As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m taking part in a seminar called “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology” (also see my post “A Relational Seminar” and the seminar flyer). But, why are we calling this seminar “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology”? In this post, I’m going to take apart the name of the seminar, moving from the last word to the first word.
Ecclesiology is simply a technical term for the study of the church and things related to the church. When we talk about “ecclesiology”, we’re talking about how we think about the church. We’re not talking about a specific church or even specific practices or beliefs, per se. Although specifics will always come into any discussion about the church, we must begin by defining how we want to think about the church in the first place.
Also, when we talk about “ecclesiology”, we need to remember that we are talking about people – the people of God – Jesus’ followers – those indwelled by the Holy Spirit. While these people will organize, the organizations themselves are not the church. The church is the people.
There are many ways to think about the church (“ecclesiology”). We can think about the church historically, traditionally, or culturally, for example. Our goal is to form our ecclesiology from Scripture (that is, a “biblical ecclesiology”). Thus, we want Scripture to help us form our thoughts and understandings of the church. This is very difficult, because when we think about “church”, automatically several categories, descriptions, concepts, and patterns come to mind. This is not bad – in fact, it is natural. However, we want to make sure that we allow Scripture to shape our understanding of the church, and not let our understanding of the church (or someone else’s understanding of the church) shape Scripture.
If we look at the overarching picture of the church in Scripture, we see that the church is primarily described and defined as a family. We are adopted by God and are thus his children. We are part of God’s household (family). We are brothers and sisters in Christ. These terms are more than images; they speak to our reality. The church in Scripture is a family.
It is not our goal to tell people how to “do church” or even how to “be church”. Why? Because the church is the people of God – the family of God. As the people change, the church will change. This change in people could occur as people move into and out of a region, or as people mature in Christ, or as people enter different stages of life, or as people are converted and become part of the church. Thus, while Scripture will help us think about church (that is, our “biblical ecclesiology”), applying many of the concepts will depend on the particular people involved at any one time.
Since the people change, our applications may change as well. However, we must make sure that our applications and practices do not negate who we are as God’s family. Instead, our applications and practices should reinforce who we are as God’s family.
So, there is a reason and meaning behind the seminar name “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology”. It will be our goal to help one another think about the church in scriptural terms as God’s family. Once we begin to think about ourselves as family, then we can begin to ask questions about what we should do, how we should do them, why we should them, and who should do different things. All of these applications and practices should build on our understanding of ourselves as God’s family.