| Andrey Zozulya
Of the dozen points in MHC’s Statement of Faith, I suspect it can be easy to take for granted number 10.
Of A Gospel Church: We believe that a visible church of Christ is a congregation of believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ.
I think most prospective members who read that statement will not find anything objectionable. Grasping the significance sometimes comes after considering what is being opposed. By affirming what a gospel church is we assert what it isn’t. It may be helpful to think in terms of – what a gospel church is distinct from. Here are three things that a gospel church is not.
Not a Building
When Solomon’s temple was rebuilt, some of the returning exiles saw it and wept over the lack of its former glory (Ezra 3). Evidently, for some of them, worshiping the same God was that much harder in a less glamorous temple.
Some of our newer church members are unaware of our humble beginnings as a church plant in a converted storefront that had little parking, crammed kids rooms, persistent roof leakage, and an array of space heaters for the days the heat would go out. During those years it was apparent that the gospel was the reason we kept meeting in what amounted to a cold, leaking cave.
After about 7 years we were blessed to have a new building – a former church that closed its doors. Before moving in we did a good amount of renovation. The first few months we naturally had many guests visit and compliment us on the building and its new look. I assume even people from the neighborhood were glad the building was no longer an eyesore. These are all good things as long as they don't cause us to abandon the church’s priority and core – fellowship around the gospel. What is most attractive is that a neighborhood community now has a gospel presence. They always had the building, but not the people who meet in it. People who confess Jesus as the Christ are the rock that the church is built on (Matt 16:18).
Not Merely Acquaintances
One day in the neighborhood I noticed a familiar face and stopped to say “hello”. It was a man who used to attend our church for a season. At one point in our conversation he happened to refer to the church as, “my church.” That struck me because he wasn’t a member or someone who had a credible profession of faith. What did it take for him to consider the church his own? It would seem not that much at least as compared to biblical standards.
A New Testament church is a self-conscious community. For example, there is a defined relationship between pastors and the congregation (Heb. 13:17). This is what we mean by “associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel.” A local church without formal membership, leaves its people exposed to temptation – it will lack authority to exercise discipline (1 Cor. 5:2) and lack conviction to pursue those who wander from the truth (James 5:19-20).
Not Merely Attendance
A gospel church does not gather to simply witness a performance. The goal isn't to slip in and out anonymously or linger like flies on a wall. Church attendance is not for the purpose of just obtaining information or keeping up with friendships.
By attending and being part of a local church, we subject ourselves to the means of grace that Christ gives his people. Through hearing the Word preached, praying and commemorating the gospel in the ordinances of communion and baptism we expose ourselves to Christ and can abide in him. Communion, for example, allows us to pause and purposefully meditate on the grace of Christ’s atonement. Being regularly acquainted with it is instrumental for every believer’s spiritual well-being. In a similar way, witnessing a baptism reminds the believer of the powerful work of the cross of Christ. We do more than watch a service take place. We gather as participants to engage with the living God.
A gospel church is not a building, it’s more than a group of acquaintances and it’s not about merely showing up.