WHAT THE CHURCH IS
We have seen that the Greek word translated church is "ecclesia." It
is translated in the following manner: 1.) The "ecclesia" of a self-governing
Greek city. Acts 19:32, 35, 39, 41. 2.) The Old Testament "ecclesia," or
gathering of national Israel. Acts 7:38. 3.) The New Testament "ecclesia."
I Tim 3:15,16.
There are around 112 more references to the New Testament Church, both
visible and invisible. The meaning of Church, or the type of called out
group, is determined by the context of the passage. "Ecclesia" comes from
two terms, "ec" meaning out, and "clessia" meaning called.
In the New Testament usage there seems to be the idea of the people
knowing they belong to the group that is called out. This does not require
membership, but certainly allows for the possibility.
Membership in our day is a very real need. There is a need to keep the
local assembly pure. If you have unsaved in the membership, you have the
possibility of those unsaved becoming church leaders. This is not good!
"Church" does not necessarily guarantee there are not unsaved present.
In many of our mainline denominations entire congregations are probably
unsaved. Even within Bible believing churches, we can accidentally allow
unsaved into the fellowship. This is never on purpose and is always regrettable.
Let us try to define the term church. What is "church?" What are the
minimum requirements to call a group of people a church?
May I suggest a definition? The church is the invisible union of all
believers in this present age that manifests itself through local assemblies
committed to the edification of the saints and the evangelization of the
A complete study of the term church would be suggested for the student
that would like to do further research. We will only list some of the highlights
of such a study for your present consideration.
1. The church is Christ. Col 1:24
2. The church is a feeding place for believers. Acts 20:28
3. The church is showing God's wisdom. Eph. 3:10
4. The church followed the apostle's doctrine. Acts 2:42
5. The church is set apart to God. I Cor. 1:2
6. The church will be raised and glorified. I Cor. 15:52
7. The church attests to, and serves Christ. I Pet 1:15
8. The church is an assembly of people. Acts 7:38; Matt. 16:18
9. The church seems to be involved in worship.
10. The church is catholic/universal. Col 1:6; Rev 5:9; Eph. 2:14-24
11. The church is subject to Christ. Eph. 5:24
12. The church prayed. Acts 2:42; Acts 12:5; I Tim. 2:8
13. The church has the ministry of reconciliation. II Cor. 5:19
14. The church had leaders. Acts 14:23; 20:17; I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5ff
15. The church was ministering or giving. Acts 11:29,30
16. The church is the fullness of Christ. Eph. 1:23
17. The church sang. Eph. 5:19
18. The church baptized new believers. Acts
19. The church was gifted. I Cor. 4:17; 12:28,29; Eph. 4:11-16;
Acts 1:26; Rom. 12:7; I Tim. 4:11; 6:2
20. The church had all things common - voluntary. Acts 1-6
21. The church sent out missionaries. Acts 11:13; 13:1 ff
22. The church is of Christ. Matt 16:18
23. The church is of the living God. I Tim 3:15
24. The church is the holy temple of Lord. Eph. 2:20
25. The church is a fellowship with those of like mind. I Pet 2:9
26. The church is the Bride of Christ. Eph. 5:25
27. The church is the body of Christ. Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12
28. The church is the dispenser of the mysteries of God. I Cor. 4:1
29. The church has a head - Christ. Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:18,24
30. The church is believers. I Cor. 1:2
31. The church is God's elect. Rom. 8:33
32. The church observed the Lord's table. I Cor. 11
So, "The church is the invisible union of all believers in this present
age which manifests itself through local assemblies committed to the edification
of the saints and the evangelization of the lost." These local churches
are involved in many ministries.
THE CHURCHES BEGINNINGS
Just when did the church begin? This is a question that has been debated
by many. Some suggest the day of Pentecost, others go further back to the
sending of the disciples in Matt 10:1, 7-10. Some suggest that John the
Baptist started the church, while others suggest that it was when Christ
breathed on the apostles in John 20:21,22. The covenant theologian would
view the church as the same as Israel and as such would not see a beginning
of the church - only the beginning of the covenant with Abraham.
Hyper-dispensationalists would place it later than Pentecost while differing
on just when it began. Some place it at Acts 10:44,45 when Cornelius was
converted. This dictates that only Gentiles are in the church. Some indicate
Acts 13:2,3 at Antioch, and some even go beyond the book of Acts for the
beginning of the church.
The most widely held view in fundamental circles today would probably
be the day of Pentecost view. (Acts 1:4; 2:41)
Let us consider some facts. The Lord saw the church as future in Matthew
16:18 which certainly places it after John the Baptist. The resurrection
and ascension were essential to the founding of the church (Eph. 1:19-23).
We see in Eph. 4:7-12 that the spiritual gifts were also linked to the
ascension, thus we must assume that the beginning of the church was after
the ascension. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was yet future in Acts 1:5
thus indicating that the church was yet future there as well. The baptism
of the Spirit seems to be linked to the beginning of the church, for it
is at that point that the believer enters the body of Christ (Acts 2; 11:15-16;
cf. I Cor. 12:13).
In answer to the Hyper-dispensationalist we must refer to the above
arguments and ask for logic in their thinking. Christ has made provision
for salvation and is seated with the Father - a perfect time to take the
next step toward the completion of the Father's plan of the ages, the beginning
of the kingdom in mystery form, the church. If Gentiles were required for
the beginning of the church why didn't some of the writers of Scripture
mention it? The fact that the ministry of the Spirit to the Gentiles was
the same as that to the Jews would indicate there was no need to wait for
them. (Acts 2; cf. 11:15,16)
The fact that the Lord told the believers to wait in Jerusalem indicates
that He had something very special in mind before they continued their
The only reason to place the start of the church post Pentecost is so
you can eliminate the need for baptism and the Lord's table as church ordinances
in this day and age.
NEW TESTAMENT PICTURES OF THE CHURCH
In the New Testament, we have pictures, or figures of the church that
are of interest to us:
a. The Body of Christ: The Church is pictured as the body of Christ
many times in the Bible. Christ is pictured as the head of that unified
body as well. (I Cor. 12:12, 14, 18, 21, 27, 28; Eph. 1:22,23; 3:6; 4:4;
4:12,16; 5:23,30; Col. 2:19-25; 1:18-24; Rom. 12:4; Eph. 5:23,24; Gal.
b. A building: The Church is pictured as a building and we are part
of that building. (Eph. 2:19-21; I Pet. 2:11; I Cor. 3:9-17; II Cor. 6:16;
I Pet. 2:5-9; Eph. 2:20-22; I Tim. 3:15)
c. Bride of Christ: We are also going to be the bride of Christ in the
end. We are being prepared and He will one day come for His bride. (Eph.
5:25-27; II Cor. 11:2,3; Rev 19:7)
d. The Flock: We are His flock. He has placed undershepherds over us
to feed and guide. The idea of the shepherd and flock portrays a beautiful
picture of His care over us. (Jn 10; I Pet 5)
Other pictures include Branches: Jn. 15; Kingdom of priests: I Pet.
2, Rom. 12:1, Heb. 13:15,16; New Creation: I Co. 15:45, Rom. 5:19; Co-heirs:
Heb. 1:2, Rom. 8:17; Harvest: I Co. 15:23; Servants: Col 4:1, I Cor. 7:22
REQUIREMENTS FOR MEMBERSHIP
Salvation followed by baptism, is seen in Acts 2:41 as an integrated
part of being added to the Church. "Then they that gladly received his
word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three
Acts 2:47 is presented at times, to show that baptism is not a requirement
for Church membership. "Praising god, and having favor with all the people.
And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." This text
only records additions to the body and is not meant to be a process for
Spirit baptism is the mode of entrance into the universal body thus
it is logical that water baptism would be the mode of entrance into the
local Church. (I Cor. 12:13) The texts in Acts dealing with the topic usually
see baptism as preceding the adding of a person to the body.
A true conversion in the book of Acts immediately made the believer
want to state they were separating themselves from Judaism, and they were
identifying with the Messiah that had come.
There are no other requirements listed for Church membership. There
are many other items that people require, but the Scripturalness of requirements
other than salvation and baptism should be inspected very carefully.
Some question whether the idea of Church membership is valid. To these
it is submitted that even if you do not have a membership or listing, you
should have some sort of system whereby you assure that the majority of
your Church is Christian. If you don't then you will have unsaved people
in leadership. If they become a majority in the body, they can control
your Church organization as well as buildings and all that you might attempt
It is Biblical, to most, to have Church membership, and it is logical
even if you reject the Biblicalness of the idea.
THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
The organism, or universal Church, is shown in Eph. 2:19 where it is
stated, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow
- citizens with the saints, and are of God's household." We are a part
of a household made up of all believers. One of the pictures that we looked
at previously was the idea of the body of Christ. In that figure we can
see the idea of the body, or Church, being a living organism. (I Cor. 12:12;
The Universal Church is seen in Scripture as the entire family of God
- all those that truly believe. Entrance is gained via the baptism of the
Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation.
Rather than spend a long time on this subject let it suffice to just
list some characteristics of the universal Church, and the reference where
the idea is found.
Its membership is diverse, but we have a common dependency. I Cor. 12:12-31
The Church is seen as God's dwelling place and temple. Eph. 2:21-22;
II Cor. 6:16
It is also seen as God's flock. I Peter 5:2-4
It is obvious that Christ is vitally involved in the Church since He
is the Head. It is also clear that the Church is His (Mt. 16:18). It is
Christ that taught it's first leaders (John 14-16 and the gospels). It
is Christ that sent the Holy Spirit to empower it (Acts 2:33; Jo. 16:7).
It is His ascension that set the stage for His headship over the Church
(Eph. 1:20-23). It is His gifts that edify the Church (Eph. 4:8-11). It
is His work that will prepare the Church (Eph. 5:26-27). He is preparing
the Church for the rapture as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-32; I Thess.
4:13-17; Rev. 19:6-9). Finally as we have seen, it is His body (Eph. 1:22-23).
THE LOCAL CHURCH
The local Church is that body of people in a local area that have organized
for fellowship, edification and evangelism. This local concept is seen
in several of the introductions of Paul's books to the believers at specific
locations. This concept is also seen in the calling of the elders of Ephesus
to meet with Paul in Acts 20:17. Many of the doctrines that we follow in
the Church today are drawn from the books that Paul wrote to local Churches
in local areas. The organization of the Church is seen in many verses where
the officers are mentioned. I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5 ff; Acts 14:23.
II. PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH
1. Edification of the saints: Ephesians is a key book to this idea of
the edification, building up, or maturation of the saints which is one
of the main purposes of the Church.
Eph. 4:11-16 "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;"
12 "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:"
13 "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:"
14 "That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;"
15 "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ:"
16 "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by
that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in
the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying
of itself in love."
Let us list some characteristics of the Church from this text:
Certain men are gifted, certain men are given to the Church, edification,
body concept, unity of the faith as a goal, knowing Christ as a goal, perfect
man as a goal, fulness of Christ in the people as a goal, maturity as a
goal, solid in doctrine as a goal, speaking truth, speaking in love, growing
to be like Christ, and the body is to be FITLY joined together.
NOW, if we were to work on those items only in many Churches, we would
have a full time job for many years!
It seems that Paul is depicting a cycle that is never ending. That cycle
begins with the Church leadership training the Church members to do the
work of the Lord. The members in turn as they are doing the work of the
Lord lead unsaved people to their Savior, and introduce them into the Church
where the Church leadership trains the new members to do the work of the
Lord, etc. (see also II Tim. 2:2). This is a Biblical system of training,
and education, yet many Churches would rather function on the basis of
the Pastor can do it all, while we soak up all of his good messages.
The early Church functioned as Paul describes it and reached the known
world in one generation. It must stir your imagination to envision a Church
in the U.S.A. that began functioning as they ought. That is the one and
only way that we will ever reach the world for Christ!
2. Evangelization of the lost: As we have already seen, edification
will ultimately lead to the evangelism that is the second purpose of the
Church. This is pictured for us by Paul in I Thess. 1:8 which states, "For
from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia,
but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that
we need not to speak any thing." (See also Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:18-20)
Some suggest other things that should be a part of the Church, but these
actually fall into one of the purposes that we have been discussing.
Let us just list some of these other items:
Show love for the Lord. Rev. 2:4, "Nevertheless, I have somewhat against
thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
Incite one another to love and good works. Heb. 10:24, "And let us consider
one another to provoke unto love and to good works,"
Care for the needy, do good works, and many others:
preaching praying singleness of heart helping witnessing sharing teaching counseling sending testifying teaching baptizing organizing serving fellowship study worship singing giving praising testifying sharing helping praying studyAnother good study that we won't delve into, is to read the book of Acts and list characteristics of the Church. Some items of interest from the book of Acts concerning the Church:
They obeyed the great commission (1:8)
They were Christians (1:14)
They were organized (1:15-26)
They were empowered (2:1-14)
They were preaching (2:15 ff)
They were baptizing (2:41)
They were fruitful (2:41)
They were living rightly in all of their activities (2:42-46)
They were powerful (2:43)
They were sharing (2:44,45)
They were praising (2:47)
They were persecuted (4:1-4; 5:17-28; 8:1-3)
They were bold (4:5-12)
They were united (4:32)
They were sacrificial (4:32)
They were holy and pure (5:1-11)
They were dedicated unto death (7)
They were forgiving (7:60)
They were spreading the Gospel (8:4 due to their scattering)
They reached the known world in their own time! Today you have over
half the world to reach in your generation. My generation cannot do the
task! My generation has for all practical purposes failed to reach our
own generation. That is a very sobering thought if you can allow it to
Take a moment to draw a picture in your mind. At the top is God the
Father, our caretaker. It is His will that we follow, and it is Him that
we glorify. (Matt. 6:25-34; 12:50; John 14:13) A little lower and to the
left you have a block marked God the Holy Spirit. God gave the Spirit for
direction, comfort and power. To the lower right of God we have God, the
Son. He is our savior, and is the Head of the Church (Eph. 5:23).
Below the Father, we have a long rectangle labeled the Church that reaches
down to a picture of the earth. The Church is the link between the trinity
and the world. Without that link there is no way that the World can know
of the salvation that God has provided.
GOD THE FATHER GOD GOD THE THE HOLY SPIRIT SON C H U R C H WORLD
If your picture is complete you have a cross connecting God with the
world, which is quite appropriate. I would take liberty to use a quote
that I have heard many times over the years, The Church is not Church unless
"ur" in it. The Church cannot do the complete job that God has given it
to do unless every believer is active in the Church. The individual is
key to the evangelization of the world! God has chosen man to be the communicator
of His truth (II Cor. 5:20).
Christ commissioned the apostles - and us - as believers to go to the
world. (Matt 28:18-20)
A number of years ago I came across some statistics concerning missions.
(Ruth Johnson in "THE YEARS BETWEEN" I believe it was a tract)
Of 50 missionary commitments
38 never reach Bible school leaving 12
4 drop out of Bible school leaving 8
4 drop out when a field opens leaving 4
1 drops out before leaving, leaving 3
3 reach the field
1 will drop out during the first term
1 never returns for the second term
1 continues in missionary work.
Of the one that continues we must draw our mission directors and home
Shelley in his book mentions, That the Church lacks zeal. he goes on
to mention that many misunderstand the message. You can listen to many
preachers of our day and realize that this is true. The Gospel message
has so many additions to it that the lost person is confused by the confetti.
He mentions, "Christianity without a mission, like fire that does not burn,
is a contradiction in terms." (Shelley, "THE CHURCH: GOD'S PEOPLE"; p 113)
More to the point may be this - you call yourself a Christian. Are you
a contradiction in terms?
Our reason for living is to glorify God, and our purpose as a Church
is to evangelize the lost so they might be trained to do the work of the