Ever play those word association games? The kind where someone says a word and you have to blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind? I like to play these games often to see what people really think of different subjects. So what do you think of when you see the word…plane? or food? or sports? If you did this in a group of people it would be quite comical to see how many different ways each person’s mind works. But let me try one last word on you…what about church? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see that word? For some it may be a steeple, for others a brick building, and for others specific people come to mind. So who is right? What is the church? This is the topic I wish to tackle in a series entitled “The Church”. In this first post of the series we will look at three issues concerning the church: what church is, what church is not, and why we should care about the church.
So what is Church? Let’s put it into a simple sentence and work from there. The church is an assembly of people built upon a common confession of Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord of their lives and the recognition that they ultimately belong to God. When we look at Scripture the first and most common word used in relation to the Church is “ekklesia” or assembly. This term was used for a multiplicity of assemblies in the New Testament world, but ended up being utilized for the gathering of Christians. But what were these assemblies meeting for? The Christian assemblies that came to be recognized as churches met with one unifying factor–they each claimed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This truth was established by Christ in His interaction with Peter in Matthew 16:13-18. Christ asks His disciples who people said He was. Their answers were all over the map. Then He turned and asked His own disciples the same question. Peter, the outspoken one of the group, made this statement, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (vs. 16). It is upon those words, not the orator, which Jesus said He would build His church (ekklesia/assembly), and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it (vs. 18). So we must recognize that the Church is an assembly of those who have claimed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
We must understand not only what the church is, but also what the church is not. The church is not a building or a bunch of random people. All throughout Scripture God calls the church to do certain things. Let’s look at some of them. He calls the church to listen to offenses between brothers (Matt. 18:17). God wants the church to be in prayer (Acts 12:5). The church is called to gather together with one another (Acts 14:27, 1 Cor. 11:18). And the list goes on, but if you evaluate the commands God gives to the church, it quickly becomes evident that the church cannot be a building. Buildings do not listen, pray, and cannot be gathered or come together. But the church is also not a bunch of random people. As already discussed, the church is a gathering of people who claim Christ as Savior and Lord (Matt. 16:17), but they are also a group of people who belong to God (Acts 20:28). They are not united by sports, location, nationality, race, ethnicity, or hobbies, but by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Thess. 1:1, 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:1). So we know what the church is and what the church is not, but why should we care about the church?
We should care about the church because it is the body and bride of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:22-33). Christ is the head of the church, which is His body. If you care about someone, you do not just care for them, but you also tend to have a great concern for what is important to them. This is where the real care comes in…Christ gave Himself up for the church by dying for it. Christ cared so much for the church that He died for it. So if we are truly Christians who say, “Christ is my Savior and my Lord (master)”, then our greatest love and concern should be for those for whom Christ died…His church. But it does not end there. Christ also nourishes and cares for the church (Eph. 5:29-30). It is the group of people that God gives time, energy, and effort toward nurturing and building. So if Christ cared enough for the church to nurture and die for it, should I not care for it similarly as well?
So what is the church? It is an assembly of people who call Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior. It is not a building or a bunch of random people. And it should be cared for because Jesus Christ gave up His life for it.
Stay tuned for the continuation of this series “The Church”. Up next: Universal vs. Local church.