What Is the Church?
Just exactly what is the church, anyway? It is no wonder that confusion exists; consider the many ways in which the term is commonly used.
• Of religion generally: “separation of church and state”
• Of a religious institution, a hierarchical body: “the church teaches. . .”
• Of the whole body of believers
• Of a denomination or sect: Baptist church, Lutheran church, etc.
• Of a congregation, a local body of believers
• Of an assembly for worship: “go to church”
• Of the building where the assembly takes place
The Bible Concept
While the English word church is inherently religious (it is derived from the Greek word for Lord), the Bible word usually rendered church is not. It simply means an assembly, technically “the called out.” It was a common word for political assemblies. The Bible occasionally uses it that way (Acts 19:39). Once it even refers to a mob (Acts 19:32).
Called out implies three things: someone calls us, we are called from something, and we are called to something. All of these elements are identified in 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are . . . a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
A parallel verse is Colossians 1:13: “He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
Darkness suggests ignorance and sin, light suggests knowledge and righteousness. Clearly, one cannot simply join the church; he must be taught and change his life. God does the adding or transferring of citizenship.
The first occurrence of the word church in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:18. In response to Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Lord said, “Upon this rock I will build My church.”
What did He mean by that? Simply that based on who He is—the Son of God—He would call men to leave the world and follow Him, becoming His disciples. That is what the church is: disciples of Christ, those who have turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21, 26).
Discipleship, salvation, and church membership go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other.
The Bible speaks of the church in two senses:
• All of Jesus’ disciples, whenever and wherever they live. Every saved person is a member of the church or Christ’s body. We call this the universal church. There is only one (Acts 2:47; Eph. 4:4).
• A group of disciples working together as a unit in a given time and place (Rom. 16:16). We call this the local church.
No denominations existed in Bible times, and none should exist today! Jesus established only one body. Every member believed and practiced the same thing, in allegiance only to the Lord.
Study your Bible. Become Jesus’ disciple and be added to His church. Seek out a group of like-minded people to worship and work with.