Church Is a Place You Go

The Westminster Theological Society is a group a ministers in the EPC who are striving to keep the denominational discussions and priorities centered around scripture. In 2017 they began publishing the Westminster Society Journal, which is aimed at EPC ministers, ruling elders, and interested lay people. I contributed an essay to last year’s volume, and contributed again to the 2019 volume which was just released. My article is called “Church Is a Place You Go”, and was also the subject of an interview I gave a few weeks ago on the E.A.R. Podcast. The opening paragraphs of my article can be found below.

What do you say when a college student in your church informs you that his Christian-oriented conversations with a couple of friends over coffee count as going to church? Or when one of your regular attenders stops coming on Sunday mornings so she can go serve her neighbors and be the church rather than go to another boring meeting?

The innocence and apparent simplicity of these questions belies a deeper complexity on the very nature of the church and the individual Christian. The Westminster Confession (WCF) describes the visible church as the kingdom of God to which has been given God’s worship, word, and sacraments,1 and is a society to which believers and their children belong.2Does God’s worship, word, and sacraments belong to Christians as individuals (or as individuals gathered together), or do they belong to something more formal and institutional? Is the visible church the sum of its parts (i.e. the total, individual membership of Christ’s body) or does it require the more extensive, institutional structure inherent in a society? Considering the claim that worship, the doctrine of the gospel, and the sacraments are given by God to the visible church and no other entity, the stakes in answering this question are high. What God has given his people in order for them to possess life, namely Christ himself, comes through the visible church. The church father Cyprian put it this way, “No one can have God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother.”3 God provides Christ to his people through the visible church, which makes answering the question about the relationship between individual Christians and this divine institution imperative: Are Christians the church or do Christians go to church?

1. WCF 25.2, 4.
2. Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) 62.
3. Cyprian of Carthage. The Unity of the Church. Translated by Roy J. Deferrari. 1959.