Nature of the Church

This is the first post of a long series of excerpts from my Philosophy of Ministry paper.

What is the church? Simply put, the church is God’s chosen people. James Bannerman succinctly defines the church as, “the whole body of the faithful, whether in heaven or on earth, who have been or shall be spiritually united to Christ as their Savior.”[1]

Scripture talks about the church in many ways. The church is the body of Christ, as St Paul writes in Romans 12:5, “…so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Christ rules and guides the church as its Head (Col. 1:18), and from Him every member of the body grows and builds itself up (Eph. 4:15–16). The church is the Bride of Christ, which He has purchased and promises to make holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25–28, Rev. 19:7). The church is also the family and household of God (Eph. 2:18–19), the flock of God (Jn. 10:16; 1 Pet. 5:2–4), and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16, Eph. 2:22).

Theologians have applied a couple helpful distinctions to the church. First, we can speak of the church militant and the church triumphant. The church militant is the church as she now exists on the earth, engaged in holy war. The church triumphant consists of the saints who have gone to glory, exchanging their swords for a palm of victory.[2] Second, we have the visible and invisible church. The visible church consists of “all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children” (WCF 25.2). It can be said that among this church is the invisible church, those who are truly elect and have been saved by Christ unto eternal life. Another way of expressing this idea is using the phrases historical church and eschatological church. The historical church corresponds to the visible church, consisting of all who have professed Christ and participated in the life of the church in history. The eschatological church corresponds to the invisible church, consisting of only those who have persevered unto eternal life.[3]

[1] James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust), 7.
[2] Louis Berkhof, A Summary of Christian Doctrine (London, UK: Banner of Truth Trust), 140.
[3] Douglas Wilson, Westminster Systematics (Moscow, ID: Canon Press), 183.

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