And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
Today is Sunday, and June and I just got out of “church.” We enjoyed a wonderful time of worshiping God our Savior, Jesus Christ, and listening to the Word of God exposited by our “under shepherd,” our pastor. Then we gathered in our Sunday school classroom to enjoy family time by fellowshipping with our brothers and sisters and enjoying a time of deeper study into the Word of God. Currently, we are studying the book of Isaiah. We have been in the book of Isaiah for nearly a year, and we are only halfway through the book. I really appreciate our Bible teacher and his dedication to the careful study of God’s Word.
I have said this before, and it is still true. I love church! But what is church? Some people think of a building where people meet on Sundays for some unknown reason. Others have a vague notion that people gather there to sing and listen to some preacher talk. Many Christians consider church attendance as some kind of obligation. It’s just something one does.
Before going into what “church” is, perhaps we should understand what it is not.
“Church” is not a building. The first definition of “church” found at Dictionary.Com says that it is “a building for public Christian worship.” While that may be the modern, accepted understanding of the word, it is nonetheless in error. The second definition says that a church is a “public worship of God or a religious service in such a building.” That comes closer to a correct understanding; however, it is still false.
Some people who attend church services select their place of “worship” based on the style of music that is played. They want to hear stirring music that stimulates the emotions and elevates their spirits to euphoric heights. Many church leaders are keenly aware of this “need” and they go to great expense and effort to tailor music that attracts the most number of attendees. Many “worship” services employ loud, screaming guitars, jungle-beating percussion sets, laser-light shows, and even smoke machines to stimulate the emotions. After 45 minutes or so of ear-splitting, pulse-raising “music,” the speaker comes up to give a 15-minute motivational speech specifically intended to maintain the hearer in a happy state – no talk of sin and the need for the Savior, or the prospect of hell; only talk about God’s love and how He loves you just the way you are (a partial truth originating from the “father of lies”).
No, the church is not a place to be entertained, emotionally elevated, or encouraged in your sin. Even churches that still sing the “tired old hymns” can degenerate into places where we can go to just feel good about ourselves. That is not what church is. Neither is the church intended to attract unbelievers, which the modern “church growth” movement emphasizes.
The word translated “church” in the Bible is the Greek word ekklēsia, and it could be translated the “called out ones.” Immediately we notice that the definition precludes a building of any kind. So, the “church” is not a building. The church is people, and not just people, they are people that have been “called out.” The question that immediately comes to mind is, “called out of what?” Simply put, the church is an assembly of people who have been “called out” of the world. To use a “churchy” term, the church is a body of those who have been “saved” out of the world, out of sin, and out of an eternity in hell.
Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain …” (John 15:16, emphasis mine). The Greek word translated “ordained” means “to place” or “to set.” In other words, Jesus has “chosen,” i.e. “called out,” His church and set it in a place to do His work on earth – to “bring forth fruit.” “Bringing forth fruit” does not necessarily mean increasing the number of attendees in a particular church body. Indeed, Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The “call” goes out to all, but only a few will respond. “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14, emphasis mine).
Jesus said these things before the church was established at Pentecost. The church, therefore, consists of individuals who are “called out” by Christ through the Holy Spirit, regardless of man-made “branding” – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc. The unifying theme of the Church is a belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross in payment for our sin, His resurrection from the grave (after three days), His ascension into heaven and His soon return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, emphasis mine). If one trusts simply in that, that one is included in “the Church.” If, on the other hand, one is trusting in the practices observed by their church, they are probably not included in “the Church.”
The Bible refers to the body of all true believers, the “called out ones,” i.e. “the Church,” as “the Bride of Christ.” This is the Church – not a building or a particular “Christian” denomination. The Church is a body of “called out” individuals who join together to worship God, to “feed” on His Word, to grow and mature in the Spirit, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, to fellowship and encourage one another, and to work together to “bring forth fruit,” i.e., bring others to Christ.
The purpose of the local church is to build up the body – the Church – for the work of the kingdom. It is not to entertain, nor is it to gain numbers for the sake of numbers. The Church is not confined to a single building; however, the smaller gathering that meets in a “church” building plays a major role as part of the “greater” Church. Therefore, “… let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
One day soon the Church will gather together from all parts of the earth in one great assembly forever to be united with our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. I so yearn for that day! In the meantime, I enjoy the little piece of Heaven God has provided here on earth in my local church with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
 See my articles on “False Religion”