What’s our church on about?


I sat in a church staff meeting and we came back—as we must—to that question that all true churches should ask themselves on a regular basis: what’s our church on about?

I scribbled down a four-parter in descending order of importance, and share it here for what it is worth. That may not be a lot, given that it took all of one minute and thirty seconds to get it onto a scrap of paper, and people kept saying things that I hadn’t thought of as I wrote. But here we go.

In our church, we are on about:

  1. The Glory of God
  2. revealed only in the Cross of Christ
  3. through the preaching of the Bible by his disciples
  4. under the oversight of one human leader.

That fourth point, while not unimportant, is mainly there because we are Anglican (US = Episcopalian, UK = Church of England), so insert the church leadership structure of your own choosing. Also realize that, as I am not that leader in our church, the statement is likely not worth the paper it’s not written on.

I don’t have the time to do a Baddeley and actually tell you what I mean by each word in each statement. Nonetheless, feel free to use the comments to tell me what I’ve missed in outlining what any good local church should really be about.

20 thoughts on “What’s our church on about?

  1. Alright Gordo, I’ll take the bait. (Poor pedantic detail man that I am…)

    One of the problems with this sort of exercise is that it’s reductionistic. But that’s the point, distilling the essence brings focus and clarity to what you are doing.

    A couple of questions/comments I have…

    1. You have an ultimate goal – the glory of God – but what about a proximate goal?

    The making of disciples of Jesus, for example (Matt 28:18-20, Col 1:28-29)?

    Or perhaps the building of Christ’s church (Eph 4:11-13, 1 Cor 14:12)?

    2. And do we need to specify the basic response we are looking for, perhaps faith towards God and love towards neighbour? (I’ll stop providing ‘proof texts’, because I’m sure we can all think of them.)

    3. Why is the glory of God “revealed only in the cross of Christ”, and not his resurrection – so prominent in the Acts preaching – not withstanding 1 Cor 2:2?

    See, for example, Rom 6:4 and 1 Pet 1:21 which connect his resurrection with God’s glory (cf. for us too, 1 Cor 15:43). Did not the Spirit of Christ within the OT prophets predict glories subsequent to Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 1:11)?

    4. Lastly, your provocative way of putting your 4th point gave me two reactions:

    (i) it is fundamentally right in practical essence how you describe classical Anglican congregational leadership as a one-man band. But it is not quite precise, in the sense that Churchwardens, though basically responsible for the fabric/property and monies of the church, also had a duty to ensure the church’s Minister (pastor) was conducting ministry according to biblical standards (in an Anglican way), and the Minister is supposed to consult with Churchwardens and Parish Council about spiritual matters, although he alone is responsible. So just a tiny little nuance to your stark summary of Anglican pollity!
    (ii) That said, your summary point 4 really shows our Anglican problem in that I would argue that New Testament eldership is always plural. That’s why I am so glad for the widespread development of team ministry (in a variety of ways) in the Anglican circles I am familiar with, which allow for plural eldership (or something akin) in practice, if not in formal Anglican theory!

  2. Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God”. I presume the heavens are not particularly pointing to the cross. So maybe 2 is a bit of an overstatement.

  3. You’re going to drag it out of me, aren’t you Sandy? All I was looking for was a quick blog post (also known as a ‘bleet’ wink ) to let people know that theological thinking was going on, even if at the most superficial level.


    1. You have an ultimate goal – the glory of God – but what about a proximate goal?

    You mention the making of disciples as one possibility. This is necessarily implied by ‘through the preaching of the Bible by his disciples’, if we assume that the Lord Jesus makes possible what he commands in Matthew 28:18-20. If he does not make it possible, then we are not having this conversation.

    2. No. It is God’s job to specify the response, I think. You or I may suggest it, but not in this place.

    3. The cross of Christ necessarily includes his resurrection. My proof texts are Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians. I have more.

    4. As to your fourth point, mate I am past caring. What to the power of ever, as some of the young people that I have recently had contact with may have said once, in an irritating way. I really don’t care about what Anglicanism is, but for those who do, I put it to them, or you, that the rector has infinite power, except as curtailed by his bishop, who insists that the rector not be called a rector but a vicar. Past that it is possible that a metropolitan may include claims of their own. Beyond that a Primate may have an interest. Over all, there is an Archbishop of Canterbury, whose claims are contested at a local level by a rector.

    This means that the rector has infinite power in a local context.

  4. Ian, the heavens declare the glory of God, and are suppressed within the human heart by sin. This makes sin, within the human heart, the equivalent of a rector operating within his parish boundaries.

  5. Gordon,

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by rectors having infinite power in the local context but if it means what I think it means, that is definitely not what I think either the NT teaches or what good church practice should dictate.

    The ultimate earthly authority in the church has to lie within the church itself, not in its leaders. As far as I can tell, there is no power structure in the NT, only a service structure.

    I don’t see how you can really justify saying that a church should be under the oversight of one human leader.

  6. Hi Lee,

    Please forgive my slight cynicism about Anglican rectors, which led to an overstatement to which you are rightly reacting. I am speaking as only an insider can these days (we seem to live in a culture where you can only really criticize the the group you belong to).

    As I noted in the original post, it is the least important of the 4 characteristics of an Anglican/Episcopalian church that it be under the head of one human leader, and it is (in my view and I think the Bible’s) entirely negotiable.

    That is, I don’t believe that the Bible mandates any particular system of church polity, and while I am happily critical of the organization I belong to, it is in fact the one I have chosen to belong to. Imagine what I think of yours! wink

    The ‘vibe’ of the New Testament, as Sandy has pointed out in his comment above, is a plurality of eldership—in fact I think Sandy is probably making that point a bit more strongly.

    But this is, as Sandy also points out, not impossible in a church where one man is (by that denomination’s polity) the leader of the congregation. He simply needs to be a man who takes the Bible seriously and uses his power to serve. Which, incidentally, is exactly what our rector was doing when he invited Tony Payne to lead the discussion amongst the staff that resulted in the above 4-pointer.

    So my more nuanced and less provocative statement about the episcopalian structure is that it is possible, in the grace and kindness of our Saviour Jesus Christ, for even Anglicans to be biblical!

  7. I don’t have the time to do a Baddeley

    Play golf really really well?

    Win the Australian Open?

    I suppose that would take a fair bit of time…

  8. Gordo,

    You mention the preaching of the Bible, is it worth also including the other means of grace?

  9. Mark, you are either referring to creation (in which case see the comments above between Ian and myself), or to something else that I would place under the heading of the word of God.

  10. All right, I’ll bite.  Do these exercises have any practical value?
    Has any minister changed the direction of his sermon because it didn’t fit his mission statement (or whatever you’d call them these days)? 
    Has anyone stopped conducting a particular kind of ministry or outreach *of their own devising* because it didn’t fit their mission statement?
    Has such a mission statement ever saved a church under attack by a heresy which opposed their mission statement?

  11. To have a church lead by single human who is not Jesus seems the worst possible structure of them all!

    Is there any justification to consider a non-plurality of elders as a wise thing for a church and denomination to have?

  12. Ellen, does prayer change God’s mind? wink

    A dangerous implied comparison I know.

    But I take it your questions are rhetorical. Speaking personally, I think it’s not a bad thing for leaders to compare notes on what they think they are doing, and it seemed reasonably useful the other day when we did the exercise. It does give ministry leaders a useful document to talk from when explaining the ministry to visitors and newcomers—just as the 39 Articles helps Bible-believing Anglicans to explain what Anglicanism stands for.

    They would be an example of a ‘what are we on about’ that have stood the test of usefulness over a period of time.

    Dannii, no argument from me.

  13. Well, I was thinking of things like prayer

    Is prayer a means of grace?

    At any rate, I would think that would be the most important response of a church to a particular mission.

    If like Sandy you think the response to God’s word preached ought to be spelt out in more detail in a mission statement, then that would have to be at the top of the list.

    I wouldn’t put it in a mission statement but I can see why others might.

  14. For my mob, our “vision” is to be a church who –

    • Loves Jesus
    • Loves Each Other
    • Is a continuing blessing to the media and inner west

    Of course there is no one right answer with regards to these sorts of things (though plenty of wrong answers).

  15. Gordon, you know I love you, but…I have to come back on point 2! To say that “The cross of Christ necessarily includes his resurrection” is just not good enough if you are drawing up a list of principles to provide guidance for a church. You know this is a bugbear of mine, but my experience is that if we keep on “assuming” we all believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but all we ever talk about in gospel sermons is the cross, we will soon breed a generation of Christians who regard the resurrection as an optional “add on” to the gospel instead of being a crucial part of the message.

  16. To say that “The cross of Christ necessarily includes his resurrection” is just not good enough

    What, now you’re asking for a Bible reference to go with that, Neil?

    Oh alright then.

    John 12: 27-33 says

    27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

    The lifting up of the Christ in his death is also the lifting up of the glorified Christ in which he, the risen Jesus, draws all people to himself.

    The crucified Christ is the risen Christ.

  17. Thanks Gordon, I absolutely and positively agree that in the NT a reference to the cross will usually imply a reference to the resurrection. I like your ref from John’s gospel- I did a paper last year on this issue because I seem to regularly hear people say that John “mainly” or even “always” means the cross when he refers to Jesus’ glorification (http://works.bepress.com/neil_foster/39/). Howsomever, I still beg to suggest that if one is designing a set of memorable principles to guide a church’s life, explicit rather than implicit reference to the resurrection would be a lot better!

  18. Yes, you’re right Neil, especially given the significant lack of insight surrounding the doctrine of the resurrection within our circles.

    OK point conceded! This is one place where it is good to make the implicit explicit.

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