What is the Church

Yesterday a friend of mine sent me a picture of a church made of living trees. It's an amazing labour of love and I would love to carry out a wedding in it, but it raises the question "what is the church"? Many people think the church is a building. However, this is not the biblical understanding of "the church", indeed churches as we know it today did not exist in the New Testament period. The word church in the New Testament in fact means "assembly" or "a people set apart". So it has no connection to a building but to a group of people. This is why at the end of Paul's Letter to the Romans he asks those he is writing too to greet "the church" that meets in the house of Priscilla and Aquila. Clearly he is not wanting them to greet the building, but rather the people who meet in the home.

So when we think of the church biblically we have to put the physical image of a building aside and see it as a group of people. That leads to another question, does any assembly or body of people meeting together constitute a church? Many groups claim to be a church, particularly cults, but are they?

Well not from a Biblical standpoint, because it says to be a part of the Church or become part of the body you have to have received something.That is the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says,

"For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one bodywhether Jews or Greeks, slave or freeand we were all given the one Spirit to drink."

What does that mean? It means anyone who believes that Jesus is Lord and that he died and rose again is part of the Church. The evidence of their incorporation into the Church is not their attendance at a particular building but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In Ephesians chapter 1 it goes even further and says that the Church is the body of Christ and Christ is its head. This means that the Church has the function of being Christ's hands and feet on the earth and Jesus is the head of the Church as the prime minister is the head of our government.So not only can we tell if we are part of the Church, we can tell if a local body is part of the overall Church if it carries out Christ's will on earth. While I don't have the space here to go into all the functions of the Church, certainly worship (including performing the sacraments) teaching, evangelism, mission, service and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ would be an essential part of this.

The final image for the Church in the Bible is the bride of Christ. The Bible says those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their personal savior, have been chosen by God as his bride to spend eternity with him (Ephesians 5:25-27). Just as there was a betrothal period in biblical times during which the bride and groom were separated until the wedding, so is the bride of Christ (the Church) separate from the bridge groom (Christ) until his return. During this period of separation the expectation is the same as any bridegroom, that his bride will remain faithful to him and won't go off with another. (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:24). In other words we won't worship other Gods or things. At Christ's return or second coming the Church will be united with the Bridegroom, the official "wedding ceremony" will take place with the marriage feast of the Lamb and, with it the eternal union of Christ and His bride will be actualized. (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:1-2). What this means is that those who love Christ will spend eternity with him.For those who treasure Christ there is no better reason to be part of the Church.


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