What The Church Is.
What The Church Is.
“We are a new creation; we receive eternal life, every spiritual blessing, redemption, grace, approval, and the presence of God in our daily life.”
Pastor Mark Brett
The Church is made up of all believers worldwide and should meet together in local churches for worship, prayer, teaching, and mission.
Depending on your experiences and if you ever attended church as a kid, the word church can mean many things. For me, growing up, the idea of church from a very early age was that it was a building, it was a meeting, and it was boring. The word church is one of the most misunderstood and vague terms in society. But sometimes when defining what something is we should start with what it is not.
For starters, the Church is not a building. Of the 75 or so times the word “church” is used in the Bible, it never refers to a building. The first century churches met in people’s homes, oftentimes in secret due to persecution. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” which means “assembly” or “called out ones.” This idea of an assembly describes a group of people coming together for a specific purpose. In Ephesus, the riot that formed in Acts 19 fits this definition; it assembled to attack the Gospel. But, the purpose of this assembly we call the Church is Jesus Christ.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
The Church is a body of believers who have received new life and have been called out from the world by God to live as His people under the authority of Jesus Christ. God’s plan to communicate to the world the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ alone is through His Church. Simply put, that is the mission of the Church.
The metaphors or descriptors used in the Bible for the Church are many (family, vine, etc.), but we will focus on the following: the body of Christ, the people of God, the bride of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Each metaphor provides a different viewpoint from which to better understand this community God wants us to be a part of. All of these are great ways of looking at the Church and why God made the Church so important in His overall plan. Though only God can see our hearts (the invisible church) the Church is one of the few theological concepts we can actually see in action.
Body of Christ
Let’s start with an interesting metaphor the body of Christ. Jesus Christ is the head of the body of which all believers are individual members or parts.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one Spirit… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13,27
I have worked in the field of medicine most of my life. It takes years for a nurse, physician, or therapist to understand the complex nature of the human body. They study the nervous, digestive, pulmonary, and many other systems and how each part of the body works together. Each of these separate systems and body parts do radically different things. Take for example, your arm. What really is taking place under the skin is bones, muscles, nerves, connective tissues, blood vessels, and a mass of chemical reactions all working together with other parts of the body (brain, spinal cord, lungs, glands, hearts, etc.), so you can lift up a cup and drink your morning coffee. We all play a role as a member of the body.
In Romans, Paul spends eleven chapters laying out the truth of the Gospel with great insight and passion. Based on this foundation, he moves on to chapter twelve where we see the application for our lives.
For as in one body we have many members and the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
The amazing link is the phrase “one body in Christ.” When someone believes and trusts in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, a bond is made between them and Christ. This connection “in Christ” means everything that can be shared will be shared. We are a new creation; we receive eternal life, every spiritual blessing, redemption, grace, approval, and the presence of God in our daily life. You and I belong to and are in Him. What adds to this marvelous reality is that we experience all of this together in one body. Forgiven together, loved together, created anew together, eternally secure together, and embraced by our Father together.
This interconnectedness of all believers who make up the Church runs counter to the rugged individualism of postmodern culture. We have been given spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12) not for our own personal benefit or gain, but to strengthen the body as a whole. The body is to support all the parts in unity, working together. Even to the point of “bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
When I lived in Texas some years ago, I heard a burly Texan once comment “I go to church because I can’t afford a country club.” The Church is not a social gathering, a place for single believers to find a date or for young families to get free child care. This body of Christ is expected to have authentic relationships. It is where people from all walks of life can experience understanding, acceptance, encouragement, empathy, and, at times, tough love. Paul says it well when he says “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
People of God
The second picture we see in the Bible is the people of God. A unique group “set apart” by God himself.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord; I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.
God declared centuries before Jesus Christ walked the earth that He was going to fulfill His promise to restore His people by the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, the Messiah. By doing so He was going to bring His chosen people together.
In the Old Testament God initiated with Abraham and chose a people to become an exclusive nation, the nation of Israel. Abraham had nothing to do with it. Woven throughout the 1,500 years of the Bible is this reality of God choosing a people whom He would protect, care for, cherish, be present with, sustain, and expect to be loyal to Him and His commands. As amazing as this covenant was, the chosen people failed miserably to keep their end of the bargain.
In this old covenant, the people of God was the nation of Israel, the Jewish people exclusively. The new covenant that we are living in today was established by Christ and includes “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Romans 9:24). The new covenant is totally dependent on the promise, faithfulness, and character of God Himself.
The people of God, while experienced locally, are also universal. All barriers are now destroyed. Paul explained it to the Colossians this way:
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Millard Erickson explains, “The Church includes all persons everywhere in the world who are in a saving relationship with Christ. It goes further to include all who have lived and been a part of his body and all who will live and be part of his body.”
Bride of Christ
The most challenging of these descriptors is the bride of Christ. Paul reminds the Church of this idea.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Marriage in many ways is a mystery in itself. God designed it in such a way that a husband and wife should pursue their own joy in the joy of each other. Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame of our sins and rebellion for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). In Revelation 19:7-8, the disciple John is speaking of the last days, Jesus’ second coming, and the end of the world. There a great multitude of angels declare, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.”
The King of the universe came into the world to betroth to Himself a bride at the price of His own blood so for all eternity we will experience the riches and depth of a relationship with Him in love and joy forever. As the Church wrestles with and lives this truth we experience the fullness of joy that Jesus intended for all believers. There is not a wedding reception that has ever occurred that will compare to what awaits us at this wedding feast. King David states this of God in Psalm 16:
In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Temple of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit was right there at Pentecost (Acts 2) when the first-century Church began. The Church is indwelt by the Spirit both individually and as a whole.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
With Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, the old temple and its systems and rituals to approach God went away and we, as believers, became God’s temple where His Spirit dwells. God the Father lays this cornerstone, Jesus Christ, as the foundation for His spiritual temple. Christ gathers people worldwide and builds this temple as an eternal dwelling place for the Spirit of God. As Jesus was preparing to ascend back into heaven He gave His marching orders for His disciples. Throughout His ministry He had hinted several times at this idea of the Holy Spirit working in and through His people, the Church. He told the disciples that it was good for them that He was leaving. He blew their minds with the statement that they would do greater works than He had ever done during His earthly ministry. This boils down to one simple reason, the Holy Spirit.
Jesus pulls all these conversations together into one powerful truth.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The Greek word for power here is “dunamis.” It is the root word for our English word of dynamite. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is alive and living in us. It is a dynamite power in the Church today through the Holy Spirit.
Now let’s take a look at some of the functions of the Church.
Church in Action
Regardless of culture, denomination or size, if you go to any church in the world you will see activities centered on worship, prayer, teaching, and mission. There is a paradox in the Church today: worship, prayer, teachings, and mission can easily become things “we do” to earn God’s love, approval, and acceptance, and how we view ourselves as righteous. But, from a biblical standpoint, we do these things to celebrate and praise God, and remind ourselves what God Himself has done for every believer: that we are already loved, approved, accepted, and declared righteous by the Creator of the Universe.
Volumes have been written on the topics of mission and prayer. You can download and listen to thousands of messages from great teachers all over the world or pick any style of worship songs to sing on your way to work. In spite of all this, there will always be a tendency for churches and individual believers to “drift away” from our main purpose and action (Hebrews 2:1).
In Acts, the Church was exploding in growth. Along with that growth were challenges, busy schedules, and headaches. It would have been tempting for the leaders to get caught up with the urgency of the daily needs, issues, and concerns that engulfed them. Instead, the leaders huddled, assigned some men to help with these needs, and reinforce to the entire Church the priority.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
This holds true for the Church and believers today. We must not allow the urgency of the day to distract us or pull us away from our main purpose. Prayer, worship, and teaching help us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” and to keep Him the main mission in our lives (Hebrews 12.2).
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip with my 15 year old son to Mexico to serve in some orphan homes. On Sunday we attended a church where the entire sermon, music, and conversation were in Spanish. We were greeted with smiles, acceptance, and encouragement. The worship was loud, lively, and filled with people expressing themselves in a manner different than what my son had ever seen. Afterwards we were embraced by people who could not communicate with us but clearly shared a deep connection. When we left I asked my son what he thought of it all. “It was awesome dad, I didn’t understand a word they said, but they sure were excited about Jesus.”
At the end times, the Church universal will come together in Heaven–as one body, a chosen people, a temple of the Holy Spirit–and celebrate a wedding feast for all eternity the majesty, greatness, and glory of our God.