Now, let's be honest: it is possible that, if we define "the church", that definition will not help us answer anyone's question about coming to or going out from such a thing. That's logically possible. For example, if the definition of "the church" is "anyplace where Christians meet", that doesn't help us at all.
Now, rather than give you my definition first and then add a bunch of Scripture as decoration later, I want to start here in defining the church:
- Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-- if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
So whatever Paul is doing, it's about what he calls "manifesting" this promise of eternal life by preaching truth for the benefit of the elect. We will talk about what Paul is doing in a second, and put a name to it.
But Paul identifies himself this way to his disciple Titus, and then begins the body of his letter, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order". When Paul passed through Crete, he proclaimed this message of God's promise for eternal life, and apparently some people heard it and believed it -- but it wasn't enough that they believed. Whatever "belief" was, it wasn't something which was for their own personal enjoyment. We know this because Titus was left behind (in a good way, not a scary eschatological way) to put these people "in order". The word here is "epidiorthow", and it comes from the root "orthos" -- "straight". Titus' job was literally to "stand up" or "erect" something, and Paul tells him what it is right away.
Paul wants Titus to set things in order by appointing elders in every town. Listen: all the fru-fru in the meta about called-out believers in worship is swell -- and good enough as far as it goes. But for Paul, the church was not about some arbitrary or coincidental gathering. It wasn't a social; it wasn't a convenience or an inconvenience. It was something which required fellas whom he here called "presbuteros" (and later, "episkopos").
Now, the weaker brothers have already gone running off yelling, "Cent's gone soft! Al Sends and Doug Wilson finally got to him! He's going to start advocating baby baptism, cigars and brandy!" But the reason I go to the Greek on this one (here translated "elders") is to point something out: Paul isn't asking Titus to merely find guys to wear a tunic with a silver fish on the lapel. He isn't starting a private prayer group or a think tank. Paul is telling Titus to set Crete in order by "appointing" these guys (and they are all guys, for future reference) to an office which follows or continues the work Paul himself has already laid down.
Think about that: to close up the loop from above, Paul was preaching and teaching to the elect, and they had an implied obligation to pay attention. They also had an obligation to pay attention even after Paul had moved on to the next town. What Paul instructs Titus to do is find men who can do what has already been done in Crete, and from a position of authority and fidelity. But let's not miss something here: Paul isn't telling Titus to replace the local secular government of Crete with a new faith-based rule. Paul is instructing Titus on how to set the church in order so that it may stay in order.
The CHURCH. See: the church is not just some theory or some accidental or coincidental body which happens to be in but not of the world. The church is a local body set apart from the world for the purpose of declaring God's promise and for the sake of protecting the faith and expanding the knowledge of truth among the elect.
This is foundational to "getting" church. It is foundational to understanding why there is a local church at all -- and why the believer ought to belong to one. The church is not optional, and if you treat it like it is you're hurting both yourself and your church.
Now, is this it? I mean: should we go off half-cocked now and start stamping people's heads with "REJECT" stamps using this piece of the definition of church? Well, no. There's more to the definition, but I'm about to be late for my men's group, and I've missed the last 2 weeks, so I better be off.
Think about this today: the church is not just someplace to go. The church is for the sake of, and ought to, declare and manifest the promise of God to the world. In that, we'll have to discover how important God thinks that work is. We'll do that next time, unless somebody steals the scriptural thunder in the meta. And even then, it deserves front-page coverage.