of what George Barna recently argued for in his book Revolution.The Bible never describes ‘church’ the way we have configured it. The Bible goes to great lengths to teach us principles for living and theology for understanding. However, it provides very little guidance in terms of the methods and structures we must use to make those principles and insights prevail in our lives. It seems that God really doesn’t care how we honor and serve Him, as long as He is number one in our lives and our practices are consistent with His parameters.
Barna, George, Revolution: Worn Out on Church? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 115-16.
Barna is arguing for a half truth. The parameter given by God to honor and serve Him is through the local church. It seems that Barna is arguing for the church as an organism more than the church as an organization or institution. An organism cannot exist without a God ordained organization which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may take many shapes and forms. Ask any biologist if there is organization in organisms and the answer will be an emphatic, “Yes!” Even the smallest house church has an aspect of organization (even if it doesn’t practice the biblically mandated offices of Pastor, Elder, and Deacon). The argument of Barna encourages the idea that, “No one needs to go to church to be a Christian.” This may be true, but that statement, while intended to convey humility and a radical faith, actually implies spiritual arrogance. This arrogance is fed by human selfishness justified by a consumerist worldview. John Calvin has responded to this perceived humility in independence from the local church:Separation from the church is the denial of God and Christ. Hence, we must even more avoid so wicked separation. For when with all our might we are attempting to overthrow of God’s truth, we deserve to have him hurl the whole thunderbolt of his wrath to crush us…Therefore, those who more boldly than others incite defection from the church…have for the most part no other reason than by their contempt of all to show they are better than others….For because God willed that the communion of his church be maintained in this outward society, he who out of hatred of the wicked breaks the token of that society treads a path that slopes to fall from the communion of saints.
Calvin, John, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 1024-25 & 1030-31.
This statement is coming from a reformer! This points to the fact that Calvin and other reformers were not leaving the church; rather, they were reforming it. Separating oneself from the visible church is not an outward sign of a regenerated believer. However, it is impossible to judge a man’s heart.
A church is an assembly that gathers together (Matt 18:20; Heb 10:23-25). The church traditionally has gathered together on Sunday because that is the day the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19). The local church is the only context in which Christians can genuinely fulfill the “each others” and “one-anothers” that the New Testament commands (Mark 9:50; John 13:14, 34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom 12:10; 13:8; 14:13; 15:7, 14; 16:16; 1 Cor 11:33; 12:25; 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; Gal 5:13, 15, 26; 6:2; Eph 4:2, 32; 5:19, 21; Phil 2:3; Col 3:9, 13, 16; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11; Heb 3:13; 10:24-25; Jas 4:11; 5:9, 16; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8-10; 5:5, 14; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 5).
So as Pastor Wayne was pointing to in the comment he posted here there is a dual reality when a person is a Christian. They have been objectively saved individually yet in the very act of salvation they have been inaugurated into community, the Church. They are like two sides of a coin. Similar to when a person conceived and born. He or she is alive personally/individually, yet he or she also exists in the context of a family. So it is in the communion of Saints.