When we are little we are taught a little saying about the church. Here’s the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. It’s a simplified explanation of the church but one point that got across to me is that people gather in the church. The church is so much more as defined by the Bible.
The four essential characteristics of a biblical church are autonomy, Jesus’ lordship, covenant, and baptized Believers.
Baptists do not believe in having a leadership hierarchy over the local Church. They are an independent local congregation of baptized believers. The local body is governed by biblical laws, exercising the gifts and rights given to them in the Word. It functions without any hierarchy dictating rules and regulations.
Jesus Christ is the head of the New Testament church, and It seeks to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth as commanded in the Great Commission. The New Testament church is the body of Christ which embraces all people groups.
“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:18 NIV)
The New Testament church – the bride and body of Christ are at the center of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus is the foundation of the Church.
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:11 NIV)
Paul stated that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20 NIV) Jesus’ work on the cross is the chief cornerstone of the Church’s foundation. The Church has an enduring, safe, and solid foundation. Jesus clearly stated that the Church’s foundation was not on Peter but on the fact that Jesus is the Son of the living God, the Messiah.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:15-18 NIV)
The local Church is a covenant relationship. It is a commitment by God to the Church expressing God’s promises to His people and, as a result, their relationship with Him.
The Church itself consists of baptized Believers. Christians publicly declare their allegiance to Christ through the sacrament of baptism. It is a sign of being buried with Christ, dead to the old sinful nature, and receiving a new birth. This statement or declaration of faith binds believers in a shared belief system.
The Word for Church in Greek is ekklesia, meaning “the ones called out.” Believers or Christians are called to be separated from the world into the body of Christ. The Church is a community of Believers that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Within the community of the Church, God distributes gifts for building up the body of Christ.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:4-8 NIV)
Each member of the Church has a gift given for the betterment of the whole. Each member should seek to identify their talent and actively use it to serve the community.