What is ‘essential’ for a church?

A few weeks ago, I raised the question in this email “”what are the Biblical essentials for a church?
As part of figuring out what these biblical essentials are, I suggested considering 3 levels
Biblical essentials (you must have these to have a ‘church’, & they all have sound biblical basis)
Very important things (but not essential)
Other helpful things

There wasn’t much response to this question …. I guess there are a few possible reasons for this, including –
It is obvious – all Christian leaders (& especially all ministers) know what the biblical essentials are – so the question is unnecessary?
It is difficult, & unclear – and there don’t seem to be many (or any?) essentials.
We’re busy – someone else can figure the answer to this out (a good reason)

Of these, I don’t think #1 is correct (unfortunately). The others (#2 & #3) seem to be the reason.

I’m still fascinated that there is not common agreement, or clear teaching, on what the biblical essentials for a church are. It seems bizarre that ‘we’ pour all this time, energy & $$$$$ into creating/building/growing churches, and we have thousands of highly-trained professional ministers (in NZ alone) who preach wonderful sermons every week and work really hard trying to create a great church, yet there is not clear understanding of the essential biblical ingredients for a church. And, there is no common agreement among ministers about what these biblical essentials are. Am I the only one, or do others find this strange & disturbing?

I wonder if one reason for this (maybe the main reason) is that there is a big difference between the ‘biblical essentials’, and the things ministers consider essential or very important to keep their church running & give it any hope of success. Pragmatism becomes the guide – it is easier & more expedient for a minister to teach more widely about the things they consider important for their church. Thus, in many churches you will find relatively clear specific teaching on issues that the leader thinks is important & which support what they are trying to achieve, even if these have little biblical basis. For example, this is seen in some Pentecostal (& other churches) teaching on things like tithing, covering, alignment, and ‘building the house’.

For other churches, church tradition is used to decide or reinforce what is essential in a church – hence ministers, sacraments, buildings, elders, sermons, worship etc are perceived as being essential. Unfortunately, the church isn’t what it should be or could be (either historically or currently), or what we hope it will be, and if we keep doing the same-old-thing, we will get the same-old-results. This might be sufficient for some churches to survive, or even grow slightly (when they become the popular church & christian-consumers swap churches to join them), but it isn’t enough – the church isn’t having a major impact on the world.

So what are the ‘biblical essentials’ etc for a church? Some of the responses I received are listed here –

From BM
1) Essentials: Two or more followers of Jesus who commit themselves to one another for mutual encouragement and mission.
2) Very important things: Fellowship, prayer, fasting, reading of scripture, healing, deliverance, evangelism, pastoral care, eldership, friendship, discipleship.
3) Other helpful things: Christian literature, church history, study aids, musical instruments, doctrine, theology, core values.

From DC

  • ordained ministers -Not greatly important (anyone who is called of God can lead. A church may not ordain them because they disagree with God, just like they might choose to ordain people God disagrees with)
  • weekly meetings – Reasonably important – fellowship is good.
  • Sunday meetings – Not even remotely important.
  • corporate sung worship – Nice, Biblically it was done often (well, the singing of hymns together, not necessarily “worship”), great to do. But not sure that it rates as “important”. In fact, I think many of the Biblical references are “They sung a hymn” and it’s left at that.
  • sermons – A time for people to learn and hear the word is important. Not sure that a sermon is important in itself though. A discussion can do sometimes do as much as and I expect can often do a lot more than a sermon. I could be wrong of course.
  • leadership structure – Some structure is important.
  • buildings – Only important when the weather is bad. And then, anything with a roof and walls is suitable so long as you have the right to use it. Can be someone’s garden shed……. What matters is being there together for the service of the Lord.
  • communion – Biblically important.

The overall conclusion seems to be that there are virtually no biblical essentials for a church, other than it being two or more Jesus-followers relating together in an interconnected way so they function as a body.

I read elsewhere that it changes our perspective if we switch from saying ‘the church is the body of Christ’ to say ‘the body of Christ is the church’. With this perspective, we start with the ‘body’, which is some Jesus-followers who are connected together if a functional/organic/beneficial way, and then call this body (& other similar bodies around it) the church. (rather than calling religious organizations ‘the church’)

Maybe things would be simpler if we eliminated the ‘church’ word from our vocabulary, and talked about things like being a Jesus-follower, being a functioning part of a ‘body’, how to apply the ‘one-another’ scriptures etc.
Eliminating the ‘church’ word shouldn’t be a problem – because it isn’t a specific biblical word (ie it has Latin roots, not Greek), & we use it ambiguously (I can count a dozen different ways we use this word) – but this is probably another article waiting to be written.

Blessings
David Allis