I attended a secondary school that prided itself in being a microcosm of the Nigerian society—indeed, of the world. Yes, we were that cocky. One of the ways we manifested our supposed distinctness was by holding school-wide ‘dances’, and lots of award ceremonies. One such award was the ‘New Kid on the Block’ which belonged to the individual who was, essentially, the rave of the moment. The recipient was usually a senior school student who was the very personification of what we all (admittedly or not) strived to have and be: cool, latest shoes and clothes, swagger-full, the command of attention from other guys and girls, etc.
Rest easy, this is not a nostalgic post about my secondary school days. Yet, quite often, the Nigerian Christian landscape seems to be about what church or personality is the new kid on the block. The qualifications seem endless: Who pastors that church? How many social media followers do they have? Where is their church located? Who attends that church? Who do they invite for their special programmes? While none of these are intrinsically sinful, they are not what the church is really about. A biblical church is not a group of individuals attempting to outdo others by selling something to the world that no one else has. Rather, a church is a community of individuals whose lives have been changed by Jesus Christ. And for precisely that reason, no true church is really the new kid on the block.
New, Yet Historical
While new churches may spring up here and there, and churches may have their differences in style and congregants, a local church ought to be a local depiction of the universal and historical church which finds its identity in Christ. We find Jesus telling Peter that the church is Jesus’ personal project and the apostles, as well as the writer of Hebrews, make a strong case for the historical and global nature of the Church (see Hebrews 12:1, 22-24; 1 Peter 5:9; Revelation 5:9). We are made to realise that the true Church of God is all people, of all time, across ethnic and geographical lines. In other words, real Christians in Nigeria, are not in isolation from real believers in present-day China or 16th century England; we have more in common than we realise. Therefore, we find that a church’s primary distinctives are not the new things it does, but rather the old—and—enduring things that mark the real body of believers.
What are some of these primary distinctives of the true Church as set out in the Bible?
First, we see that the Church is centred around the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel and it ought to be the front, centre and backend of the believer’s life (1 Cor. 15:1-2). The Church is also a community of previously unconnected individuals, now grafted into one body through the work of Christ. Paul often begins his epistles by describing believers as ‘brothers and sisters’ and pens the Letter of Philemon to discuss this new relationship. Furthermore, the Church is a people sent on mission. Jesus’ last words commissioned believers to spread the gospel to the world and make disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20). Last, but certainly not least, the Church is an empowered people, dependent upon the power of the Spirit (Acts 1:8). Of course, the list may be more, but it is certainly not less than the above.
Not the New Kid on the Block
At City Church, we are not seeking to be new. Rather, we want to be a people in a specific time and space beaming the spotlight on Jesus. Over the next few weeks, we will consider these distinctives in further detail. At other times, we will explore other issues. But always, this blog will focus on the gospel and its bearings on our lives. Rather than embrace any cool label, we self-identify as a gospel-centred community, focused on the mission of Jesus, and dependent upon the power of the Spirit. We are not the new kid on the block.
Emmanuel serves City Church through it’s blog, among others, and mostly retweets at @eaoset.