From the pages of scripture (and restored as a practice through the Reformation), there are three distinguishing characteristics of a church:
- The Gospel is preached, uncompromisingly. This is a Gospel that necessarily offends the flesh and our fallen nature. As was the case when Jesus preached the Gospel, some people are convicted by the truth of this message, repent, and are transformed, experiencing new life, others reject it categorically. Common in the post-modern world today is a pseudo-reception where the receiver picks and chooses those elements that are agreeable to them. If these people examine themselves carefully, they will discover that they are really not submitted to the message of the Gospel at all. Rather they subject the Gospel to their own interpretation and selective application, essentially maintaining their own place on the throne. This natural tendency is one of the primary reasons for the importance of regular meetings of believers.
- The sacraments are practiced, regularly. Baptism of new believers and communion are required practices of the church. These functions were prescribed by Christ, and practiced by the early church. The practice of these sacraments today marks our submission to Jesus Christ, our identification with His life, death, and resurrection, and demonstrates our anticipation of His future return in Glory.
- Discipline is carried out when necessary. While church discipline can be done very badly leaving a negative impact on a person, it is an imperative of the church to maintain a standard of righteousness and holiness among its adherents. Because this can be unpleasant, and can be done badly, many churches today are negligent in their willingness or ability to do it at all. The aim of this process is always restoration, but a proclaiming believer walking in sin ultimately puts others at risk. Furthermore, overseers who are lax on sin put others at risk, and the tolerance ultimately conveys acceptance. When there are departures from this standard, when self-proclaiming Christians are hardened to sin and unrepentant, the church has a mandate and a prescribed biblical model for attempting to restore that believer and, if there is no inclination in this regard, to separate from that person, considering them to be outside of the Church, regardless of what they themselves. Mt 18:15-17. While some people feel very safe in churches that ascribe to this practice, others fear the abuse that can result when it is carried out improperly. Believers must walk according to their conviction in this regard, but should be reminded that we are all ultimately accountable to God.Also see: