What is “the Church”? The Greek word for “Church” is ekklesia, which means “the called out ones”. It describes a group of people called out for a special purpose. In New Testament usage, the word “church” refers to those who have been “born again” (John 3:3, 5), those we call saved.
To better understand what the Church is, let us first look at some things the Church is not:
- The Church is not one particular denomination. Some denominational groups claim that only their members are the true Church. This is false and cannot be supported from the Bible, especially in light of how the New Testament defines “church”. Though there are various denominations with differing emphases, the Bible warns against divisiveness (1 Cor 1:11-17) and exhorts us to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:16). All those who truly believe in and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are part of His Church!
- The Church is not a social club or any other kind of civic group or organization. The Church was divinely begun (Matt 16:18) and exists to fulfill the will of the Founder, Jesus Christ (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Eph 3:10; 1 Tim 3:15). The primary purposes of the Church are: to preach and teach the Word of God, making disciples; to exalt the Name of Jesus and God the Father through worship and in prayer; to serve the practical needs of the surrounding community; to carry out a consistent program of missions and evangelism to the whole world.
- The Church is not a building. The word ekklesia is always used in the New Testament to indicate people (believers). There were no special buildings for the use of Christian gatherings until three hundred years after the Church began! As time passed, it became convenient to call the buildings in which Christians gathered “churches”. But a Church is the people who gather, not the building they gather in.
Essentially, the true Church of Jesus Christ is the Body of His “called out” people: Those called out from a life of sinful self-service and death, to live in the blessedness of a loving relationship with God the Father both now and through eternity. The true Church is made up of those who have sincerely put their trust in Christ for salvation (John 3:3-6; 1 Cor 12:13; Heb 12:23). Just attending a church service, or holding a position or title in a church or denomination, does not make a person saved or part of the Body of Christ (His Church). Being truly born again (John 3:3,5) – and having the transforming work of the Spirit of God active in one’s life (Titus 3:5) – is what qualifies one to be part of the Church, the Body of Christ.
The Church can be viewed in two ways:
- First, as the universal Church, which consists of all those who have been born again of the Spirit of God and baptized into the Body of Christ by that same Holy Spirit (John 1:13; 1 Pet 1:22-25; 1 Cor 12:13).
- Second, as the local church, which is any group of believers in Jesus Christ who are gathered in a local setting to celebrate their hope and salvation through Christ and to grow as disciples (Matt 18:20). Examples in Scripture include: the churches in Asia (Rev 1:4); in Galatia (Gal 1:2); in Corinth (1 Cor 1:2); in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1); at Ephesus (Acts 20:17); in homes (Acts 2:46,47); and many more.
Each local church is to reflect the character of Christ, the Head of the Church; each local church is to mature into fulfilling all of God’s will and purpose (Eph 4:1-16).
6. The Doctrine of Last Things