by Ed Stetzer
Depending on our cultural context and personal experiences, different images pop in our head when we think about a church, but hopefully we all understand that those buildings are not a church. With such contrasting pictures in our minds, however, how can we tell what truly constitutes a church? That’s where ecclesiology comes in.
Ecclesiology, the theological study of the church, is a big theological term, and rightly so. It must bear a great deal of theological weight. What we believe about ecclesiology shapes the way the church is structured, how the people relate to one another, and how it goes about accomplishing its mission.
When I say the word “church,” what comes to mind?
Historically, ecclesiology has been an important aspect of Christian theology. Every generation has outlined certain distinguishing marks of a church. The Reformers said it was “the right administration of the sacraments” and “the right preaching of the word.” Catholics pointed to, among other things, apostolic succession. For 2,000 years, people have been talking about what makes a church a church—until recently.
Regretfully, the extent of the ecclesiology in most of our churches today is weak. People identify a church simply because it meets and has the word “church” in its name. But beyond that, there is an acute misunderstanding as to how we identify biblical churches...