At the heart of the issue for all of us within the Southern Baptist Convention who have a heart for missions and church planting is the definition of the "ekklesia," or as it is in English "church." Unfortunately our English word doesn't come close to the meaning of the Greek word. Ekklesia is a compound word which means "called out." The "church" is simply those in the world who have been called out by God's grace to faith in Jesus Christ. If a person considers the church "it" instead of "they" then that person's Biblical thinking about the church is already lost. For a better understanding of "ekklesia" the article by Baptist theologian John Reisinger entitled The Ekklesia would be a great place to start.
The International Mission Board has given an official definition of a church. The following information comes from Board approved policy . To help us consider the church as people rather than "an institution" it might be an interesting exercise to place the phrase "called out people" as a synonym for the word church. Could it be that problems arise when some see the church as an institution and others see "them" as a "called out people?"
CHURCH DEFINITION AND GUIDELINES Approved by the Board of Trustees in January of 2005
Bob Pearle moved that recommendation on Church Definition and Guidelines be approved. This recommendation was approved. (Following the trustee meeting, grammatical changes were made and the following is the corrected copy.)
The definition of a local church is given in the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message:
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
We believe that every local church is autonomous under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His inerrant word. This is as true overseas as it is in the United States. Some churches to which we relate overseas may make decisions in doctrine and practice which we would not choose. Nevertheless, we are accountable to God and to Southern Baptists for the foundation that we lay when we plant churches, for the teaching that we give when we train church leaders, and for the criteria that we use when we count churches. In our church planting and teaching ministries, we will seek to lay a foundation of beliefs and practices that are consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, although local churches overseas may express those beliefs and practices in different ways according to the needs of their cultural settings. Flowing from the definition of a church given above and from the Scriptures from which this definition is derived, we will observe the following guidelines in church planting, leadership training and statistical reporting.
1. A church is intentional about being a church. Members think of themselves as a church. They are committed to one another and to God (associated by covenant) in pursuing all that Scripture requires of a church.
2. A church has an identifiable membership of baptized believers in Jesus Christ.
3. A church practices the baptism of believers only by immersing them in water.
4. A church observes the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis.
5. Under the authority of the local church and its leadership, members may be assigned to carry out the ordinances.
6. A church submits to the inerrant word of God as the ultimate authority for all that it believes and does.
7. A church meets regularly for worship, prayer, the study of God’s word, and fellowship. Members of the church minister to one another’s needs, hold each other accountable, and exercise church discipline as needed. Members encourage one another and build each other up in holiness, maturity in Christ, and love.
8. A church embraces its responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission, both locally and globally, from the beginning of its existence as a church.
9. A church is autonomous and self-governing under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His Word.
10. A church has identifiable leaders, who are scrutinized and set apart according to the qualifications set forth in Scripture. A church recognizes two Biblical offices of church leadership: pastors/elders/overseers and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.