Confusion persists regarding the church, although this confusion is unwarranted because God has been very clear about this institution and the reasons why he established it on earth. When you examine the Scriptures, you find a number of helpful descriptions of the church that should clear up any misunderstanding.
- The church is the “called out.” The Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia, which literally means “called out.” It was used of the Jews when they congregated together before the tent of meeting, and later the Gentiles used the term to refer to town meetings that were held in the public square. When applied to the church, the idea is of an assembly, or, more figuratively, God’s people separated from the world and consecrated to himself. The word “church” itself indicates being set apart for a special purpose.
- The church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23). As such, there is “one body” (Ephesians 4:4). There is only one Jesus, and you would not expect him to have more than one body. The church is not supposed to be subdivided into thousands of denominations; this must be very displeasing to the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:10). Jesus’ prayer for his disciples was that we would all be “one” because we are his body (John 17:21).
- The church is a family. Upon baptism, we were adopted into this family by the Heavenly Father, so we are brothers and sisters and “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17). Because we are a family, we ought to care for one another. Paul told Timothy to look at older men as fathers, the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-2; cf. Mark 10:29-30).
- The church is a vine full of branches (John 15:5). Again we have an illustration of the perfect unity that ought to characterize the body of Christ. But in addition to this idea, the analogy of the vine and the branches notes vibrancy and life in the church. We are a living, breathing, growing organism. Dead branches that produce no fruit will be pruned and cast into the fire so that the church may function as God wants it to and not wither away in irrelevancy.
- The church is the brace or support for the truth. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul calls the church the “pillar and ground of the truth.” He means that the church is an organization built to support and propagate the truth about Jesus and his teachings. We do this through teaching and example. Hypocrisy should be purged from the church, because the church cannot be said to support the truth if it is not practicing what it preaches.
- The church is a holy nation. Peter writes, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). As people of faith, we are “Abraham’s offspring” (Galatians 3:29) and the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). Although a new covenant was established by Christ on the cross, God’s people today share a common bond with his people of the old covenant. What they saw in shadows, we see in reality, but all of us will enjoy the same eternal dwelling place, because we are members of the same kingdom.
Other illustrations could be called up to demonstrate the significance of the church, but these suffice to argue for its importance and continued existence. It is too bad that some people try to have a relationship with God without participating in organized religion. Jesus promised to build the church (Matthew 16:18), and he wants us to become God’s children so that we may be a part of it.