We talk and write so much about the church, yet there may be a deficiency in the understanding of some just what the church is. When we say “the church”, we are of course speaking of the one found in the pages of the New Testament. So what is “the church”?
First, I would suggest to you that “the church” is something that the Lord Himself built. He said to Peter and the other apostles, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). One might say, “But Jesus died not very long after this and He had not yet built His church”! To this, the Lord added, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Though some mistakenly think that Jesus is saying that hell will never prevail against the church, the truth is that Jesus is assuring all that even if He were to die, it would not stop Him from building His church. The word “hell” in this text is “hades, the spiritual realm. The gate of the spiritual realm is death. When one passes through the gates of death, he or she enters into the spiritual realm. Thus, death itself would not stop Jesus from building His church, and build it He did! We might make note here that Jesus used the personal pronoun “my” in describing the church He would build. “The church” belongs to Christ, no one else.
Secondly, let us understand what the word “church” means. The Greek word that is translated “church” is the word “ekk-la-sia” which means “the called out or called forth”. Thus, “the church” consists of people who have been called out of the world and into the Lord’s fold. On the beginning day of “the church”, “they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). The last verse of this same chapter says, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). The apostle Paul said that he and his fellow Christians had been delivered “from the power of darkness” and translated “into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13). “The church” is not a building in which people meet to worship God, but is instead all those who have been set apart from the world by the blood of Christ.
Thirdly, let us note that “the church” is the kingdom of heaven. In the verse following the one in which Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), He referred to that same institution as “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19). It might also be noted that when the prophet Isaiah prophesied of the establishment of God’s kingdom, he called it “the house of the God of Jacob” (Isa. 2:2-3). Paul told Timothy that “the church” is “the house of God” (I Tim. 3:15), also showing that the church and the kingdom are one and the same. Jesus is currently reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords (I Tim. 6:15). He sits upon His throne having been given “all authority in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18) and will do so until the “end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (I Cor. 15:24).
Fourthly, we point out that “the church” is the body of Christ. Paul wrote, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Two major factors are exhibited in this description of “the church”. First, Christ is the head, thus He has all authority concerning the body. Remember, “all authority in heaven and in earth” has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18). Prior to that, God the Father had spoken from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5). And, the Hebrew writer said, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2). Let’s face it; if it is not found in the gospel of Christ, it is not a part of “the church” as God would have it. The second factor of this view of “the church” is that of it being a body. This points to the unity aspect of all those who are members of “the church”. Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…For the body is not one member, but many” (I Cor. 12:13-14). Each member has a function and each is equally important in the body of the Lord (I Cor. 12:15-27).
Fifthly, let us be sure to understand that “the church” is a spiritual institution. Admittedly, we serve God in “the church” with our physical bodies, but it is the inward man, the spiritual one, that makes up “the church”. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He also told the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Let us close with yet one more observation. As we have already noted, “the church” is the house of God. Those of “the church” are the children of God.
(Editor’s note: Send any questions or comments to: email@example.com)