The church began at Pentecost when Christ sent the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and is comprised of all those born of the Spirit until Christ returns for us. I believe we have a common love, a common labour, and a common Lord who makes us all one body (Ephesians 4:4-6), so we not only individuals but also a group, and we should own this and meet together (Hebrews 10:25). It is together that we appreciate God’s love (Ephesians 3:18-19), spread his message, and represent his nature (John 13:35). Our unity transcends the Jew-Gentile boundary, among others (Galatians 3:28). I take Christ’s commands to celebrate his Supper (Luke 22:19) and to baptise new believers (Matthew 28:19) to apply to all the church; in these ordinances, we signify Christ’s work and our faith in and participation with him. Meeting together and carrying out these ordinances naturally means organised local groups. Variation, non-centralisation and even debate are okay; they are not always the sin of division.
Religion, institution, and church, notwithstanding their unpopularity, are fine English words that apply to real Christians in the true church of Christ.
As with individual sanctification, the church must not expect ease, but will be infiltrated and diluted throughout the age (Matthew 13:29-30). This age is the church’s betrothal or pilgrimage; it is fools or charlatans who claim that their version of the church has already ‘arrived’; they defraud us of a hope and striving which gives us fellowship with Christ. In this fellowship lies the true pilgrimage triumph: Christ promises to equip the church to overcome temptation and endure persecution (Revelation 2:10, 25).
God, who established family and government, gives us beautiful and loving patterns of hierarchy to live by, and the church is no exception (Titus 1:5). While Christ is uniquely the high priest and head of the church, I recognise church leaders amongst Christians, and I am open to a variety of leadership styles and systems of appointment (elders, bishops, etc.) (Hebrews 13:17, Ephesians 5:21). I believe that meeting in groups and following leaders also allows us to follow Christ’s instructions for discipline (Matthew 18:15-17).