There are many different ideas about what comprises the Church. Some see a building as a church. Some see multi-organizational groups as a church. The Bible puts forward a clear, focused picture of Christ’s Church. We live in a climate of denominational ecumenism and anti-biblical fellowship. God wants us to understand the nature of the one, true Church.
In this series of articles, we will consider what the Church is, what it is not, and its function. In these first three articles, we will see that the Church is “called out”, obedient, and those for whom Jesus died.
The word “church” essentially means “assembly”. The Greek term used to describe “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia - a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly (STRONG’s). Considering this basic definition, there are many “assemblies” that could be considered churches. (Church of Satan, etc.) In fact, the mob in Acts 19:41 is called an "assembly"! Thus, we need to properly define the Bible context of this word according to the way we use it today.
The Bible uses this word “church” interchangeably. It can speak toward the Universal Church which encompasses all baptized believers. This can be a vague concept, but since the Bible can be read and understood all over the world, we can understand that many who read and study it will come to the same conclusion and undergo the same salvation process. The Bible also speaks toward the local church which encompasses a located assembly of baptized believers. It has been said that the Universal Church is God’s gift to the world, whereas the local church is God’s gift to the believer. The Universal Church shows the world that there is indeed a better way of life, whereas the local church specifically benefits the believer with a “support group” to gain strength from and to help them grow.
We must note that the Church, regardless of its usage is not a building – it is the people! In Acts 8:1-4, we find the “local” (“church at Jerusalem”) in the course of the passage becomes the “universal” (“made havoc of the church”). Nothing is said of buildings or anything of the sort. We should not allow ourselves to become confused, and think that there is anything spiritually different about where a church meets.
The Scriptures also teach us that local churches are autonomous, whereas the Universal Church is one. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;” In the Universal sense, God alone rules over the Church, and decides who is a part of it and who is not. This is borne out in the book of Revelation, where Jesus is shown to be in complete control of the individual churches (Revelation 1-3). There is no biblical evidence of churches in the 1st century coming together as many do today in the support and promotion of human institutions. Furthermore, all churches in the book of Acts are independent of each other, with a plurality of elders.
The Church, as God defines it and as many people tend to think of it, “called out” for a purpose. Peter writes, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The special quality of God’s people cannot be missed. Jesus commands, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). We (as the Church) are not “called out” to live comfortably, but to show His glory. –Steven McCrary