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What is “church?”

October 7, 2010

Do you remember that old kid’s rhyme we used to do with hand motions? Here’s the church; here’s the steeple; open the door and here’s all the people. Cute and fun to do with your kids, but it’s just plain wrong. That’s not what the Bible teaches about the church. Church is not a building. It’s not the activities we go to on Sunday morning.

Jesus founded of the church (Matt 16:18) and is its Head (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22-23).

Jesus used the primary Greek word we translate into “church” twice (Matt 16:18 and 18:17). Ekklesia is a congregation or assembly of individuals that have been “called out.” So, first and most importantly, the church is people. People called out by God. The word “church” can be used to refer to individual local churches and all believers world-wide.

In his book, Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines the church this way: The church is the community of all true believers for all time. In this definition, Grudem refers to what biblical scholars call the “Church Invisible.” We can’t see the church the way God sees it. God sees all true believers of all nations, races, and points in history. Old Testament, New Testament, and today. This is the church as we will see it in eternity. When we get to heaven!

John Calvin defined the church as “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments (baptism and Lord’s Supper) administered according to God’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.” Calvin’s definition explains the “Church Visible.” This is the current, functional church as we can see it today. The functional church is a local body of believers. Each member gifted and assembled together by Christ to carry out His purposes in their community and this world.

Paul gives us an excellent picture of the church in Ephesians 2:11-22. Here are the highlights:

  • Separated from Christ because of our sin. Lost, without hope and without God in this world.
  • But Christ provided forgiveness through His death. His blood washed us clean and brought us near to God.
  • Christ’s sacrifice made peace between us and God. Jesus also provides peace between people. Jew and Gentile. Believer and believer. So we can become one in Him.
  • All believers are one in Christ. One body with Christ as the Head.
  • Once foreigners, we are now citizens together of God’s household.
  • Each believer is part of the whole.
  • The church exists for the “praise of His glory” (Eph 1:12).
  • The church is God’s spiritual temple – the dwelling place of God. And Jesus is the Cornerstone that holds it together.

Word pictures and synonyms for Christ’s church fill the pages of the Bible. Watch for these as you spend time in God’s Word and your understanding of the Church will be enriched. Here is a sampling:

  • God’s Household (1 Tim 3:15)
  • Body of Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12-13; Eph 4:15-16)
  • Bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-26; Rev 19:7)
  • Spiritual building/temple (Eph 2:19-22)
  • Chosen people, holy nation, people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9)
  • God’s family (Eph 3:15)
  • God’s fellow workers, God’s field, God’s building (1 Cor 3:9)
  • Candlestick (Rev 1:20)

How do you feel about the Church? Jesus loved her enough to die for her (Eph 5:25-27). Christ purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28) so He could “rescue us from this evil age” (Gal 1:4). Believer, we should be champions and protectors of Jesus’ church. What can we do today to encourage and build her up?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristi Stephens permalink*
    October 7, 2010 7:38 am

    “We can’t see the church the way God sees it. God sees all true believers of all nations, races, and points in history. Old Testament, New Testament, and today. This is the church as we will see it in eternity. When we get to heaven!”

    Love this thought – our vision of God’s work is so limited… what an amazing sight to see all believers from all time gathered together to worship our Savior as one!

  2. Alejandra permalink
    October 7, 2010 8:57 am

    The church will always be the people that make pat of it. A commentary I recently read on Eph 5:25 about the the church and Jesus made a good point “He didn’t give himself up for a place, but for a people. “

  3. October 7, 2010 3:02 pm

    Kathy ~ Loved the way you explained the church! It’s funny how our view of the church can be so narrow we confine it to the four walls of our own congregations. Yet, the church is comprised of every born again believer. We are truly family!

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