As we start off this new year one thing I want to study more is the definition of the church. This topic is one of the few on the forefront of my mind because there are many churches in America, and I want to know what makes a church a church.
When I was little I always thought the church was merely the place where people gather. As I got older, that definition changed from the place to the people who gathered there. But this definition is too simplistic. There are thousands of churches. What makes a church a church? Is it the people gathered there? Is it what they do? Is it what they believe?
Well, in order to define the church we must always begin with how does God define the church. Another way of asking the question is, “How does God define His people?” Why is that another way? Because the Church is really God’s people. As it says in Ephesians, “and he gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Christ is the head of the church and that church is the body of Christ.
So the church is God’s people, the body of Christ, and we often find them gathering together on specific days in America to worship the God to whom they belong. But is every place that calls themselves a church, a church?
The easy answer is sure. If they want to call themselves a church, they can. Christians don’t have legal rights or authority to disallow false teachers and people from calling themselves a church. But that does mean we need, as Christian, to know how God defines His people, and to be very careful in joining a church because most churches are not churches.
Why is that? Easy. Because not all churches are truly God’s people. Not all churches are the body of Christ. We live 2000 years out from the works of Christ, and since His works have infected most of the world, you’ll see different cultures, religions, and peoples steal, borrow, take, and use Christian teachings for themselves in their own way. But that doesn’t mean they are a part of the body of Christ. For the body of Christ is unified with Christ. And that unity is complete. It is whole. It is joined to him. Just because someone calls themselves a church doesn’t mean they are unified with Christ. And in fact, just because someone might be in a church that lines up with the Biblical definition of the church, doesn’t mean they are unified with Christ either.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The church is that body to which Christ is unified with. And that body worships, loves, serves, and glorifies their head. They see their head as king and ruler and they listen to Him. The head, Christ, is the shepherd, and the sheep, the body, hear his voice.
In order to know if a church is truly a church you need to know Christ and you need to know what He teaches His people. Churches may seem to glorify Christ, but if they disobey him and teach what they want to and run off into destructive heresies or false teachings, then it is safe to say they aren’t a church and they need to repent or perish. And there are thousands of churches in America that teach what they want and not what Christ wants. And there are thousands of churches who do good in their communities but they disobey Christ in almost every other way possible. And there are churches who redefine the church and say that you can belong to the church before you believe in the one to whom the church is unified to. And I can’t call those churches true churches because churches listen to Christ, not themselves. For Christ wants us to teach the whole counsel of God. If a church isn’t doing that, they then are disobedient and need to repent, otherwise they will slowly fall into error and false teaching. Sometimes it takes time, and sometimes it comes quickly.
Christ’s body is the church. This is a simple and profound statement. But this means that those not united with Christ, those who aren’t His body, cannot be the true church. So the next thing to look at is this: What does it mean to be united with Christ? What does it mean to be the body of Christ? What does the body of Christ look like?
I hope this helps some in thinking and starting to think about what the church is.