Shared with permission from The Table podcast
In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Gary Bershears discuss ecclesiology, focusing on the opportunities, challenges, and value of churches of any size.
00:44 Topic Introduction
49:40 Sacred vs Secular Work?
Dr. Darrell Bock: Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement for the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. My guest today is Gerry Breshears. He teaches Systematic Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Welcome, Gerry.Dr. Gerry BreshearsIt’s good to be here, Darrell.Dr. Darrell BockAnd Gerry is a returning guest so he’s a veteran of foreign wars when it comes to the podcast, and today our topic is Big Church or Little Church. We’re going to discuss church in general, ecclesiology in general, and in particular the tensions that sometimes exist between big churches and little churches, and hopefully have a discussion in which we are able to affirm the value of each. So that lays out the plan.
So it’s time for confessions. Gerry, what kind of church do you attend?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: I’m a member of Grace Community Church in Gresham, Oregon. It’s a Baptist background, a conservative Baptist community church. We run about 65 adults in our auditorium in three services, about toward a thousand in a weekend so we’re kind of a mid-sized church I would say.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. I have two churches. One is the one that I’ve attended ever since I was a student here at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, which runs probably about 250, 300 during the week. It’s a somewhat traditional church. Has a touch of liturgy tied to it. Very historically rude kind of church.
And then my daughter works at Bent Tree Fellowship, which is a huge church. They probably run five, six thousand in a weekend, and a classic megachurch if you want to think of it that way. She writes curriculum for fifth grades and under. So my wife attends there to be with the grandchildren. This explains why we’re in the situation that we’re in, and so I’m elder emeritus at the first church that I mentioned, and so I attend the first service at Trinity, get in my car and drive the 15 minutes or so that it takes to get to Bent Tree so I can make the second service and make lunch with my kids afterwards. So that’s our church situation.
So we’re actually describing a situation in which we are all participating, if I can say it that way. Running the scale in terms of size of church.
Well, let’s start off by talking about megachurches. I want to start there because they’re probably the more controversial, but before we get there I want to ask a basic ecclesiological question, and it goes like this: The church – a building, a people or a presence. Okay? Which of the above or a combination of the above, what are we talking about when we say church?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Well, I assume you’re thinking biblically, not culturally.
Dr. Darrell Bock: That’s correct.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: The first definition of church is a building. It’s not a building at all ’cause there weren’t church buildings in the original. They met in the temple courts initially, and then in homes. There were no church buildings until quite a bit later. So the pictures of the church in Scripture is a group of people committed to Jesus Christ and his mission forming a community of the spirit. That’s what we see in Acts 2, and then it carries out all the way from there, and the size, well, there were three thousand people converted on that first day.
Dr. Darrell Bock: That was a membership class, wasn’t it?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Yes. And then the leadership developed so that’s a piece of it. There’s a team of elders that lead a church, and then there’s a presence in the community, and critical of that whole thing is God present with them through the Holy Spirit and through his Word.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So we’re not thinking about a location so much or even four walls.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: It’s irrelevant, biblically.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. And yet as you mentioned, culturally most people when they think of church they say, “Well, what church do you attend,” and they think of a location, that kind of thing.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: The other cultural definition that I need to really, really speak against is the church as a meeting that we go to. So we say things like, “Hey, going to church this morning,” by which we mean a meeting, and the church does meet, but a church is a 24/7 type thing.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So we’ve got these cultural things that are going on that make people think of the church. You said that it’s a community where the spirit indwells. Let’s think more about the biblical side of this. How should we think about the church?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Well, the church primarily is the followers of Jesus Christ. We see that there in Acts 2, kind of a foundational thing, where it’s a group of people who have repented, believed, been baptized and joined together under the fellowship of the apostles, the leadership there, the community. They do sacraments together and they extend the Gospel into the community so that many people come to Christ.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Now that was a description of the early church ’cause, as you mentioned, they fellowship with the apostles.
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Uh-huh.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So when we think of the church today what should we be thinking about, or maybe this is the way to ask the question: When people go to church or look for a church, what should they be looking for?
Dr. Gerry Breshears: Well, there are several things to look for. One is a church that is faithful to Jesus Christ and his teaching. Of course, many churches have abandoned that and become more culturally relevant. Another thing to look for is a church that’s doing mission into the community instead of just ingrown. We do stuff together separated from the community, and a real factor there is this is a place where the church is going to invest in me for my spiritual growth, my personal growth, so that I can build a community, so we can be a part of a community that’s doing the Gospel work of Jesus Christ or the kingdom work of Jesus Christ in my region.
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