Now that seems like a simply enough question, one that would have an equally simply response. One of the most obvious being “A church is a building where people meet for worship”. Or another would be “A church is a group of people who gather for religious purposes”. Oh, let’s not forget this one “The church is not a building. It’s the people of God”. Someone may even see the church as an “exclusive club for hypocrites” nevertheless, none of these answers help us to truly understand what a church is, or what it should be.
Today we refer to the place where Christians gather as a church. But this has nothing to do with biblical theology and runs the risk of fostering a profound and detrimental misunderstanding.
Nowhere in the Bible is the place where Christians meet referred to as a “church.” This word appears around 75 times in our English Bibles, depending on the translation and around 110 times if you include the plural. In almost every instance “church” is a translation of the Greek ekklesia (from which we get words like “ecclesiastical” and “Ecclesiastes”). Never does ekklesia refer to a building in which people gathered, for worship or for any other purpose. In fact, the earliest Christians did not have special buildings in which to meet during the period in which the New Testament was written. This came much later. For the most part, the first Christians met in private homes or other non-religious gathering places.
Churches may use buildings and organizational structure to achieve their purpose, but essentially, church occurs when Christians assemble in love and unity with the intention of building one another up. This can happen whenever and wherever Christians interact with other Christians.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” – Acts 2:42-47
The church was never intended to be a building or a structured ruling body who act in the place or on behalf of God to dictate to the congregants what is and is not truth. The church is not headquartered in any city, state, or country in this world, nor is there a head or presiding person or governing body. The only Head of the Church is Jesus who resides in heaven. The church is not a convention, a building, a series of meetings, or commitments. The church is the living Body of Christ comprised of the redeemed in Christ. The external trappings of celebrations, rituals, buildings, robes, hymn books, organs, pianos, chairs, pews, windows, etc. are merely those things that give a tangible effect to the invisible reality of redemption. These ornaments should not be considered the substance of the church. The substance of the church is the redeemed in Christ.
Church is about relationships with those who inspire and encourage you to come closer to God. We willingly meet together with accountability one to another so that we may be strengthened through teaching, fellowship and prayer so we can continue being encouraged to worship God in our daily life. Every Christian, as part of the priesthood of all believers must be both equipped and encouraged to exercise ministry to build up other believers. “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:5
Many people have been hurt by the modern church which has built itself up to be something that God never intended it to be. We must be careful not to continue to follow this pattern of history. The church is about community, and fellowship; people who will listen to each other’s stories, dreams, and visions, then support and pray for each other so they are encouraged and strengthened to go out and reach the world. The world is watching while we stand up and proudly proclaim ‘Hey, Hey look at me it’s Sunday’ or brag as we begrudgingly attend some other weekly club meeting because of our reluctant obligation. The world is looking and waiting to see the church we proclaim to be one which displays the integrity of its love by meeting one another’s’ need every day of the week.