So far, I’ve assumed certain things: (1) the church is made up of People, (2) The church’s existence is based on historical prerequisites (3) The church’s leadership is divine and an unmentioned 4th. I covered some entailments of these by pointing out that the church’s purpose is linked with the work of God, the Holy Spirit, living in the church. With such underpinnings in place one wonders what the local expression of the universal church might look like. I mean, is it merely Two or Three non-speaking Christians at the local bodega/grocery store? Is it maybe a married Christian couple taking a nap? There are some things, both positive and negative that demarcates the boundary lines of a local expression of The Church Universal: what are they?
Marker One would be the communal sharing and taking of the Lord’s Supper (some call it breaking bread, others communion, yet others mass). Theological convictions aside (such as is the body of Christ present in the elements, is the Supper necessary for maintaining continued Grace), we must remember that Christ established the institution to be repeated until He returns and so keeping it fulfills more of the Holy Spirits ministry in remembrance and Gospel declaration. The early church was so excited about Christ that they would take the Lord’s Supper often and got into a habit taking it on the first day of the week (in remembrance of the day Christ was resurrected: John 20; Act 20:18; 1 Cor 16:2).
Marker Two could safely be considered baptism. Once again, theological convictions aside (such as is baptismal salvific or regenerational or mere symbol) we must remember that Christ tells the twelve that they are to make disciples, baptizing them in a tri-fold authority of the Godhead. This they took to heart. So much so that Philip is seen doing this for a Gentile in Acts and Peter spends some time speaking about baptism in his own letter. Baptism becomes such a fundamental aspect of every Christian in that early church that Paul can reference it (Rom 6, Gal 3, Col 2) to teach a lesson about proper Christian living. True, Paul does say he personally wasn’t called to Baptize but that is not to say he didn’t do it (because he did 1 Cor 1:14) but it is to say that his work was not to be solely focused on the markers but establishing the foundation.
Marker Three is the necessity for the community to treat each other in love. Christ gave them an example of washing each other’s feet (John 13, which became a rite in some places) and they took it to heart. In Acts selling their possessions and forming a community. When distance proved impractical, the churches in an entire region would, at one point, gather up money to give to a church they’ve never seen and probably had some huge cultural issues with, hand the gift over to Paul and send him on his way. Paul explains (1 Cor 13 ) that the church was to operate on the principle of Love, to one another and without reserve. So much so that in Romans 13-15 this Law of Love becomes a driving principle in the believers’ interactions with each other.
Marker Four is an outgrowth of Marker Three, being that the church was to discipline its own members. Jesus specifies the way that the believers were to deal with a brother who has caused offense and eventually if the brother is recalcitrant, brings the issue up before the congregation (Matt 18). Paul points out what must be done with an openly sinful person within the congregation (1 Cor 5). The Hebrews writer points out the necessity for the group to remain a gathering because the falling away (or back) of individuals from this group is tantamount to the sin of the Israelites before Canaan.
Marker Five: the church members are to maintain pure worship practices by (A) not embracing pagan worship practices (Acts 15, 1 Cor 10); by (B) not going back to the sacrificial system of Judaism (Hebrews); by (C) adhering to the Scriptures of the Bible and the Apostolic Teaching (Acts 2, 2 Tim 4, Acts 13, Acts 14, Acts 20:20, Romans 1:1-15, Rom 10, 1 Cor 1, 1 Cor 9, 2 Cor 10, Gal 1, Phil 1, 2 Tim 4, Rev 14:6) and by (D) maintaining a corporate life of continual prayer (1 Thes 5:17; 2Thes 3:2; 1 Tim 5:5; James 5:13-16; 1 Pet 4:7; 1 John 5; Jude 1:20; Acts 2:42; Matt 6 ).
Marker Six, which consists of purity in interactive lives, would also be an outgrowth of Marker Three (since this marker is dependant on loving one another) and Marker Five (since Paul points out all sin as being a form of idolatry-Col 3:5). Church members were to maintain pure moral practices in their sex lives (Acts 15, 1 Cor 6, 1 Thes 4:3), their business lives (1 Cor 6:8, Eph 5:3, 1 Thes 4:6), their interpersonal interactions (long lists can be found in 1 Timothy 2, Titus 2, Gal 5, 1 Peter 2, 2 Tim 3:10-12, 1 Tim 1:16, Col 3, Eph 4, 2 Cor 6, Matt 5 – 7, Heb 13 to list a few)
Marker Seven would be an outgrowth of Marker Five and that would be preaching the Gospel. Out of necessity by doing the Holy Spirit’s work they would be naturally preaching the Gospel so in this case the crystallized work of the universal church is also a marker that defines the local church.
So the universal church, even though its purpose was two-fold (focused on the edifying of the saints by reminding of Christ and the preaching the death and resurrection of Christ) finds that it is demarcated as a local entity by (at least) seven specific markers: (1) the Lord’s Supper, (2) baptizing disciples, (3) loving one another, (4) disciplining its own members, (5) pure worship practices, (6) pure moral practices and (7) preaching the Gospel.
Update: Unfortunately, in my focus on discipline (4) and pure moral practices (6) I noticed that I completely ignored a very important 8th marker: exemplary leadership in community with other leaders. I’m going to add a post to the series reflecting my oversight as well as what I think it should properly look like.