We had a home group recently discussing the essence of church. The term ’church’ is often used to apply to a building in modern times, but this is not the Biblical sense. The word for church in the Bible (‘ecclesia’) is probably best translated as congregation, or group of believers (although it can be translated ‘mob’, which is an interesting idea). This post tries to summaries the essence of church: what it is, and who it is for.
What is church?
A church can refer to a number of different things: a local congregation of believers, an assembly of believers that spans time and space, or, metaphorically, Christ himself (1 Cor 12:27). Several analogies are presented to us in the Bible to help us understand what a church is: a building with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph 2:20); a vine, with us as the branches (John 15:5); a human body, with Christ as the head (1 Cor 12).
These analogies are brought together by the idea of a group of individuals working as a team with a common purpose in Christ. Whilst this is the ideal, it’s helpful to remember that church is also a hospital for the sin-sick, with everybody doing their best to build relationships with one another around our human imperfections!
Who is it for?
A church is first and foremost for God. For his glory, worship & praise, prayer, and holiness.
There is also a sense in which a church is for its members: to provide strengthening / encouragement; support (spiritual and material), fellowship, teaching, breaking of bread, prayer, and regular meeting (see Acts 2); accountability, peer-challenge, and warning; social and friendship; and a sense of family. The aspiration is that everybody should be giving more than they take, and considering others before themselves (Phil 2:3). I’d be the first to say that I don’t always live up to this aspiration, and perhaps that’s ok – there are times in our life when we need support and encouragement.
Church is also for those who do not belong to it. Those in need – spiritually or materially. A church has a responsibility to show Jesus, preach the gospel, and be a visible light for God’s glory. It should be able to make everyone who walks through the door (or reads its website…!) feel welcome – which is tricky with different needs, personality types, and outlooks.
- Purpose Driven Church (Rick Warren)