Lately I've been thinking a lot about the church. Not our church, but THE church. I hear people talking about the church from time to time. And some of it isn't very nice. I think, however, if we all had a better understanding of what The Church really is, we might not be so quick to judge.
You see, many people have the mistaken idea that the church is a building ... a structure ... or even their favorite denomination (or brand). That simply is not the biblical meaning of what the church is or is about.
The word "church" comes from the Greek word "ekklesia" or "ecclesia" -- which means "an assembly" or "called out ones." So the church isn't the building where believers gather, but the believers themselves. How many of us remember playing the little finger game where you make the church and the steeple and then open your fingers and -- poof -- there are the people. If we understood the word, we would know that isn't the case. The people aren't inside the church -- they are the church.
Still, in our society anyway, when you ask someone about their church they usually tell you about a building or a denomination. In Romans 16:5 the Apostle Paul tells fellow believers to "greet the church that is in their house" ... The church isn't the house -- it's the body of believers who gather there.
Christ is the head of the body -- and believers make up the body -- or the church. Actually, the church is made up of all the believers in Jesus since the day of Pentecost described in Acts chapter Two.
That "body" can be divided into two camps: the church universal and the local church.
The local church is the church most of us refer to when we talk about "our church" or the church we attend. Actually, the local church is made up of all the believers in a specific geographical area -- not all those gathered in one building. In Galatians Paul sends greetings from his group of companions "to the church in Galatia." Although there were many gatherings of believers across the province of Galatia, Paul referred to those believers as "the church."
Individual bodies of believers are not "the church" but instead are parts of the local church. In any given town or city or municipality, the Baptist Church, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church or the Pentecostal Church are not the local church. The church is, instead, all of the combined: The Church in (name your town) ... The Church in Galatia, the Church in Ephesus, the Church in Antioch, and so on.
The church universal is made up if all those around the world who have a personal relationship with Christ. Paul says we have all been baptized by one spirit into one body. That "one body" is the church universal.
The church isn't a building or a structure or a denomination ... it is the Body of Christ made up of all those who have made the decision to follow Christ; who have given their lives to His services; who have placed their faith in Jesus for their salvation; local gatherings of the church universal.
The principles of the church are simple: we evangelize, encourage, educate, and build one another up spiritually -- in the knowledge and grace of our head -- Jesus.
In future columns, I plan to discuss the responsibilities of the church as they relate to the current craziness around the world.