People, even Christians, have many concepts about what the church is. But what is the church exactly? Is the church a building Christians go to on Sundays to worship? Is the church an organisation of people who believe in Jesus Christ? To discover what God’s thought is concerning the church, we must come to the Bible.
While we can’t cover this enormous matter in a single blog post, we’ll begin to look at what the church is according to God’s Word.
The church is people
What is the church according to the Bible? A good principle in reading the Bible is to pay special attention to the first mention of a matter. This sets the stage for understanding that matter in the rest of the Bible. The first mention of the word church in the entire Bible is in Matthew 16.
In this passage, Jesus brings His disciples outside Jerusalem and asks them who they think He is (verse 15). Peter responds by declaring, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (verse 16). Jesus tells Peter that he received this revelation from God. After such an important revelation, we might think the Lord would speak more about it. But instead, as soon as Jesus confirms this revelation, He responds by declaring: ‘Upon this rock I will build My church.’
The revelation of the church here is of such importance to Christ that He pairs it with the revelation of who He is. Therefore we need to find out, what is the church that Christ reveals here in the book of Matthew?
Let’s look at the word church in the original language of the New Testament. The Greek word for church in this verse is ekklesia, which means out-calling, or assembly of called out ones. The church, the ekklesia, is the assembly of all people who have been called out of the world by God. The church is not a physical building; it is a group of people.
Who are the called out ones?
The church, the ekklesia, is the assembly of people called out by God. But what makes a person one of these people?
Let us look at 1 Corinthians 1:2:
‘To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, the called saints.’
In the verse above, Paul addressed his letter ‘to the church of God,’ and in apposition, ‘to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, the called saints.’ Footnote 3 on this verse in the New Testament Recovery Version explains these two phrases:
‘To the church of God equals to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. This strongly indicates that the church is a composition of the saints and that the saints are the constituents of the church. The two should not be considered separate entities. Individually, we are the saints; corporately, we are the church.’
Both phrases refer to the same thing but have a different emphasis. The phrase the church of God tells us Paul is addressing the ekklesia, the assembly of called out people, and the phrase those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus tells us something about those called out people.
The people who comprise the church are not simply a group of people who believe the same doctrines or have the same ideas and preferences. They are not even a group of people who have decided to meet together to worship God. No, the people who compose the church have been sanctified, that is, made holy. How are they sanctified? The verse says they are sanctified in Christ Jesus. Let us look at footnote 5 on this phrase in the New Testament Recovery Version to see what it means:
‘In Christ means in the element and sphere of Christ. Christ is the element and sphere that separated us, made us holy, unto God when we believed into Him, that is, when we were brought into an organic union with Him through our faith in Him.’
How wonderful! It’s in Christ that we’re made holy, that is, separated unto God, and thereby become constituents of the church. The church isn’t composed of people who have attained to a certain standard or who have fulfilled any outward rule or regulation. The church is composed only of people who have received Christ Jesus through faith in Him.
When we receive Christ as our Savior, we are reborn with the divine, eternal life of God. This life, which is just Christ Himself, is the sole qualification for our membership in the church. There’s no other way. The church isn’t a club or an organisation of like-minded individuals that we can join. It isn’t even a group of people who are knowledgeable about the Christian religion. The church is the assembly of all the people from all of time who have believed in Christ and received the life of God; therefore, we must be born into the church through our regeneration.
We are the church
We’re used to hearing things like, ‘Where do you go to church?’ or ‘I went to this or that church on Sunday.’ But according to the Bible, all who have received Christ Jesus are the church. We are part of this wonderful, important ekklesia that Christ values so highly. Thank and praise the Lord for all He’s done to redeem us and regenerate us so we could become members of the church.
We’ve only touched on what the church is in a simple way in this post. Keep an eye out for more posts on this enormous and rich topic in the future.