Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
As you consider doctrines of importance, which ones do you include in the “utmost importance” list? Theology – the doctrine of God. Christology – the doctrine of Christ. Anthropology and Hamartiology – the doctrine of man and sin. Ecclesiology – the doctrine of the church.
How many of you would have included the last one in your list? My guess is that not many consider the doctrine of the church to be of utmost importance. For Free Church pastors and leaders, if this is the case not only would this be tragic, but it would belie the fact that we are a gospel-centered people in a gospel-centered movement.
Because we affirm, proclaim and live the gospel of Jesus Christ, we acknowledge the importance of the church because it is important to Christ, who died to purchase people for himself. And he is the Head over this new community, the church. Furthermore, the gospel that creates the church that joyfully lives under the Lordship and Headship of Jesus Christ, now proclaims the gospel, and through their corporate life together they manifest the gospel. That is, “the church is the gospel made visible.”
Here is how Mark E. Dever, “The Church,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (B&H, 2007), 766-767, writes of this vital truth.
“The doctrine of the church is of the utmost importance. A theology for the church would be incomplete without a theology of the church. . . . It is the most visible part of Christian theology, and it is vitally connected with every other part. A distorted church usually coincides with a distorted gospel. . . . This is not to say that all differences in ecclesiology are tantamount to differences over the gospel itself.”
“Perhaps the popular disinterest in ecclesiology results from the understanding that the church itself is not necessary for salvation. Cyprian of Carthage may have said, ‘No one can have God for his father, who has not the church for his mother,’ but few would agree with this sentiment today. . . . And emphasizing salvation by faith alone, evangelical Protestants certainly have even less use for the church, much less for studying the doctrine of the church.”
”However, the church should be regarded as important to Christians because of its importance to Christ. Christ founded the church (Matt. 16:18), purchased it with his blood (Acts 20:28), and intimately identifies himself with it (Acts 9:4). The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23; 4:12; 5:23-32; Col. 1:18,24; 3:15; 1 Cor. 12:12-27), the dwelling place of his Spirit (Rom. 8:9,11,16; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:11,15-17; Eph. 2:18,22; 4:4), and the instrument for glorifying God in the world. Finally, the church is God’s instrument for bringing both the gospel to the nations and a great host of redeemed humanity to himself (Rev. 5:9).”
“Present-day errors in the understanding and the practice of the church will, if they prevail, still further obscure the gospel. Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible.
At our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church, we will focus on this doctrine which is of utmost importance. If you believe that, come and be encouraged and challenged more deeply regarding this truth. If you do not believe this, you need to attend all the more. Please register and plan to join us!