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By Nelson Thomas, Mumbai

What is Church?

Summery: - One of the most misunderstood biblical terms. Right understanding of Church as revealed in the Bible helps us to examine our position with the Church of Christ. Remember, Church is the eternal programme of God and a wrong understanding of it is a great loss for us.

Introduction: -

          There are many Biblical words misunderstood by the general public. Because of the frequent use in different connotations even the Bible believing Christians are confused and fail to appreciate the right meaning. One such word is ‘Church’. What actually Church is?

Building?
Most people think that Church is a building. Looking at a structure they would say, “This is our church”! While referring to their location, some one would say, “We live near by that church.”

Organization?
Several Christians consider church as an organization. They think if few like minded people come together in the name of Christ as a society they have formed a church.

Christendom?
There are some others who consider Christendom as the Church. For them Christianity is church. They know nothing more. Often we see media refer to church and we note that actually they mean the Roman Catholics.

In order to understand the exact Biblical meaning of the word ‘church’ we need to consider at least three things.

1. Meaning of the original word in Greek.
2. What actually Christ meant when He used this word?
3. What the Bible says about Church?

Only after considering these three things in detail we can come to a proper conclusion about the Biblical concept of Church.

1. Meaning of the original word in Greek.

          The first mention of ‘church’ is found in Matthew 16: 18b. “On this rock I will build My church.” The word used for ‘church’ in Greek is ‘ekklesia’. ‘ek’ =out of; ‘kaleo’=to call. That means ‘out calling’. In everyday usage it meant ‘an assembly of people’. Especially a gathering of citizens called out from their home to a public place for a special purpose.

          For example, the king may send a herald to share a message to everyone in a town; he will blow his horn through the streets announcing a gathering to begin soon. This gathering, congregation is called in Greek as ‘ekklesia’.

          In the book of Acts we see this word is used for a gathering of people. Cf. Acts 19:32, 39, 41. Luke narrates the riots in Ephesus. “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another, for the assembly was confused.” V. 32; “If you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly.” V. 39; “And when he had these things, he dismissed the assembly.”

          In all these three versus quoted above, Church of Christ is not in view. Luke writes about a group of people, gathered for a special purpose. NKJV uses the word ‘assembly’ for ‘ekklesia’ in these references. But in the other references we don’t know how the translators chose to use ‘church’.

          According Greek scholars, ‘church’ is neither a translation nor a transliteration of ‘ekklesia’. ‘Church’ actually derives from ‘kuriakos’ meaning ‘of or belonging to the Lord’. ‘Assembly’ or ‘Congregation’ describes ‘ekklesia’ better.

Thus from the meaning of the original word ‘ekklesia’ we understand that Church is a group of people called out for a special purpose. Cf. Acts 15:14.

2. What actually Christ meant when He used this word?

          When the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church”, what did He mean actually? Was it to construct some building? No, it was not. He had no intention to erect an edifice or even a social organization. How do we know what He exactly intended?

First two references

          In Matthew 16:18 we have the first reference to Church. The second is found in Matthew 18: 17:- “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to hear the church…” Here in chapter 18 it is very clear, the Lord spoke of a group of people. In verse 20 He makes it clear that “Where two or three are gathered together in my name. I am there in the midst of them.”

          That means church is an assembly of people gathered to the name of Christ and around Him. He is the chief and the preeminent person of that gathering. Cf. Colossians 1:18c. In fact they have been brought together by the mighty work of the Holy Sprit.

The fulfillment
In Acts of the Apostles chapter 2 we see the fulfillment of what Christ said in Matthew 16:18. Just before His ascension to heaven the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem till they shall be baptized by the Holy Sprit. Acts 1:5.

          In Acts 2 we see on the day of Pentecost as they were all together in one place, The Holy Spirit came upon all of them along with some spectacular, miraculous manifestations. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. In the end of that chapter we read, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” V. 47b. cf. 5:11.

          So, from the above mentioned portions we understand that Church was formed on the day of Pentecost with the baptism of Holy Spirit. Paul affirms it in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Baptism of the Holy Sprit was to unite different class of people into one body. It is the Lord who adds people to the church as they got saved by trusting Him as their saviour and Lord. Cf. Acts 2:47b; Romans 10:9.

          Therefore, from the promise Christ made about the Church in Matthew and its fulfillment in Acts, we are able to understand many valuable truths about Church. Let me just organize it for clarity.

a. There was no church existed before Christ came.
b. Church was formed on the day Pentecost by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
c. Church consists of people whom the Spirit of gathers to the name of Christ.
d. Christ Himself is chief, center, and preeminent person of the church.
e. It was the Lord who added people to the church.
f. The basic criterion to be added to church was that they must be saved.
g. There can not be any unsaved, unbeliever in the church of Jesus Christ.

3. What the Bible says about the Church?

          Thus, we have considered the meaning of the word as well as what Christ meant by church and now let us see what the Bible says about Church. We can not go through everything we find about the Church in the New Testament. Our main emphasis is to find out what exactly the Church of Christ is. It will be good to study three things in this aspect:-

a. The titles used for the Church. E.g. Church of Christ, Church of God, Church at Corinth etc.
b. Symbols of the Church. E.g. Body, Bride, Field, Temple etc.
c. The titles given for Church members. E.g. Believers, brethren, etc

          A detailed study of the above mentioned topics will give us a clear picture of what church is, how God views it and what should be our attitude to the church etc. In this brief study we shall consider only the third topic, i.e., the titles given for Church members. These titles tell us who are the church members or what exactly is the church.

i. Church is the assembly of believers who trust Christ. Acts 5:14.
Church members are called believers because they have exercised faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not just a mental knowledge, but trusted Him as their saviour Lord. And they keep on trusting Him as well. Cf. 2Corinthains 5:7; 13:5

ii. Church is the company of disciples who follow & learn from Christ. Acts 20:7
It is true that Apostles were also called disciples. But apart from them every church member is also called disciple in this verse. A disciple is a learner, scholar, forsaking everything else, he follows the master (guru) to learn and be like the master. Cf. Luke 14:26, 27, 33; Matthew 19:19; 9:23; Mark 8:34. In fact the great commission is to go and make disciples. Cf. Matthew 28:20.

iii. Church is the gathering of Christians who are Christ’s ones. Acts 11:20
According to this verse, the term ‘Christian’ was first used for the church members in Antioch. The people of this city found that this special group was of Christ. Their life style as well as conversation definitely expressed that identity. Hence the public called them Christians, meaning ‘Christ’s ones’.

iv. Church is the assembly of saints. 1Corinthinas 1:2
Another description of the church repeatedly found in the New Testament is ‘saints’. This title has two ideas:-
        a. Sanctified – set apart for God. As we trust the Lord Jesus Christ as our saviour Lord, not only the He forgives, cleanses and saves us, He makes us His own. He separates us for God’s own purposes. It is in this aspect we are sanctified, saints. Not necessarily because of our goodness. Notice that the Corinthian church had lot of problems yet they are called saints.
         b. Holy ones. God has imputed the righteousness of Christ in to our account. 2Corinthians 5:21. Thus we have been called holy ones, saints. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to impart the holiness of Christ in to our practical life day by day, thus saints by call will be saints indeed!

v. Church is the assembly of the brethren. 1 Thessalonians 1:4; Hebrews 3:1

This is another most repeated term used for the Church members. As born again children of God we are of one family, hence the description ‘brethren’ is the most suitable one for the church.

All the above five descriptions given for the church members undoubtedly teach that Church is a congregation of people:-
          Who believe and trust the Lord Jesus Christ.
          Who follow and learn from Christ their Master / Guru.
          Whose life style is distinctly of Christ’s.
          Who have been separated to God and living a holy life.
          Who are brethren who live and enjoy a family relationship.

Conclusion:-

Now, what is actually the Church of Christ? We have seen three main topics to find out the meaning of church.

1. Meaning of the original word in Greek.
2. What actually Christ meant when He used this word?
3. What the Bible describes about the church members?

Church is a gathering of called out people, from the day of Pentecost by the power of the Holy spirit on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. They have been saved, separated, sanctified, and regenerated to be the family of God. They follow Christ, learn from Him and any one can notice their Christ-like behaviour.

Dear reader, take time to examine in the light of the biblical meaning of Church:-
         • Are you a part of the true church of Christ?
         • Is your life characterized by separation, holiness and Christ-likeness?
         • Do you enjoy brotherly love and affection in the Assembly of God?

Note: By using the terms, ‘Church of Christ‘, ‘Church of God‘, ‘brethren‘ and ‘Assembly of God‘, the writer does not refer to any denomination. It is true there are few groups who use these terms as if they are the true church. Writer doesn’t think so. The true Church of Christ, the Body of Christ is actually invisible today!

NTK

Related topic:- Some Unique facts about the Church


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