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.
With our upcoming Theology Conference theme on The Doctrine of the Church, I thought it would be helpful to use an early church creedal confession, which encapsulates key biblical truths regarding the doctrine of the church.
When Jesus and his disciples arrived in the district of Caesarea Philippi He asked them an important question, the question of the ages: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is” (Matt. 16:13). The disciples answered by giving some of the responses: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
Moving beyond generalities, Jesus got to the heart of the matter by asking the disciples directly and personally the question of the ages: “But who do you say that I am” (Matt. 16:15)? Peter, often the spokesman, confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus immediately pointed out that this confession was not rooted in intellect or ability but in divine revelation, i.e. “my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17) revealed this to Peter. Then Jesus promises “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
As we ponder the importance of this passage, consider three truths. First, Augustus Caesar presented Caesarea Phillipi, along with the surrounding area, to Herod the Great. In appreciation and gratitude for this gift Herod built a temple in the city in honor of the emperor. In this city there was one lord who was honored, the Caesar. In God’s providence, this is the place that Jesus was initially confessed to be the Christ, not Caesar. Christ is exclusive as he brooks no rivals. Second, Jesus anchors true knowledge in revelation, which makes us dependent on the Word. The Lord of the Word is revealed through the Word of the Lord. We are a people of the Book. Third, upon Himself as the foundation, Jesus states that He will build His church. We become Christians individually through Christ alone, but we simultaneously become part of the corporate family of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit . . . the Church.
It is vital to connect Jesus with the Church: without Jesus, there is no Church; if there is a Church, she only exists and is sustained through Jesus Christ.
One of the unique challenges we as the people of God face today is in our understanding of the Church. What is her nature, what is her function, and how does she organize what she does? The Church’s nature precedes her function, i.e. who the church is by her very nature through the creative power of the Holy Spirit is at the heart of what the church ought to do. When we confuse the two, or assume who the church is (nature) and focus on what the Church does (function), we often lose sight of the vertical, God-centered component of our existence, which results in a profound shift in how we understand, assess and determine the spiritual health of a local church.
In the fourth century the early church fathers in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed defined the nature of the church using four key attributes: “. . . We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” This confession, rooted in the Bible, is an early church creedal confession of the church. As we prepare for the Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church, here are some thoughts to ponder about the biblical truth of the Church as expressed in the Creed.
“We” - In our day of individualism and privatization of faith, we must emphasize the corporate component of the Church.
“Believe” – In our day of relativism, we must focus on the absolute and exclusive claims of Christ and the necessity of belief in Him as the basis of new life as a Christian in the Church.
“One” – This spiritual community created by the Holy Spirit through the work of Christ is one. There is a unity among these people who comprise the Church. As the Father and the Son are one, so those who are part of the Church are one with the Father and the Son, and with one another (cf. Eph. 4:1-6; also Jn. 10:16; 17:11, 20-23; 1 Cor. 1:10-17).
It is just as necessary for God to reveal these truths to us about the Church as it was for the Father to reveal the truth about Christ to Peter. This means we must pray and ask God the Holy Spirit to illumine the truth He has revealed in the Word. We must pray that He will prepare hearts to hear and respond to the messages and other teachings at the conference. In preparation for God to teach us, we must confess that we have often dishonored Christ, who is the Head of the Church, by how we have, or sadly have not, lived life together as the Church. We have acknowledged Christ and echoed His high priestly prayer that we may be one. But we confess that in our lives and actions we often have not been eager or worked diligently to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We have been anything but one. In humility, we recommit to the one Christ, and the oneness He created in the Church. Let’s pray that God will use this conference both for biblical education and spiritual transformation, for His glory and the good of His people, the Church.
Please plan to join us at the Please Theology Conference.