First up at Advance09 was Mark Driscoll who is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. From my understanding Seattle is a hard city for the Gospel, people largely view the Church as irrelevant, bigoted and backwards (unfortunately, the caricature is not inaccurate enough).
The title/question is a significant one. It’s important to understand what this messy thing is that we call the Church. Driscoll first covered what differing views throughout history have said, but what was interesting is that there was no written works from 251AD – 1378AD that talked about ecclesiology (the study of the theological understanding of the Christian church) and there is no historically consistent belief on it.
Is it essentially a visible phenomenon which is easy to define, or invisible and undefinable? Is it about apostolic succession or about faith and faithfulness? What if things are done wrong, is it still really the Church as God defines it?
So, May 31st was “Pentecost Sunday” which celebrates what is considered the beginning of the Church, so if that was the beginning what changed on that day that set it apart from the 50 days prior after Jesus had ascended? The Holy Spirit.
Jesus, while he was on earth, was in constant contact with the Holy Spirit and dependent on him for power, Jesus was constantly praying and depending on the Father to guide his steps as well. You’ll see (especially if you read the Gospel of Matthew) that Jesus as a real human was dependent on the Holy Spirit to do anything. So, as he’s preparing to ascend and giving last instructions, what does he tell the disciples? “Wait.”
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, â€œyou heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.â€ (Acts 1:4-5 ESV)
He tells them to wait until they receive the Holy Spirit because if Jesus needed him to do what he did, the apostles would certainly need him all the more. It’s on Pentecost that the Church is born. The Holy Spirit shows up and Peter preaches a sermon in the middle of Jerusalem that convinces 3,000 people that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and able to save every one who believes.
When you look at Peter’s words they’re not all that eloquent, but they’re exactly what was true. Peter focused on Jesus because the Church is totally about Jesus. It is not about a political brand, it’s not about family, it’s not about charity, it’s not about morality, nor power, money, buildings, missions, empire-building, growth, your best life now, hymns or “praise and worship”, missional living or monasticism and asceticism or anything else – it is all about Jesus.
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.â€ (Acts 2:32, 33, 36 ESV)
Driscoll said this about those of us in the Church: “We’re a one-song band, and we’re going to keep playing it until we see him again.”
Ultimately, the Church is that which comes in the wake of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If it’s not following those Two (Three, really, since Jesus says that he does everything the Father tells him), it is not the Church.
Finally Driscoll listed (not exclusively) 8 things that mark a real Church that is following God:
- Regenerated Church Membership
- Members whom God is working within.
- Qualified Leadership
- This should illustrate a reality of the Trinity: ontological equality and functional (voluntary) subordination.
- Gathering for Teaching/Preaching and Worship.
- Preaching illustrates the Gospel: God is the giver, I am merely the receiver.
- Sacraments Rightly Administered
- Unified by the Holy Spirit
- Distinguish between closed-handed (non-negotiable) beliefs and open-handed beliefs & prioritize important things.
- Centered around Jesus and proclamation of the Gospel.
- Discipline for Holiness
- I’m still not sure what this looks like.
- Obey the Great Commandment to Love
- Obey the Great Commission to share the Gospel
It’s not just the Church in its gathered state, but when it scatters into the world it is still the Church. It’s where we’re following in the wake of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.