What is the church?

The Bible says: He who believes in Christ becomes part of the "church" or "church."
What is that, the "church", the "church"? How is she organized? What is your purpose?

Jesus builds his church

Jesus said: I want to build my church (Mt 16,18). The church is important to him - he loved her so much that he gave his life for her (Eph 5,25). If we are as minded as we are, we too will love the church and give ourselves to it. Church or parish is translated from Greek ekklesia, meaning assembly. In Acts19,39-40 the word is used in the sense of a normal human gathering. But for the Christian, ekklesia has taken on a special meaning: all those who believe in Jesus Christ.

At the point where he uses the word for the first time, Luke writes, "And there was a great fear of the whole church ..." (Acts 5,11). He does not have to explain what the word means; his readers already knew it. It marked all Christians, not just those who were gathered in this place at that time. "Church" means the church, denotes all the disciples of Christ. A community of people, not a building.

Further, the church also refers to the local gatherings of Christians. Paul wrote "to the church of God at Corinth" (1Kor 1,2); he speaks of "all the churches of Christ" (Rom 4,16). But he also uses the word as a collective name for the community of all believers when he says that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it" (Eph 5,25).

The community exists on several levels. On the one level stands the universal church or church that embraces everyone in the world who professes to be Jesus Christ's Lord and Savior. On another level, the local communities, the municipalities in the strict sense, are regional groups of people who meet regularly. On an intermediate level lie the denominations or denominations, which are groups of communities working together on a common history and faith basis.

The local communities sometimes include non-believers - family members who do not profess Jesus as the Savior, but who still participate in church life. This can also include people who consider themselves Christians, but pretend something. Experience shows that some of them later admit that they were not real Christians.

Why we need the church

Many people call themselves Christian believers but do not want to join a church. This, too, must be described as malpractice. The New Testament shows that the normal case is for believers to belong to a congregation (Hebr 10,25).

Again and again Paul calls Christians to each other for one another and for one another, for mutual service, unity (Rom 12,10, 15,7, 1Kor 12,25, Gal 5,13, Eph 4,32, Phil 2,3, Kol 3,13, 1Thess 5,13). To follow this appeal is as good as impossible for the loner who does not want to be close to other believers.

A church can give us a feeling of belonging, a feeling of Christian commonality. It can provide us with a minimum of spiritual security, so that we do not get lost by strange ideas. A church can give us friendship, fellowship, encouragement. She can teach us things that we would not learn on our own. It can help educate our children, it can help us become more effective "worshiping", it can give us opportunities for social service that we grow, often unimagined.

In general, the profit a community gives us is in proportion to the commitment we invest. But the most important reason for the individual believer to join a church is: The Church needs us. God has given different gifts to individual believers and wants us to work together "for the benefit of all" (1Kor 12,4-7). If only a part of the workforce appears to work, then it is not surprising that the church does not do as much as hoped or that we are not as healthy as hoped. Unfortunately, some people find it easier to criticize than to help.

The Church needs our time, our skills, our gifts. She needs people she can rely on - she needs our commitment. Jesus called to pray for workers (Mt 9,38). He wants every one of us to tackle and not just play the passive spectator. Who wants to be a Christian without a church, does not use his strength as we should use according to the Bible, namely, helping. The Church is a "Mutual Assistance Community" and we should help each other, knowing that the day may come (yes, it has already come) that we need help ourselves.

Church / Community: pictures and symbols

The Church is addressed in various ways: People of God, the family of God, the bride of Christ. We are a building, a temple, a body. Jesus spoke to us as sheep, as field, as vineyard. Each of these symbols illustrates another side of the church.

Many parables of the kingdom of Jesus speak of the Church. Like a mustard seed, the church started small and grew up (Mt 13,31-32). The church is like a field on which wheat grows as well as weeds (verses 24-30). It is like a net catching good fish as well as bad ones (verses 47-50). It is like a vineyard where some work long, some only a short time (Mt 20,1-16). It is like servants entrusted with money by their master and doing it partly well, sometimes badly (Mt 25,14-30). Jesus called himself Shepherd and his disciples flock (Mt 26,31); his job was to search for lost sheep (Mt 18,11-14). He describes his believers as sheep that must be grazed and cared for (Joh 21,15-17). Paul and Peter also use this symbol and say that church leaders must "feed the flock" (Act 20,28; 1Petr 5,2).

We are "God's building," writes Paul in 1. Corinthians 3,9. The foundation is Christ (Vers11), upon which rests the human construction. Peter calls us "living stones, built to the spiritual home" (1Petr 2,5). Together we are built "to an abode of God in spirit" (Eph 2,22). We are the temple of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Kor 3,17, 6,19). Although God can be worshiped in every place; but the church has worship as a central meaning.

We are "God's people," says 1. Peter 2,10. We are what the people of Israel were supposed to be: "the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy people, the people of property" (verse 9, see 2Mose 19,6). We belong to God because Christ has bought us with his blood (Rev. 5,9). We are God's children, he is our father (Eph 3,15). As children, we have a great inheritance, and we are expected to be pleasing to him and to honor his name.

The Scriptures also call us the Bride of Christ - a name that resonates with how much Christ loves us and what deep change takes place in us so that we can have such a close relationship with the Son of God. In many of his parables, Jesus invites people to the wedding feast; Here we are invited to be the bride.

"Let us rejoice and be merry and give him the glory; for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has prepared herself "(Rev 19,7). How do we "prepare" ourselves? By a gift: "And she was given to do with beautiful pure linen" (Vers8). Christ cleanses us "by the waterbath in the Word" (Eph 5,26). He sets the Church before Himself, having made them glorious and immaculate, holy and blameless (verse 27). He works in us.

Working together

The symbol that best illustrates how parishioners should act against each other is that of the body. "But you are the body of Christ," writes Paul, "and each one of you is a member" (1Kor 12,27). Jesus Christ "is the Head of the Body, the Church" (Kol 1,18), and we are all members of the Body. When we are united with Christ, we are also united with each other, and we are committed to one another - in the truest sense. Nobody can say, "I do not need you" (1Kor 12,21), nobody can say he has nothing to do with the church do (verse 18). God distributes our gifts so that we can work together for common benefit and help each other and receive help in this cooperation. In the body should be "no division" (verse 25). Often Paul polemicizes against the party spirit; He who sows discord should even be excluded from the church (Rom 16,17, Tit 3,10-11). God lets the church "grow in all its pieces" in that "each limb supports the other according to the measure of its power" (Eph 4,16). Unfortunately, the Christian world is divided into denominations that are often in feud with each other. The church is not yet perfect because none of its members is perfect. Nevertheless, Christ wants a church (Joh 17,21). This does not have to mean organizational merger, but presupposes a common goal. True unity can only be found by striving for ever greater Christ-nearness, preaching Christ's gospel, living according to His principles. The goal is to propagate it, not ourselves. However, having different denominations also has an advantage: through different approaches, the message of Christ reaches more people in ways that they can understand.


There are three basic forms of church organization and constitution in the Christian world: hierarchical, democratic and representative. They are called episcopal, congregational and presbyterial.

Each basic type has its varieties, but in principle, the episcopal model means that a senior shepherd has the power to determine church principles and ordain pastors. In the congregational model, the churches themselves determine these two factors. In the presbyterian system, power is divided between denomination and the church; Elders are chosen who are given competences.

A special church or church structure does not prescribe the New Testament. It speaks of overseers (bishops), elders and shepherds (pastors), and these titles are quite interchangeable. Peter commands elders to exercise shepherds and overseers: "Feed the flock ... pay attention to them" (1Petr 5,1-2). In similar words, Paul's elders give the same instructions (Acts 20,17 and 28).

The church in Jerusalem was run by a group of elders; the congregation to Philippi of bishops (Acts 15,1-2, Phil 1,1). Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders there; he writes a verse on elders and several on bishops, as if they were synonymous terms for church leaders (Tit 1,5-9). In the Letter to the Hebrews (13,7, Mengeund Elberfelder Bible) the community leaders are simply called "leaders". Luther translates here as "Führer" with "Lehrer", a term that also appears frequently (1Kor 12,29, Jak 3,1). The grammar of Ephesians 4,11 indicates that "shepherds" and "teachers" belonged to the same category. One of the main qualifications of church officials in the community has been to be "... able to teach others" (2Tim2,2).

As a common denominator remains to note: There were community leaders used. There was a certain amount of community organization, with the exact official titles were rather secondary. The members were required to respect and obey the officials (1Thess 5,12; 1T in 5,17; Hebr 13,17).

If the eldest objects something wrong, the congregation should not obey; but usually the church was expected to support the elders. What do elders do? They stand before the community (1Tim 5,17). They feed the flock, they lead by example and doctrine. They watch over the herd (Act 20,28). They should not dictatorially rule, but serve (1Petr 5,23), "so that the saints can be equipped for the work of the ministry. This is to build the body of Christ "(Eph. 4,12). How are elders determined? In a few cases, we get information: Paul uses elders (Act 14,23), assumes that Timothy uses bishops (1T in 3,1-7), and authorizes Titus to use elders (Tit 1,5). In any case, there was a hierarchy in these cases. We do not find examples of a church choosing its own elders.


However, in Acts 6,1-6, we see how so-called armenians are chosen by the church. These men were chosen to distribute food to the needy, and the apostles then put them into office. Thus the apostles could concentrate on the spiritual work, and the physical work was also done (verse 2). This distinction between spiritual and physical church work can also be found in 1. Peter 4,10-11.

Officials for manual work are often deacons, according to Greek diakoneo, serve. "Serve" should in principle all members and leaders, but for the serving duties in the narrower sense, there were own agents. Even female deacons are mentioned in at least one place (Rom 16,1).

Paul calls Timothy a set of qualities that a deacon must possess (1Tim3,8-12), without saying exactly what her ministry was. Consequently, different denominations give deacons different responsibilities, ranging from saloon attendants to financial accounting. The important thing about management offices is not their name, not their structure, nor the way in which they are filled. Their purpose is important: to give help to the people of God in their maturation "to the full measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4,13).

Sense of the community

Christ built his church, he gave his people gifts and guidance, and he gave us work. A main sense of ecclesial communion is worship, worship. God has called us "to proclaim the benefits of him who called you from darkness to his wonderful light" (1Petr 2,9). God seeks people who worship Him (Joh 4,23) who love Him more than anything (Mt 4,10). What we do, whether as individuals or as a church, should always be done in his honor (1Kor 10,31). We are to "offer the praise to God all the time" (Hebr 13,15).

It is our duty: "Encourage each other with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph 5,19). When we gather as a church, we sing God's worship, pray to Him, and hear His word. These are forms of worship. Likewise the evening meal, as well as the baptism, likewise the obedience.

Another purpose of the church is teaching. It is at the heart of the mission commandment: "... teach them to keep all that I have commanded you" (Mt. 28,20). Community leaders should teach, and each member should teach the others (Kol 3,16). We should warn each other (1Kor 14,31; 1Thess 5,11; Hebr 10,25). For this mutual support and teaching, small groups are the ideal setting.

Those who seek gifts from the Spirit tell Paul to seek to build the church (1Kor 14,12). The goal is to build, admonish, strengthen, comfort (Vers3). Everything that happens in the congregation should build up the church (verse 26). We should be disciples, people who know and apply the word of God. The early Christians were praised because they "remained constant" in the teaching of the apostles and in the community and in the breaking of bread and in prayer "(Acts 2,42).

A third main sense of community is the "social service". "Therefore ... let us do good to everyone, but most of all to the faith of comrades," says Paul (Gal 6,10). Priority is our commitment to our family, then the church and then the world around us. The second highest commandment is: Love your neighbor (Mt 22,39). Our world has many physical needs, and we should not ignore them. But most of all, she needs the gospel, and we should not ignore that as well. As part of our "social service," the Church should preach the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. No other organization does this work - it is the task of the church. Every worker is needed - some at the "front", others at the "stage". Plant one, fertilize others, harvest others; if we work together, Christ will make the church grow (Eph 4,16).

by Michael Morrison

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