Over the next few weeks, I plan to write about the church. My plan (and of course we all know that plans often change) is to post six different aspects of the church. This is the first of six. My goal is three-fold. First to help me flesh out in writing what I have been thinking and studying about on this subject for the past few months. Second, to get others to think and study about it. And lastly, to generate healthy discussion to improve all our thinking and studying on the nature and purpose of the church. I do not claim to have the authority on this subject, and I know my posts will not come even close to complete, but I do believe this series will help (at a minimum, in my first goal).
What is the church? In most people’s minds today, when they hear the word church they think of a building with a cross on top of it or a graveyard beside it. In other words, it has become a four-walled building where people go on Sundays, and sometimes Wednesdays. When I encounter the wonderful people in my community, often they will ask, “Where is your church?” Is that a bad question? No, especially considering the context in which they are asking the question. So, I want to address this question in my first part of the series because I want to move myself, the people of the church I am a part of, and those in my community away from thinking that a church is a building. The church I am a part of does not even own a building. We rent the a local school to meet in on Sundays, which is a real culture shock to many in my community where traditional religion is the mainstream cultural backdrop.
Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” (NASB) That verse would seem a bit weird if it were talking about a building. Did the apostle Paul mean, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the building with the cross on it and gave Himself up for it”? We can all guess that is not what he meant. The verse is referring to a group of people. It is referring to the people of God past, present, and future. It is referring to a group of people who Jesus has committed Himself to, which would be very similar to a commitment a husband would have to a wife, which is why Paul is using the marriage picture.
So, this leads me to another question, “Are all people, God’s people?” I have heard it said many times that all people are God’s people. Is that true? Well, when you look in Scripture, it never refers to all people as God’s people. It says that God created all people, but it does not say that all people are God’s people. In Acts 2:47, the Bible says, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (NASB). That verse is talking about the first New Testament church. But to add “to their number” means at least two things. One, the church was a select group of people, and two, not all people were in it.
So, how does one become part of this growing number of people called the church? Is there a membership fee? Ritual to follow? Card to sign? Check to write? Is it racial? Does it depend on one’s upbringing? Many I talk to have assumed one or more of those possible answers. So, what is the answer? When one takes a honest look at Scripture and lets God speak for Himself rather than trying to twist the Bible to say what they want, it is clear on what the church is.
1. The church is a group of people who were at one time lost, destitute, and perishing in their sin, and were saved by Jesus Christ, God’s Son (Ephesians 2:1-2; Luke 15). Sin has effected every single person who has ever lived (Genesis 3, Romans 3 & 5) except Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh, a sinless human (John 1:1, 14; Colossians 1:15).
2. The church is a group of people who received grace by faith, not gained grace by works (John 3:16, 36; Romans 6:23; 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bible is very clear that no sinful human being can become righteous enough by their works to gain access to a holy God (Romans 3:23). So, to be saved from one’s sin and become a part of the church of God (or the people of God) one must confess Jesus as the Lord of their life and believe in Him.
3. Throughout the whole Bible you see how God, by grace, redeemed a group of people from their sin, and called them to trust, follow, and glorify Him as Lord. So, the church is a group of people who God has saved, not a group who saved themselves. This is why a church is a group of people who are constantly praising and glorifying God. They are thankful for the great salvation they have received from God. So, joy is a foundational characteristic of the church. I will address in future posts of why sometimes this is not the case.
So, in looking at these few thoughts on what a church is, we can conclude at least two things. First, the church is not a building, but a congregation of people. Second, we see that not all people are God’s people, but only those who He has “saved” by believing in Him through His Son, Jesus.
In next few posts, I will talk about my thoughts on: Is the church important, and why, the purity of the church, what the church is to stand on, the social agenda of the church, and the church’s over all mission. I certainly did not give even close a full description of what the church is, so if you have a thought to give, please feel free to give it. Also, I hope you will following the series on the church and help us all think more clearly about the church and our implication in the congregation of the Lord.