THE CHURCH

Reflections by D. R. Hutchcraft
Visiting Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies

The essence of Northwestern's doctrinal statement on the church is the recognition that we as an institution exist to serve the body of Christ, the Church. The word we translate as church from the Greek is ekklesia. It is a compound word made up of the two Greek words one meaning to call and the other meaning out from. According to Wuest (1984) the classical Greek word that we translate as the church referred to an assembly of the citizens summoned by the town crier and this is how it is used in Acts 19:32-41 (p.27). But throughout the rest of the New Testament ekklesia refers to the collective community of Christ followers -- "a company of saved people who are by their salvation called out from the world into living, organic union with Christ to form His mystical Body over which He is the Head" (Chafer, 1948, vol. 7, p. 127). In some contexts like the book of Ephesians the word refers to the mystical body of Christ made up of saved individuals. In other parts of the New Testament, (Romans 16:5 and Galatians 1:2), the word church is used to refer to the local churches (Ibid).

The concept of these called-out ones who were to be a community is seen in Mark 10:17-31. In dealing with the rich young ruler and through a dialogue with the disciples Jesus makes clear the nature of His church that He was going to build. The church was to be "an alternative community patterned after the social model of the Mediterranean family. As Mark 10:17-31 so clearly reveals, Jesus' social vision stood diametrically opposed to the economic realities of first-century Palestine, where the elite systematically accumulated an inordinate amount of landed wealth at the expense of the poor, forced the peasantry to resort to subsistence tenancy, and then proceeded at times to defraud them of their wages" (Hellerman, 2000, p. 164). In this narrative what Jesus had demanded of His disciples and what He was demanding of the rich young ruler was much more than a liquidation of assets. What Jesus offered to His disciples and to the rich young ruler was the opportunity to disentangle themselves "from the structural evil which characterized first-century Palestinian social relations in order to participate in a new spiritual reality which would someday turn the Roman Empire on its head" (Ibid). It was an offer to become a part of a new unique family or community based on love where the members of this household of faith esteemed others more highly than themselves and the essence of leadership was being a servant. This new community of faith was made up of fully devoted followers and learners of Christ with the singular purpose of glorifying God by making disciples of all nations.

Therefore to be a part of the church is to be one with Christ. It is to respond to a call to be a part of a whole, a people called into being a community of faith existing for the purpose of glorifying God by making disciples of all nations. A people who are to be the community that is to be the body of Christ during the ensuing period of His absence. These are a people called forth from diverse ethnic communities with a commonality of being in the past in bondage to sin, but now having responded to a call of a new sense of identity founded on a common faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This result in a "bond with the God of righteousness and compassion. . .called to. . .worship and participation in the creative, redemptive purpose that unifies all history and is directed to the restoration of the whole creation within a universal order of shalom" (Hanson, 2001, p. 467). To be a part of the Church is not just merely belonging to an organization or being devoted to an institution, it is being a royal priesthood entrusted with a great mission.

References:

Chafer, L. S. (1948). Systematic Theology. Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press.
Hanson, P. D. (2001). The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible. Louisville, KY:
Westminister John Knox Press.
Hellerman, J. H. (2000). "Wealth and Sacrifice in Early Christianity: Revisiting Mark's Presentation."
Trinity Journal, Fall 2000, 21(2), 143-165.
Wuest, K. S. (1984). Wuest's Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans