What is the Church?

After mentioning a few erroneous definitions and assumptions about what the church is, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, professor of theology at Western Seminary, Portland, OR., based on Acts 2:42-47, offer a summary of what they consider “a biblical definition of church as God meant it to be”:

The local church is a community of regeneration believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.  (Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, p. 307)

Apart from the fact that Driscoll and Breshears (a) began with the church catholic and then switched to the “local church” in their definition, (b) based their definition on Acts 2:42-47, which is not meant to be the “biblical definition of the church as God meant it to be,” (c) no mention of prayer, which is mentioned in Acts 2:42, (d) and there’s no mention of members ministering to one another—this definition is a good place to start.

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19 Responses to What is the Church?

  1. Craig Benno says:

    I think it is a good place to start. Ultimately every expression of church comes under Christ’s rule. I don’t actually think the NT gives us the ultimate example of what a church looks like – after all most of the Epistles are written to a divided church.

    Rather I would say that we are given many principals to which we can implement in a wide and varied expression within the appropriate cultural setting.

  2. Colin says:

    Yes this does look like a good place to start. Much depends on whether you want a full definition or a precis. I certainly expect prayer and ministering to each other to be features of the life of the Church .

    In a comment on a post a couple of weeks ago I alluded to Calvin’s definition of church based on the faithful preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments (Baptism and Communion) and Godly discipline. I may not always go with everything associated with Calvin and modern Calvinism, but that looks like a good foundation. Many of the other marks could be said to be the working out of our response to Word and Sacrament.

    • T.C. R says:


      Thinking crossculturally, I’d have to agree with you. But certain basic elements must be there. We’re talking form and function here as well.


      Then we’re talking precis. Regarding “Many of the other marks could be said to be the working out of our response to Word and Sacrament,” do you want to elaborate? What do you mean by sacrament?

  3. Chuck says:

    I’m just glad to know that that requiring a tattoo and watching Ultimate Fighting did not make their final cut as requirements for participation in this “ideal church”! It was probably a close call… 🙂

  4. Chris E says:

    As a followup to Colin’s comment above, the first sentence is somewhat diametrically opposite to Calvin’s definition of the church, in the way in which it looks inward into the heart of the believer, rather than outward to the proclaimation of the Gospel and the Sacraments.

    Whilst it is to be desired that everyone in the church be regenerate, there are no guarentees that this is so, indeed the parable of the Wheat and the Tares tells us that in this life Augustine’s City of God never perfectly correlates with the visible church.

  5. Bill says:

    Apart from other quibbles I might have in mind, TC, I’d say the main point here is that there’s no definition in their “definition”. It’s much more like a checklist. Very curious.

    To define the ekklesia, I might call her a gaggle of holy ones. That is what she is. But whatever those saints do or don’t do is more properly known as a Story. For instance, Corinth and Laodicea were still addressed (reverently, even) as “churches”.

    Side note: I’ve no philosophical problem with the idea that, in some sense, we can and do “define” ourselves by our actions. But defining a word is much different than defining a people. Clearly the authors have more in mind than definitions, but they should realize that grammar is a very poor tool for standardizing behavior.

  6. T.C. R says:


    Seems to be a thing of the past. 😀

    Chris E,

    By mentioning “regenerated believers,” the authors have narrowed their definition. Yes, we’re talking dissimilarities here. After all, the authors are talking “a biblical definition as God meant it to be.” 😉

    |To define the ekklesia, I might call her a gaggle of holy ones. That is what she is.|


    But even as you mentioned “checklist,” we will all agree that some basic elements must be present for their to be church, correct?

    In other words, what made the church(es) at Corinth and Laodicea, the church?

    We cannot escape some defining “marks”?

  7. kenny chmiel says:

    A context for the weak made strong by mighty speech acts human and divine.

  8. ScottL says:

    I truly love Acts 2:42-47 as a picture of the church in all its various aspects. Sometimes a definition best comes through a lived-out picture.

  9. T.C. R says:


    Yes, I do see the sacraments as a type of “speech act.”

    Scott L,

    For me, Acts 2:42-47 is a great starting place. I forgot the quote by Stott on this text. Do you recall it?

  10. Kevin S. says:

    I like Luther’s words, straight and simple:

    “the word Kirche (church) means really nothing else than a common assembly, and is not German by idiom, but Greek (as is also the word ecclesia)”

    …but in our Christian context, the common assembly of Christian believers.

  11. Colin says:

    excuse the time in picking up your question. A combination of the time difference and I have been busy.

    Firslty it is interesting that your post picked up on tha Acts 2 passage. Our vicar preached a short series through Acts 2 v 42 over Lent. Covering Breaking of bread, prayer etc. Very timely.

    My thinking was that as we place ourselves under the authority of ther Word, through personal reading and study, and through preaching and public reading we are challenged motivated and equiped to pray and minister to each other. Similarly as we witness Baptisms, recalling our own, and as we gather round the Lord’s table and receive the bread and wine together (in a manner exhorted i 1 Cor 11?), we receive spiritual benefit in so doing, are reminded of what Christ did for us and again motivated and equiped for mission.

    There are some similarities with Calvin’s Institutes in these comments. I had nothing very startling or original in view!

  12. T.C. R says:


    That’s a start.


    (I’m often on West coast time, so I know what you mean ;-)) Yes, I was looking over Book IV of Calvin’s Institutes. Yes, some echoes for sure.

    Well, I do like your response. Hard to contest it, except that you’re an Anglican and I’m a Baptist. 😉

    Scott L,

    Here’s that Stott quote:

    So what did the early church look like? What evidence did it give of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit? If we can answer these questions, noting carefully the essentials which Luke mentions in Acts 2, we will be able to discern the marks of a living church today” (The Living Church, p. 22).

    Then Stott outlines Acts 2:42-47: 1. A Learning Church. 2. A Caring Church. 3. A Learning Church. 4. An Evangelistic Church.

  13. A. Amos Love says:

    TC –

    IMO – The question asked – *What* is the Church? Puts the focus on a thing.

    How about – *Who* is the Church? Puts the focus on people. God’s people.
    God doesn’t dwell in buildings made with hands. Jesus lives in you and me.
    Aren’t we “The Church of God,” purchased with the Blood of Jesus. Ac 20:28

    IMO – The church Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears are talking about is the 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax deductible, Religious $ Corporation. A business, a thing, with rules, regulations, hierarchy, which looks like something other then “we’re all brethren” hearing His Voice and following Jesus.

    Should “Disciples of Christ” call a $ Corporation – “The Church?” 😉

    Did Jesus shed His Blood for a building, an organization, an institution,
    a denomination, or a $ Corporation? 😉

    Or did He shed His Blood for you and me? His Church…

    That’s why it is so hard for the Religious System to come up with a definition for “Church.” They are modeling it after the church of Rome and trying to reform a broken model. No matter how much reformation – It’s still broken.

    In the Bible, No one ever “Did church.” Or went to church. Oy Vey!!! 😉

    In the Bible, believers are the “Ekklesia,” The Church, the body of Christ, the redeemed of the Lord, the Israel of God, the sons of God, and Jesus is the head of the body, the Church. The ekklesia, the called out one’s.

    Jer 50:6
    My people hath been *lost sheep:*
    “their shepherds” have caused them to “go astray”

    1Pet 2:25
    For ye were as “sheep going astray;”
    but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

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