What is the Church supposed to be like?

Update: In my discussion on this post I realized that I mislinked two of my own blog posts in the original post.  I have fixed those links.  Sorry if they caused anyone a headache.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I love my church. I love the people in my church. Of all the churches I have been in, this is one of my all time favorites. We aren’t perfect, but we are a family.

I started reading a post over at Jesus Shaped Spirituality today about the church. I think it was through a link and a link again or two in the comments that led me to a blog by a professor at Southeastern. From there I found my way to a discussion about a book that George Barna has released along with Frank Viola called Pagan Christianity?. Those who have been reading here for very long, or those who know me or have talked to me can understand why I felt the need to dig a little deeper on this one. My studies into the Hebraic roots movement and teaching have led to some questions about some of church practices, and I know Barna’s reputation. I don’t always agree with everything that he has said or done, but he has provided many valuable insights with his surveys in the past. I confess to knowing absolutely nothing about Frank Viola before today, but in my perusal of his site, the interview that is linked above and the chapter or two of the book that I read online, I appreciate his spirit and attitude.

How many of us ask this question at the top of this post? How often do we stop to wonder why we do what we do? As a pastor of a Southern Baptist church in a far flung area of North Dakota, I have often found myself looking at the big debates and discussions of my own denomination at large to be somewhat superfluous. I read some of the blogs of folks who are “movers and shakers” in the convention structure. I read the lengthy discussions over at the Founder’s Blog about the need for accountability in church membership and the doctrinal discussions about people who aren’t strong enough Calvinists, and I have to ask myself what we are doing as a denomination. Let me take on the idea of the regenerate membership discussion for a moment.

The heart of the issue is that the churches of the SBC claim over 16,000,000 members, but can only account for about 6,000,000 people on any given Sunday. While I can appreciate what they are seeking to do, there are some other questions that should be asked. Are we as a denomination guilty of just “making converts” as opposed to making disciples? Should we examine some of what we do in light of Matthew 23:15 – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”? Are some of those 10,000,000 unaccounted for people part of what Christ was describing here? False converts who now have a false sense of security because we got them to pray a prayer and walk an aisle and be baptized. I am not trying to be accusatory here; I am in fact a lifelong SBC guy. I was raised in an SBC church in the south and traveled north as an SBC Mission Service Corp Missionary. At this point there may be some well-meaning SBC folks who would love to find out who I am and give me some correction. Finding out where I am shouldn’t be a problem, since I don’t attempt to hide it from anyone who can read and I am more than willing to accept constructive criticism. If I am in error, please feel free to point it out. I do think that it is time we ask ourselves the tough questions about our personal walk with Christ and about our corporate relationship in our churches.

When I realized that we as Baptists had been more than willing to accept and pretty much parrot what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about the “Lord’s Day” without asking what those passages really mean, I found I had a lot more questions to ask. I have not elected to take my church down the road of moving our worship service to Sabbath(that would be the day before Sunday by the way) or anything like that. Frankly the Bible is plain that the early church met all the time, not just on Sunday, so I am not hung up on a specific day for worship. Actually, the Bible leaves us with a lot of room on a lot of things, if we are interested to find out. I am not claiming to be perfect or to know everything. In fact, I am claiming just the opposite. A lot of things I assumed I knew before have been burned up in the fire from God’s Word. And I am pretty sure He isn’t done with me yet.

So, back to the original question. What is the Church supposed to be like? I don’t have all the answers yet. In some ways, I am just learning to ask the right questions. In the meantime, I am happy to meet with the church family here that God has blessed us with let Mercy lead.

Categories: Christianity, church, Messiah, theology | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “What is the Church supposed to be like?

  1. Jeff,

    First, thanks for the link to my blog. Just for the record, I am an adjunct professor of Greek at the College at Southeastern – I’m not a full-time professor. I’m a full-time I.T. guy and Ph.D. student and pastor, but not a real professor. 🙂

    You ask a very important question: “What is the Church supposed to be like?” My simple answer: The church should be like a family. As I’ve studied the profound implications of that simple statement, I’ve changed many of the ways that I think about the church and the church meeting and many of the aspects of the lives of believers.

    God bless you on your journey with him!


  2. jeofurry

    Thanks for the comments and the correction. I was reading your bio on your blog and just made the wrong leap. At least I erred on the wrong side. 🙂
    I am an IT guy at heart as well. I find myself in a full-time ministry these days as a pastor of a church. I think one of the things that have made most of our church experiences so positive is that we have always looked at the church as a family.
    Blessings to you,

  3. GregF

    RE What is the Church supposed to be like?

    It is suppose to be One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

    Hope that helps.


  4. Greg,
    I already know what the creeds say about the church. That is not the question here. The question is what does that look like today. There are a lot of people who would define some of those four words in a lot of different ways. Maybe not so much the first two as the last two. If you were looking to land a zippy one-liner, then fair enough, but if you wish to dig into the question then this doesn’t do much.

  5. GregF

    I was referring to the Catholic Church. I know that Baptist’s have a lot of trouble with some specific doctrines of the Church, but concerning their understanding of what the Church actually is, it might be worth a look. Even if you disagree, it will give you something very detailed to bounce your thoughts off of. (After all they have been at it for 2000 years.)

    “This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. The Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities.”

    From The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    Good hunting.


  6. Greg,
    Thanks for your reply. Let me mention a couple of things. I have a couple of posts previously on the blog about alterations that the Catholic church made early in the history of the church that the Baptists have even continued. I think it is hard to say that the Catholic church has all the answers. They have proven over the course of those 2000 years that they can and do divide the church. Their treatment of Martin Luther took what could have been a positive (the Catholic church today acknowledges that Luther had many valid points) and turned it into one of the deepest divides the Church has ever seen in history. It wasn’t their first time in the rodeo either. The split with the Eastern Orthodox church was similarly troublesome.
    I have studied the Catholic church. It’s creeds, catechism and history. I have even quoted it in posts on this blog. Actually, from what I understand about the book Pagan Christianity? (I can’t say for sure since I only read a chapter or two online), the Catholic church can be credited for creating some of the models that most churches follow today. And that may not be a good thing. If all I have to go by are the interactions I have had with Catholics in person and online and the things I can watch on EWTN, then I am fairly certain that the answer doesn’t lie in the Catholic church exclusively.
    Thanks again for your input and blessings to you.

  7. GregF

    RE I think it is hard to say that the Catholic church has all the answers…

    However, if one does not accept that there is “among us a formal judge and standing expositor” of the Bible questions like ‘What is the Church supposed to be like?’ can never be answered since “the inspiration of Scripture does but guanantee its truth, not its interpretation.” (1)

    RE If all I have to go by are the interactions I have had with Catholics in person and online… then I am fairly certain that the answer doesn’t lie in the Catholic church exclusively.

    The Church is aware that, unfortunately, her children are sometimes part of the problem instead of being part of the solution. (Ref. CCC 1792 and 2125)


    (1) Extract from On the Inspiration of Scripture by Cardinal John Henry Newman (paragraph 15, I think).

  8. Greg,
    Regarding your statement, “however, if one does not accept that there is ‘among us a formal judge and standing expositor’ of the Bible. What would you say about Romans 14? Paul makes it plain in this passage that not everything is cut and dry. Romans 14:4-5 says, “4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
    5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
    It seems as though Paul is telling us that we may be able to disagree about some “doctrine” and still be OK before our God. If we serve a God who makes allowances if you will for our personal fallibility, the idea that we would need to have a “standing expositor” of the Bible is called into question for sure.
    Let me circle back around to some of the reason for the posts. If the Catholic church is a model of what the church should be, is there a place in Catholic worship for the following verses to take place:
    1 Corinthians 14:29-31 – 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
    Maybe I am wrong, but all of the Catholic services that I have witnessed have been completely priest driven and have no input or contribution from the rest of the body. Now this is also true of a lot of protestant services as well, but I don’t think that makes it right. Clearly, we are missing some of the things that the Bible proscribes for the Body of Christ whenever and wherever it meets.
    And if you are willing to indulge me in one other thing. In my post I mentioned the SBC problem of “missing” members as a serious issue. Do you know if there are any similar figures for Catholic churches(membership vs. average attendance)? I have done some searching and the things I find hint that the situation may be similar in the Catholic church, but I was looking for numbers. I don’t think the problems are limited to any single denomination, but I think they do reflect on what we may be missing from our churches.
    Thanks again for the conversation and input.

  9. GregF

    RE What would you say about Romans 14?

    Rom. 14:1 says to “welcome those who are weak in the faith.” This indicates, I think, that there was only one church in Rome (although they may have been physically separate as house churches) and that those “weak in the faith” are not to be excluded from it.

    Thus, the Church is a big tent where some things are allowed to be personal opinions; but there is still only one church. Romans, the letter, was written to the Church at Rome. While there may have been various small house churches scattered throughout the city, there was still only one church in the city. There is no indication that there was a Freewill Baptist Church of Rome, and a Missionary Baptist Church of Rome, and a Southern Baptist Church of Rome (not to mention other denominations).

    “Welcome” v.1, “God has welcomed them” v.3, “your brother or sister” v.10,15, 21, “we” v 7-8, “us” 13,19. these pronouns indicate that there is one church located in the city of Rome. There may be things that you disagree about; but there is no indication that those differences can be so profound that they would keep the various house church from being in full communion with (“welcoming”) each other.

    There is, I think, a difference between agreeing-to-disagree about some doctrines and putting everything we disagree about in the Romans 14 bucket.

    Hope I didn’t meander too much in this reply. I started to answer it in 3 or 4 different paragraphs.

    (One could also interpret this in a very narrow sense to apply mainly to dietary restrictions.)


  10. I agree with you that not everything can be cast into the Romans 14 “bucket” as you say. The problem stems from the list of doctrines that are not allowed to be held there.
    You mentioned the pronouns that Paul used, but I think you read too much into them. He universalizes them even further later in the book to the people in other cities. He indeed saw all believers as a single Body belonging to the Lord. The problems of unifying the church creep in more often from a question of authority (power) than they ever do from doctrine. The Catholic Encyclopedia online even confirms this when it says, “undoubtedly the first, the root of all the quarrel, was the advance of the See of Constantinople.”
    The first real problems in the church came about not because of doctrine, but because of a power struggle over who had authority to speak as it were for God.
    I mentioned Martin Luther earlier and I think he is a good example of this. His original aim and desire was not to split from the Catholic church. He saw problems and felt they needed to be addressed. Ironically the Roman church has addressed many of them over the past few centuries since the Reformation. But at the time, he was opposed from Rome itself, not because of doctrinal error, but because of the threat to the power of Rome.
    Since the Reformation, Rome has added a whole lot of “doctrines” that are seemingly calculated to be deliberately offensive to those that broke away. This hasn’t fostered a move toward unity. I believe that God’s Church (the entire Body of all believers) is united by Him and His Lordship regardless of the power struggles and visible divisions we may see. In this respect, I have found myself even more charitable that my Southern Baptist roots. I am not hung up on being a Southern Baptist. We have our problems as a denomination. But I have remained one because we have the freedom to disagree on the lesser things while we hold firm on the things that are foundational.

  11. Chuck Green

    What is the Church supposed to be like?

    I don’t know. And I should add, I know less than I did six months ago.

    I do know this: I sense God wants it to be a whole lot simpler than we make it. I can’t image it is God’s intention to throw us a curve. To wrap it all in mystery. Or to speak in code.

    I think maybe it is WE who want to make it complex. If it is complex (and we understand that complexity) we have a fighting chance to wrestle some control of it. If it is as simple as following God and loving and caring for each other we probably don’t need a hierarchy of translators to tell us how to act and think.

    Of course, “complex” makes things more interesting. It provides me an opportunity to blather on about what I think. But, what occurs to me is that God made all of the important stuff able to be experienced by everyone–you don’t need a college degree, you don’t need to be a certain age, it has nothing to do with your financial state or your location. You don’t even need to know how to read.

    What if God’s message is simple. And WE are setting up a roadblock of complexity in his path?

  12. GregF


    RE The first real problems in the church came about not because of doctrine, but because of a power struggle over who had authority to speak as it were for God.

    I think you hit on a key issue here – and it is possible that the answer to this question can help to answer your original question – but lets not skip all the way up to Martin Luther yet.

    The question then is: After the close of the apostolic age, who did have the authority to speak for God in any given city where the Church existed?

    By my reading of the available literature, commonly called the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I think the person with that authority is the senior Christian in that city (the bishop).

    What is your take on it?


  13. Chuck,
    I completely sympathize. I knew so much when I was younger. I think God is indeed more straightforward than we realize. I have been meaning to put together a post on the human tendency to overwork and overcomplicate the things of God. We see it in the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and in many of the churches of today as well. We just have a hard time accepting that God didn’t leave us anything to accomplish for our own salvation.

  14. Greg,
    I think you are right that the early church looked to the local leaders for input and insight on issues. In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia points out that this is part of what lead to the Eastern schism. The churches in the east followed those bishops when the power struggle with the Western Church blew up.
    As for who had the authority to speak for God in any given city, I think we should look back at what Christ said. In Matthew 23:8-10 it says this:
    8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.
    This was spoken to the Apostles themselves and immediately preceded his lambasting of the Pharisees abuses of their authority. I think that Christ intends to be our Lord and our Judge and to deal with us through the Holy Spirit.

  15. GregF


    RE I think you are right that the early church looked to the local leaders for input and insight on issues… I think that Christ intends to be our Lord and our Judge and to deal with us through the Holy Spirit.

    I’m confused.

    I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you seem to start out saying that the local leader in each city has the authority to speak for God, but by the end of your post it seems that the individual, led by the Spirit, is the authority.

    Please clarify your thoughts on who in the early church, say 100-300 AD, had the authority to speak for God in any given city where the Church existed?


  16. Greg,
    Sorry I didn’t state it clearer. I wasn’t trying to say that those early church leaders had the authority to speak for God, I simply wanted to say that many in the early church looked at them as though they did. I put the statement from Christ in there to try and clarify why this was a problem. Christ told his disciples that none of them were to be in charge over another, not even Peter. I think the Roman church has greatly exaggerated his calling and commissioning by Christ. Look at what Peter wrote in his first epistle:
    Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
    Peter says that anyone (referring to any believer) who speaks should do it as one speaking the very words of God. Does this look like an exclusive claim to be the authority to speak for God? 1 Peter 5 contains even more examples of humility and even pleading. I know the Roman Church’s claims of Petrine primacy, but they are hard to justify in Scripture since even Peter fails to assert them in his two epistles.
    If any one person of the first century could be said to speak with authority for God after Christ’s resurrection and ascension it would have to be Paul. After all, he wrote about 2/3 of the New Testament cannon, which is fully accepted as the Word of God by the church today.
    By the way, I want to thank you again for the dialog. Discussion and questions really help me to understand and to grow in my faith and evaluate why I believe the way I do. I have found many times in the past year that challenging questions and answers to some of my questions have helped God to shape me and mold me more in His likeness. I really appreciate the questions and point of view that you bring to this.

  17. GregF


    RE Christ told his disciples that none of them were to be in charge over another, not even Peter.

    Who among the Early Church Fathers also has this perspective?


  18. Am I to assume from your question that the fact that Jesus said it to them directly isn’t enough? If so, I will include some statements from Church Fathers recognized as such by the Catholic Church. First let me reiterate a couple of earlier mentions.
    In Matthew 23:8-10 Jesus said this:
    8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

    Peter says this in 1 Peter 5:1 – “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:”

    This doesn’t sound like Peter is even claiming any special authority here. So I will add him as an Early Church Father with this perspective. Additionally, James the Lord’s brother in Jerusalem who headed the church there. I say this because he is the one who announced and finalized the position of the church after the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

    I took a few moments and found these statements from early leaders in the church. This first one is from Clement of Rome (He is Peter’s first successor according to the Catholic Encyclopedia).
    “Let us then also pray for those who have fallen into any sin, that meekness and humility may be given to them, so that they may submit, not unto us, but to the will of God. For in this way they shall secure a fruitful and perfect remembrance from us, with sympathy for them, both in our prayers to God, and our mention of them to the saints. Let us receive correction, beloved, on account of which no one should feel displeased. Those exhortations by which we admonish one another are both good [in themselves] and highly profitable, for they tend to unite us to the will of God.”
    – Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians chapter LVI.
    Later in the same chapter he states, “Ye see, beloved, that protection is afforded to those that are chastened of the Lord; for since God is good, He corrects us, that we may be admonished by His holy chastisement.”
    Here is one from Ignatius in the Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 3: “I do not issue orders to you, as if I were some great person. For though I am bound for the name [of Christ], I am not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For now I begin to be a disciple, and I speak to you as fellow-disciples with me”
    Another from Ignatius in an Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 9: “Remember in your prayers the Church which is in Syria, which, instead of me, has now for its shepherd the Lord, who says, “I am the good Shepherd.” And He alone will oversee it, as well as your love towards Him.”

    That’s a fairly good starter list. If you would like me to find more I would be glad to do so. I looked these up at http://www.ccel.org if you want to check it out

  19. GregF


    Thanks for taking the time to look up and quote from Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. It is always interesting to see what will “jump out” at a particular person and what sort of interpretation one will put on that word or phrase.

    I have always looked at these letters in the context of an already established episcopate. The biblical admonition that leaders are to be obeyed (Hebrews 13:17 & 1 Peter 5:5) is already in place. Thus, it isn’t necessary for Clement or Ignatius to “claim any special authority” in these letters because they already have that authority by virtue of their poistion as leaders in the Church.

    As good Christian leaders both men know that they, like all Christians, are accountable to God. They are not lording it over their people. They are speaking as fellow travelers in the Christian life.

    (In a similar way, I speak to my teenage children. I am their father and I will always care about them, but – at this stage in their life – I cannot compel them to do right so I must do my best to persuade them. Nothing in the way I choose to phrase things, however, takes away from the fact that I am, and will remain, their father.)


  20. Greg,
    You are right that leaders should be obeyed, but not over and beyond the Word of God. These leaders that I quoted knew their place was subservient and derived from Christ and from His Word.
    Let me cut right into something that is deeply troubling. There are many practices in the Catholic Church that are flatly unsupported by the Bible.
    For sake of clarity I will deal with one that disturbed Martin Luther, indulgences.
    To quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    It is not an exemption from any law or duty, and much less from the obligation consequent on certain kinds of sin, e.g., restitution; on the contrary, it means a more complete payment of the debt which the sinner owes to God (emphasis mine).

    Compare that with Romans 13:8 – Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
    Hebrews 7:23-25 – 23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
    Hebrews 10:12-14 – 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
    Hebrews 10:26-27 – 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

    You mentioned Hebrews 13:17 which says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
    Leaders must give an account to God. How do you think leaders who have changed His Word will fare?
    Let me conclude with one more question. As much beloved as Pope John Paul II was, he did something very strange in his will. He left the church in the care, not of Christ, but of Mary:

    I do not know when it will occur, but like everything, I also place this moment in the hands of the Mother of my Master: ‘Totus Tuus.’ I leave everything in the same maternal hands, and all those who have been connected to my life and my vocation. Above all, I leave the Church in these hands, and also my Nation and the whole of humanity.

    There is absolutely nothing in Scripture to suggest that Mary is the head of the Church or should be. This isn’t some error of the distant past; this is a quote from the last pope of the Roman Catholic Church. I am not trying to be offensive, but this is serious business. I will borrow a quote from Peter here that was used by the bishop of Ephesus, Polycrates in his answer to Victor the bishop of Rome regarding the threats and attempted forcing of Easter on their church: ‘We must obey God rather than men’.

    I am willing to submit to the authority of those who submit to the authority of Christ as the Head of the Church. But I have serious questions about the commitment of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, and some other denominations as well to submit to the authority of Christ and His Word.

  21. GregF


    We have certainly come far from your original question. I think it may be time to begin to wind down my part of this thread.

    In your above post you highlighted two areas that are “deeply troubling” to you. And you are not alone. Many Protestants doubt the truth of the Church’s teaching on indulgences and Our Lady’s place in the body of Christ.

    These two areas are, in the Catholic understanding, occasions for “involuntary doubt.” That is, these topics engender “hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity.” Untimately – although I hope not in your case – this can lead to a sin against faith. (CCC 2088)

    I wish you well on your spiritual journey. May God give you the grace of faith which is “more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie.” (CCC 157)

    “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”
    John Henry Cardinal Newman



  22. Greg,
    I have certainly enjoyed the discussion and the information and the chance to explore some of these questions with you. It is always good to talk with a brother in the Lord. Even if we have different opinions on some issues, we still believe that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. Feel free to stop in and comment anytime.

  23. Jill

    The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org. It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://frankviola.wordpress.com/

  24. Pingback: Blogging Takes a Back Seat « Jeofurry’s Jesus Journey

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