What is the church?
The Church, the Body of Christ, is the community of all who believe in Jesus Christ and in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. The Church's mission is to preach the gospel, to teach all that Christ commanded, to baptize, and to graze the flock. In fulfilling this mandate, the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, takes the Bible as a guide and is constantly guided by Jesus Christ, her living head (1 Corinthians 12,13:8,9; Romans 28,19: 20; Matthew 1,18: 1,22; Colossians; Ephesians).
The church as a sacred assembly
«... the church is not created by a gathering of people who share the same opinions, but by a divine convocation [assembly] ...» (Barth, 1958: 136). According to a modern perspective, one speaks of the church when people with similar beliefs meet for worship and instruction. However, this is not strictly a biblical perspective.
Christ said that he would build his church and that the gates of hell would not overwhelm it (Matthew 16,16: 18). It is not the Church of Man, but it is the Church of Christ, "the Church of the Living God" (1 Timothy 3,15) and local churches are "churches of Christ" (Romans 16,16).
Therefore the church fulfills a divine purpose. It is God's will that we "should not leave our congregations as some do" (Hebrews 10,25). The Church is not optional, as some may think; it is God’s wish that Christians gather.
The Greek term for church, which also corresponds to the Hebrew names for assembly, is ekklesia, and refers to a group of people called out for a purpose. God has always been involved in creating communities of believers. It is God who gathers people in the church.
In the New Testament, the words parish or parish are used to refer to house parishes as we would call them today (Romans 16,5; 1 Corinthians 16,19; Philippians 2), urban communities (Romans 16,23:2; 1,1 Corinthians 2: 1,1; Thessalonians), communities that span an entire area (Acts 9,31:1; 16,19 Corinthians 1,2; Galatians), and also to describe the entire community of believers in the known world. Community and togetherness
Church means participation in the community of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christians are in the community of his son (1 Corinthians 1,9), the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2,1) with the father (1 John 1,3) called so that while we walk in the light of Christ we "have fellowship with one another" (1 John 1,7).
Those who accept Christ are careful to "keep unity in spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4,3). Although there is diversity among believers, their togetherness is stronger than any differences. This message is emphasized by one of the most important metaphors used for the church: that the church is the "body of Christ" (Romans 12,5; 1 Corinthians 10,16; 12,17; Ephesians 3,6; 5,30; Colossians 1,18).
The original disciples came from different backgrounds and probably did not feel naturally attracted to fellowship with each other. God calls believers from all walks of life to spiritual togetherness.
Believers are "members" within the global or universal community of the Church (1 Corinthians 12,27:12,5; Romans), and this individuality need not threaten our unity, because "we are all baptized into one body by one spirit" (1 Corinthians 12,13).
Obedient believers, however, do not cause division by bickering and stubbornly insisting on their point of view; rather, they pay tribute to each member so that "there is no division in the body", but "the members care for each other in the same way" (1 Corinthians 12,25).
"The Church is ... an organism that shares the same life - the life of Christ (Jinkins 2001: 219).
Paul also compares the church to “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit”. He says that believers are “intertwined” in a building that “grows to a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2,19: 22). In 1 Corinthians 3,16:2 and 6,16 Corinthians he also refers to the idea that the church is the temple of God. Similarly, Peter compares the Church to a "spiritual house" in which believers form a "royal priesthood, a holy people." (1 Peter 2,5.9) .The family as a metaphor for the church
From the beginning, the church was often referred to and functioned as a kind of spiritual family. Believers are called "brothers" and "sisters" (Romans 16,1: 1; 7,15 Corinthians 1:5,1; 2 Timothy 2,15; James).
Sin separates us from God's purpose for us, and each of us, spiritually speaking, becomes lonely and fatherless. God's desire is "to bring the lonely home" (Psalm 68,7) to bring those who are spiritually alienated into the community of the Church, which is the "household of God." (Ephesians 2,19).
In this «household [family] of faith (Galatians 6,10), believers can be nourished in a safe environment and transformed into the image of Christ because of the Church, which is also associated with Jerusalem (City of Peace) that's up there (see also Revelation 21,10), "we are all mothers" (Galatians 4,26).
The bride of Christ
A beautiful biblical picture speaks of the Church as the bride of Christ. It is alluded to by symbols in various scriptures, including the Song of Songs. A key passage is Song of Songs 2,10: 16, where the bride's lover says that her winter time is over and now the time for singing and joy has come (see also Hebrews 2,12), and also where the bride says: "My friend is mine and I am his" (St. 2,16). The Church belongs both individually and collectively to Christ and he belongs to the Church.
Christ is the bridegroom who "loved the Church and gave himself up for it" so that it "be a glorious church and have no stains or wrinkles or anything like that" (Ephesians 5,27). This relationship, says Paul, "is a great secret, but I point it to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5,32).
John takes up this topic in the Book of Revelation. The triumphant Christ, the Lamb of God, marries the bride, the church (Revelation 19,6: 9-21,9; 10), and together they proclaim the words of life (Revelation 21,17).
There are additional metaphors and images that are used to describe the church. The Church is the flock that needs caring shepherds who take care of them along the lines of Christ (1 Peter 5,1: 4); it is a field where workers are needed to plant and water (1 Corinthians 3,6: 9); the church and its members are like vines on a vine (John 15,5); the church is like an olive tree (Romans 11,17-24).
As a reflection of the present and future kingdom of God, the church is like a mustard seed that grows into a tree in which the birds of the sky find refuge (Luke 13,18: 19); and like leaven that makes its way through the dough of the world (Luke 13,21), etc. The Church as a Mission
From the beginning, God called certain people to do His work on earth. He sent Abraham, Moses and the prophets. He sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus Christ. Then he sent Christ himself for our salvation. He also sent his Holy Spirit to establish his church as a tool for the gospel. The Church is also sent out into the world. This work of the gospel is fundamental and fulfills Christ's words with which he sent his followers into the world to continue the work he had started (John 17,18: 21). That is the meaning of «mission»: to be sent by God to fulfill its purpose.
A church is not an end in itself and should not only exist for itself. This can be seen in the New Testament, in Acts. Throughout the book, the main activity has been to spread the gospel through preaching and building churches (Acts 6,7: 9,31; 14,21:18,1; 11:1; 3,6; Corinthians etc.).
Paul refers to churches and specific Christians who participate in the "Community of the Gospel" (Philippians 1,5). You fight with him for the gospel (Ephesians 4,3).
It was the church in Antioch that Paul and Barnabas sent on their missionary trips (Acts 13,1: 3).
The parish in Thessalonica «became a model for all believers in Macedonia and Achaja». From them "the word of the Lord came not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in all other places". Their belief in God went beyond their own limits (2 Thessalonians 1,7: 8).
The activities of the church
Paul writes that Timothy should know how to behave "in the house of God, that is the church of the living God, a pillar and a foundation of truth" (1 Timothy 3,15).
Sometimes people can feel that their understanding of the truth is more valid than the understanding of the Church that they have received from God. Is this likely if we remember that the Church is the "foundation of truth"? Church is where truth is established through the teaching of the word (John 17,17).
Reflecting the "fullness" of Jesus Christ, her living head, "which fulfills all in all" (Ephesians 1,22: 23), the Church of the New Testament participates in works of service (Acts 6,1: 6-1,17; James, etc.) to fellowship (Acts 2,44: 45-12; Judas etc.), in the implementation of the church orders (Acts 2,41; 18,8; 22,16; 1 Corinthians 10,16-17; 11,26) and in adoration (Acts 2,46: 47-4,16; Colossians, etc.).
Churches have been involved in helping one another, illustrated by the help given to the church in Jerusalem at a time of food shortages (1 Corinthians 16,1: 3). A closer look at the letters of the apostle Paul shows that the congregations communicated and were connected. No church existed in isolation.
A study of church life in the New Testament reveals a pattern of church accountability to church authority. Each individual congregation was accountable to the authority of the church outside of its immediate pastoral or administrative structure. It can be seen that the New Testament church was a community of local churches held together through collective accountability for the tradition of faith in Christ taught by the apostles (2 Thessalonians 3,6: 2; 4,13 Corinthians).
The Church is the body of Christ and consists of all those who are recognized by God as members of the "Church of the Saints" (1 Corinthians 14,33). This is significant for the believer because community participation is the means through which the Father preserves us and sustains us until Jesus Christ returns.
by James Henderson