When I lead our church’s new member’s class called First Look, I use our name, First Baptist Church, Lafayette to serve as an outline for the conversation.
Our outline goes in backward fashion. We are a church, first. Then, we are a Baptist Church. To be precise, we are a Southern Baptist Church. Finally, we are First Baptist Church of Lafayette, LA. Each part of the title is important in identifying who we are.
Let’s talk about who we are as a church. I always say, “It is more important to be part of a church than it is to be part of a Baptist Church.” However, we make no apologies for being a Baptist Church.
We are a church! What does that mean? The Greek word for church is ekklesia. In Greek, this word is a combination of the word for “out of” and a derivative of the word “to call.” So, quite literally, a church is to be made up of the “called out ones.” This means that a person cannot really be part of the true church without a belief in Jesus.
In Matthew 16 Jesus is recorded to have asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Then, we get this exchange:
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
This is the faith statement which is the foundation of the church. In order to be part of the true church, one must have this specific faith in Jesus. Our identity exists from this faith statement. Once this is understood, then we get 4 truths, each which seem contradictory at first glance.
1. The church is to be both exclusive and inclusive. Exclusive in that a person must have a specific belief in Jesus. Inclusive in that all who have this faith in Jesus are welcome.
2. The church is to be both local and universal. We belong to each other. We belong with all others who believe and yet we are to organize ourselves locally.
3. The church is to be both scattered and gathered. There is a sense in which we “go to church” and there is another sense in which the church is “to go.”
4. The church is to be both separated from the world and saturating of the world. We have to be distinct from the world, but we must engage the world in order to evangelize the world.
Lord, help us. Help us to remember that You are building Your Church, but then help us to remember that You have given us the keys to the kingdom. You have assigned us the task of proclaiming even as we depend on You to build Your Church.
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