What Is a Church?
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To many, a church is a building. They may refer to the church on the corner,
or the church downtown, or the church out in the country, meaning a building
with a sign that says church. It may be handy as a landmark, for giving
directions, or identifying the location of a given event, but little else.
To others, it may be a social organization. "Our church is going
on a picnic," "our church will have a bazaar," "our
church will sponsor a boy scout troop," etc. It is treated just as
any other social or civic organization, a gathering place, a group of friends
All of these are legitimate uses of the word church according to the dictionary.
But, when the word is used in the Bible, what is a church?
The word translated church in the New Testament is a Greek word which
means "the called out." As such it always refers to a group
of people, not a building. With one or two exceptions, the word is applied
only to a group of people called out by God through Christ to be separate
from the rest of the world; not separate in a monastic sense, but separate
in terms of relationship to God.
To give a better understanding of this called out people, the Holy Spirit,
through the writers of the New Testament, applied many figures and analogies
to this group of people. Jesus used a structural analogy when He said, "I
will build my church." Matthew 16:18. This same image was also used
by Paul (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20) and Peter (1 Peter 2:5). Another
image was that of a house or household. This we find in Galatians 6:10,
Ephesians 2:19, Hebrew 3:6 and 10:21. It is also called a kingdom (Matthew
16:19; Acts 8:12; 20:25; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Colossi ans 1:13; 1 Thessalonians
2:12). A most important image is that of a body. See Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians
12:12-27; Ephesians 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; and Colossians
These images, together with the basic meaning of the Greek word, emphasize
that the church is a group of people called out by Jesus to be reigned
over by Him under the Fatherhood of God. Since Jesus is king, only He can
make the laws under which this group is to operate. Only He can determine
how one becomes a part of this group of called out people. As a body, they
are tied together to build one another up; the pain or weakness of one
affects them all. Since God is the Father, all in the group must be in
submission to Him. Anyone who does not submit to Him is not part of Jesus'
called out. As God's household (family), there is a joy in being together,
in working together, in caring for and supporting one another. They are
not content to only see each other once or twice a year. They are proud
to wear the name of the Christ who built the church and bought it with
This is God's concept of the church as it is described in His word. If
this isn't what you think of when you think of a church, shouldn't it be?
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The Church -- The Body of Christ
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The church which Christ said He would build (Matthew 16:18), and which
was established on the first Pentecost after His resurrection (Acts 2:47)
is called in the scriptures, "the body of Christ." In Ephesians
1:22, 23, Paul calls it "...the church, which is his body." In
Colossians 1:18, he calls it "...the body, the church..."
The New Testament Teaches There Is One Body
The figure of the church of Christ as the spiritual body of Christ emphasizes
the singularity of the church. Christ spoke of building "my church"-
singular (Matthew 16:18). Paul wrote that "we have many members in
one body" (Romans 12:4, 5); also, "But now are they many members,
yet but one body" (I Corinthians 12:20). Both Jew and Gentile are
reconciled unto God in one body (Ephesians 2:16). "There is one body,
and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one
Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:4, 5). The church is the
body. The body is one. Therefore, the church of Christ is one. Let each
be sure he is a member of this one.
Christ Is the Head of the Body The Church
Christ's dominion over the church is complete. He was given "to be
the head over all things to the church, which is his body..." (Ephesians.
1:22, 23). He is "the head of the body, the church" (Colossians
1:18). As members of one's physical body are subject to his mind, so must
the members of Christ's spiritual body (the church) be to Him. What he
does not command and teach, the church must not do nor teach (II John 9,
10). The "effectual working" of "every part" (i.e.,
every member) is dependent on growing up "into him in all things,
which is the head of Christ" (Ephesians 4:15, 16).
Christians Are Members of the Body of Christ
The relationship of a Christian to Christ as the head of the body (the
church) is that of complete subjection (Ephesians 5:24). The relationship
of a Christian to fellow Christians as members of the one body (the church)
is that of complete union and harmony. Every joint is to supply his part
to make the body strong (Ephesians 4:16). All the members are united in
the one body (Romans 12:4, 5; I Corinthians 12:12-20). Each member must
perform his own work (I Corinthians 12:14-19). One member is as important
as any other member (I Corinthians 12:21-23). There must be no schism in
the body (I Corinthians 12:24, 25). There must be mutual sympathetic care
for each other (I Corinthians 12:25-27).
The Importance of Being Members of the Body
Christ is the Saviour of the body (Ephesians 5:23). If one wishes to be
among the saved, he must be in the body. Men are "called unto the
peace of God" in one body (Colossians 3:15). If one desires this peace,
he must be in the body. Man is "reconciled unto God in one body" (Ephesians
2:16). If one is to have the benefits of this reconciliation, he must he
in the body. The "fullness of him that filleth all in all" is
in the one body (Ephesians 1:23) If one is to enjoy this fullness, he must
be in the body. One cannot be subject to the head and united with Christ
without being a member of the body.
How to Become a Member of the Body
Paul wrote to the members of the church at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2), "For
by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body..." (I Corinthians
12:13). This is by being "buried with Christ in baptism" (Romans
6:3). Have you done this?
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