I’ve really enjoyed Terry Johnson’s little book, Who Needs the Church? In chapter 2, he points out how Jesus actually only directly mentions the church (ekklesia) twice in the gospels. The first is in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The second instance is two chapters later in Matthew 18:15-17; this is the well-known passage about church discipline. In verse 17, Jesus says, “…tell it to the church.”
I appreciate what Terry Johnson draws from these verses:
What is assumed or implied by this second reference to the ekklesia? More than most have imagined. The church that Jesus envisions has: 1) standards of belief and conduct to which participants are expected to conform; 2) membership, with clear guidelines about who is to be included or excluded; 3) a process of discipline which evaluates misbehavior and errant beliefs; 4) a form of government; 5) meetings at which a pertinent matter may be discussed; 6) officers who administer the whole. Jesus speaks in these two passages of committing to the church the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19) and the power of binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19 and Matt. 18:18; cf. John 20:23). The church that Jesus envisions has concrete existence, bricks and mortar, one might say. It is an organization. It is an institution. It has members. It has leaders. Its members are committed to each other, to their leaders, to the Triune God whose church it is, and to the church itself as something greater than the sum of its parts. (p.18)
Indeed, the church is not something peripheral to the life of a Christian!
My full review of Who Needs the Church? is forthcoming, to be published in Clarion, and then here on my blog. Needless to say, it’s a recommended read.