It’s difficult to scan social media or the daily newspaper and not see evidence of the church at war with itself. The war is largely over social and political issues – the same issues that are tearing the fabric of our civil society. Some days, I can’t tell whether people on Facebook are arguing theological or political issues.
To me, this often-nasty argument begs a question. What is the church? And with all this wrangling over social and political issues, is the church any different than any other organization? Should it be?
Church Reformed by Tim Bayly answers that question by going back to the church’s roots – the church of the New Testament. In times of great stress, the church almost always looks back to the church described in the Book of Acts. It’s the original, the model for all that came after. It’s also the guide to understand how far the church can stray.
Bayly begins by asking who the church is, and how do we enter it. AS its Greek name suggests, he writes, “ekklesia” means “the called-out ones” – the ones called out from the world. And the ones called out are baptized into the church.
What follows is an extended discussion of one verse in the second chapter of the Book of Acts: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). Those four things – teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer – are what the church is about. Bayly writes clearly and succinctly about those four things and the significant threats to each, and those four chapters represent one of the best summaries of what the church is about that I’ve seen.
He follows that discussion y describing what he calls “systemic threats” to the church. “There are threats to the Church, though, that are systemic. They don’t latch onto our practice of the Lord’s Supper only, for instance, but wound the entire organism. No part of the Church’s life and ministry us safe from them; no part of the Church is beyond their corruption. He identifies these three threats as naivete, hypocrisy, and “gathering goats” (where the church focuses on “saving sinners” instead of what it’s commanded to do – make disciples).
Bayly, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (Madison), received his M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1983. He has served churches in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church in America. Since 1996, he has been senior pastor at Trinity Reformed Church in Bloomington, Indiana.
Church Reformed is characterized by simplicity of language, so all can understand it, and Scripture-based evidence, hearkening back to New Testament roots. It’s also a refreshing look at what the church is and what it’s supposed to be and do.