What comes to mind when you hear the word church? I guess the first thing you think of is a building. We call the buildings where services are held churches. But what does the Bible teach is the church?
The Meaning of Church
The Greek work translated as “church” in the New Testament is ekklēsia. It means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly”. Jesus is only recorded as using the word church two times (Matthew 16:18; 18:17). The church (ekklēsia) Jesus spoke of is a group of people who are called out from one place and get together in another place. The church refers to people not buildings. Lets look a bit closer at this idea.
The Called Out Ones
The Lord Jesus Christ has called his disciples to follow him (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; Luke 9:23; John 10:27). He wanted them to leave one place and go with him to another place. So, for the disciples they were called out of their way of living, to live, travel and stay with Jesus.
For us today when we believe in Jesus we are called to follow Christ in a spiritual sense. Following Christ involves giving up our lives:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him. (John 12:24-26)
We are called out from our old lives and given a new life. Called out of darkness and into light:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Darkness here refers to lack of understanding, being spiritually blind, not knowing the truth. Jesus calls you out of a lack of knowing God, into his presence which gives us light (understanding, perception, knowledge of God). The kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36). We are called not to love this world (1 John 2:15-17). But we are called to love one another (John 13:34-35)
When people get together in a place we call it an assembly, a gathering of people for a purpose. In the early days of people believing in Jesus they started gathering in homes (Acts 12:12). Jesus said ” For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20). Gathering together became essential because when believers gather together, Jesus is with them. This is why Christians meet together so that they can experience the presence of God by the power of the Holy Spirit in their assembly.
The term church can be applied to a local gathering of believers (Acts 11:22) or it can refer to the whole church, every single born of the Spirit believer across the world (Ephesians 3:21).
However there is something else about the church we need to look at.
The Body of Christ
We mentioned in a previous post that God wants to dwell in mankind. Jesus came into this world in human form and he dwelt among us (John 1:14). Paul teaches the idea that believers in Jesus become part of the body of Christ:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Now some Christians believe the term body of Christ is a metaphor for the church. Just as you call a tribe or culture a body of people you call the church the body of Christ. What they suggest is true. However if you look at how Paul goes on to describe this something more is revealed.
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. (1 Corinthians 12:12)
John Piper has an interesting article We, Though Many, Are One Body in Christ which explains a lot about the body of Christ and being in Christ. He describes being “in Christ” as being “in a relationship with Christ”.
Another view is that individual believers literally make up the body of Christ on this earth now. God dwelling in his people by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), giving love and communion at a spiritual level that is far beyond our comprehension. The Holy Sprit living inside us brings an amazing oneness and love that is supernatural. Jesus prayed for this as he was preparing to face his death on the cross. He prayed that we would be one (John 17:20-23). In this intently divided world the love and oneness you can experience with other Spirit-filled believers is in itself a miracle of God. When I have travelled it is always wonderful to meet other Christians and to immediately have a oneness with them that is beyond natural human relationships.
So this is the Church. A gathering of called out ones who together live as the body of Christ showing the world the love of God it so desperately needs.