WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

When one becomes a Christian, he has numerous responsibilities. In the past several articles we have discussed many of these, from the importance of remaining faithful, continual growth and being a proper example, to various responsibilities that should be a regular part of life such a regular prayer, Bible study, proper worship, teaching others and doing good works. In this article we will discuss one final responsibility associated with being a Christian, and that is to find a church that God is pleased with.

This responsibility was saved for last because of its importance. An adequate study of this subject requires several articles. With this article, we will begin by introducing what the church is and the importance of a Christian joining a scriptural local church. In coming weeks we will note various characteristics of the Lordís church in more detail.

What is the church? This is a subject that is misunderstood by many. Some see it as the building where we assemble. Others see it as an organization on earth with a headquarters and local churches that submit to the organizationís decisions. Still others see it as all people of all faiths who simply believe in Jesus, even though doctrinally they completely disagree with one another (the concept of denominationalism). All of these concepts are contrary to the Bibleís concept as we shall see.

We can properly understand what the church is, by defining the word as used when the Bible was written and noting the way that word is used in the New Testament. The Greek word for church literally means "a calling out of". It is defined by Thayer as, "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly". The primary usage of this word is an assembling together. A few times in the New Testament the word is used to describe public assemblies other than "church" as we think of it. Ac. 19:32 speaks of a gathering of people (that was getting out of hand) and verse 39 both speak of a lawful, political or judicial assembly. Understanding this helps us understand that the word "church" refers to an assembly of Christians. [Note: Many versions properly make the distinction by using a different word such as "assembly" to describe word usage referring to a group other than Christians.]

The word "church" is used primarily in two different senses in the New Testament. It is used in a universal sense, describing all who are saved. Examples of this are Matthew 16:18 where Jesus told Peter, "Upon this rock [the statement of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God-tatjr], I will build My church."; Ephesians 1:22-23, "And He [God the Father] put all things under His [Jesus Christ] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."; and Acts 2:47, "...and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved."

The universal church is not an organization, but a relationship. We are added to it by God when we are saved. The word "church" is also used in a local sense, describing Christians who meet on a regular basis at a given location. Examples of this include 1 Corinthians 1:2, "To the church of God which is at Corinth"; Galatians 1:2, "...To the churches of Galatia"; Romans 16:16, "The churches of Christ salute you."; and Revelation 1:4, "John, to the seven churches of Asia". The local church is organized and does have a work. When one obeys the Gospel, he needs to find a local church that follows the pattern God has set forth in His word, and join that church.

Christians should join a local church. One might ask, "Do I have to join a church to be saved?" . I will readily admit that the Bible does not say in so many words, "You have to join a local church.", but a study of the church in the New Testament DEMANDS that you should. We have examples of individuals being a part of local churches. Acts 9:26 says, "And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples..." Paul himself saw the importance of becoming part of a local church. There was hesitation because of his background, but with the help of Barnabas, Paul he was permitted to join them. Numerous passages speak of churches meeting in the homes of Christians: Romans 16:3,5 "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,...Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ."; Colossians 4:15, "Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house."; and Philemon 1:2, "to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:" These examples show the importance of local churches. When we consider the importance of the work of the local church, we see the necessity of joining one. The epistles of Paul (Romans - Philemon) were written to give instructions to churches and men associated with local churches. They were told how to conduct themselves, what their responsibilities were, how to organize themselves, etc. This fact alone shows the importance of the local church [More on this in future lessons]. Furthermore, there are responsibilities that a Christian has that require them to identify with a local church. For instance, we are commanded to partake of the Lordís supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians. 11:23-29) and to lay by in store on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8). We are to teach "one another" and teach "one another" in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19). Christians are commanded to consider and exhort "one another" (Heb. 10:24,25), to in honor, give preference to "one another", be kindly affectionate to "one another", be of the same mind toward "one another" (Romans 12:9-16), and numerous other passages that tell us to do things together. Doing these things together demand that we identify with one another.

Also, consider Ephesians 4:16 which says, "from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." This verse is speaking of a local church. Note how every joint is to supply something and every part is to do its share.

For these reasons, it is clear in Godís word, that when one becomes a Christian he MUST join a local congregation of Godís people. Yet in spite of this, many do not see this as important. To them I would ask, if one truly wants to please God, why would he NOT want to join a church of Godís people?