What is the Church?

Question: What is the church? Why is it important to be part of a true church?

What is the Church - AskBible.org

The first church – ekklesia

Firstly we should start from the foundational understanding that the church was established by God Himself. Jesus was the One who started the church and He is the Head of the church. Contrary to what many people think today, the church is not a hierarchical institution, nor is it a building or a magnificent cathedral or a basilica in Rome. The word ‘church’ used in English Bibles today in the original Greek is actually ekklesia which means assembly or congregation. It is derived from the root word ekkaleo which means to call out. In New Testament times, ekklesia did not refer to a particular religious group. It represented a group of people, usually citizens, organised together for a particular cause or purpose and who meet together. When the first New Testament church started to gather together to worship the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem, they were also called an ekklesia. They were the ones that Christ called out of the world to follow Him. Therefore the Biblical definition of the church is an assembly or congregation of believers, who are called out by God to be a witness unto Himself.

How did the church start?

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He did not intend His believers to go back to their homes and carry on with their lives as usual. He told Peter that He will build His church on the Rock, that is Himself, and the gates of hell would not destroy it. He also gave his disciples the great commission in Matthew 28: 18-20

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Thus the disciples preached His word in Jerusalem and the church (the assembly) grew day by day in number – they all gathered together being taught by the apostles. When the church in Jerusalem was persecuted, the believers spread out into all the world, therefore the number of churches grew, especially under Apostle Paul’s ministry. But Paul and the other apostles knew that they could not be present in each and every church. They taught (trained) and appointed elders in the local churches. They also wrote letters to every church teaching them about Jesus and how the church should conduct themselves while waiting for the return of Jesus Christ.

What is the body of Christ? Is it the same as the church?

Collectively all believers together form the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), His bride for whom Christ will return. There is only one body of Christ and each Christian believer is a member of the one body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (KJV)

12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
14 For the body is not one member, but many.

It is very clear that we cannot equate a single church to the body of Christ. A church by definition is the local representation of this one body of Christ. A local church is part of the body of Christ, not the body of Christ in and of itself.

Romans 16:5

5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

It is not right to think that just because we are believers and thus a part of the body of Christ, we need not be part of the local visible assembly which is the ekklesia or church. The concept of a global or universal church is not correct, the body of Christ is global/universal, the church is local. We cannot share in the lives of fellow believers, be part of their lives and be a real living testimony to the community around us unless we are part of a local ekklesia!

The first New Testament churches, true to their purpose and meaning were always local, self governed, autonomous, and had their own appointed elders (elders/pastors/bishops and deacons). They gathered to study God’s Word, to pray, worship Him, and follow all the teachings and commandments instructed by Jesus. They observed the two ordinances as instructed by Jesus Himself– the Lord’s supper or communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-25) and baptism by full immersion (Matthew 28:19). They preached the gospel and supported missionaries like Paul, Barnabas and many others.

These congregations, due to persecution, did not have their own meeting halls and so used to gather in the homes of their members – the first house churches. The body of Christ is made up of all believers all over the world – but this does not make them the church of Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, the church is consistently the local assembly of born-again individuals.

Romans 16:5

5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

Therefore it is not right to think that just because we are believers and thus a part of the body of Christ, we need not be part of the local assembly which is the real ekklesia or church. The concept of a global church is not correct, the body of Christ is global, the church is local. We cannot share in the lives of fellow believers, be part of their lives and be a real living testimony to the community around us unless we are part of a local ekklesia!

The true New Testament church vs. false churches

These letters written to the early churches now are a major part of the New Testament. It is God’s word, meant for every Christian and for every church. Any church that no longer stands on the foundation of God’s Word, that has twisted the Bible by adding their own teachings to it or replaced it with man-made traditions, is not a church of Christ. They may call themselves a congregation of Christians, but they have only the outward appearance of godliness as they have denied God’s teachings. They are at best nominal Christians but really are members of a cult, not a church.

2 Tim 3:5 (KJV)

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

Satan has been trying to destroy the church from the very beginning, but persecution of the saints is only one of his many tactics. The most effective of his ploys is to introduce false teachings into church doctrine and thus attempt to corrupt God’s Word. He started this in the garden of Eden when he challenged God’s authority by asking “hath God said”. Sadly many people today are deceived into thinking that they are Christians when they are really not – instead of being saved by God through faith in Jesus Christ, they would perish without ever knowing Christ. Do not forget that Jesus said:

Matthew 7:21-23 (KJV)

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

False teachings in churches is not a recent phenomenon ; they were present even in the first New Testament churches. Therefore Paul and the others had to often rebuke and bring believers back to the true gospel of Christ. Jesus is the centre of our faith. He is the only way to be saved:

John 14:6

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Acts 4:10-12

10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Today there are so many churches that teach doctrines that are alien to the Bible. They deny Christ and His sacrifice by saying that the way to be saved or go to heaven is through good works. Others will try to convince you that Jesus was not God, that He was only a prophet or a good teacher. But the Word of God is clear. Jesus is God and He is the only one who saves. He is the Head of the true church and He is the Lord of every believer. Salvation is made available to man only through Him (read the Gospel).

The importance of church attendance

Every Christian who is born again and has started his walk with the Lord should be a part of a local church. As mentioned earlier, this was the model that the first Christians followed. Why? Because in the Church we hear the Word of God being preached. We grow in the knowledge of God and His Word – the Bible. We have fellowship with other believers, helping, uplifting and encouraging each other. Together we worship and serve the Lord and follow Him. Jesus compares His church to a flock of sheep. He is the Shepherd who takes care of His sheep. Being in the flock, the sheep are surrounded by others, safe and protected. If one sheep is being rebellious and wanders away, it is an easy target for wolves and other predators, and can easily get lost in the wilderness. Jesus has promised to return and take believers and His church back with Him one day. Every believer is looking forward to this glorious day!

Therefore, if you are reading this and you feel that your picture of the church does not match the ekklesia of the New Testament, then maybe it is time for you to find a true Bible believing and Christ-focused church.

Also, if you are interested and want to know more about church functions, please do not hesitate to ask us by filling in the Ask a Bible Question form.

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