When you hear the word “church” what comes to your mind?
Is it an old building with stain glass windows and wooden benches?
Is it a newer building with a stage and a band?
Well, a lot of people seem to think that. Growing up, I always thought church was the building I attended every Sunday to hear the priest talk about the bible. The same people gathered every week, but hardly anyone spoke to each other. The service was serious. People were serious…sometimes too serious.
There was a lot of standing, sitting, kneeling, the type of stuff that would drive a 10 year old crazy. But for some reason, I felt like a better person every time I went. I felt like going to church made up for anything bad I did during the week.
Sound familiar? Your experience of church may have been similar or a bit different. Nonetheless, a proper understanding of church is fundamental for any professing Christian. So let me start by listing what church isn’t:
- A building we meet in
- An event we attend every weekend
- A gathering of “good” or “perfect” people
- A social club for christians
- An entity or distribution centre for the community
Although church may include certain aspects of the things I just listed, none of those things come close to defining the church that Jesus built two thousand years ago. Now that we know what church isn’t, let’s define what church is according to the scriptures.
The first time the word “church” is mentioned in the bible is when Jesus was asking his disciples who the people thought He was. The people had differing opinions: some said John the Baptist, some said Elijah, and others said Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
They were all off. Then Jesus asked his own disciples who they thought He was; Peter replied right away: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus was pleased.
Here is how he replied: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
So what did Jesus mean by His church?
The greek translation of the word is “Ekklesia, ” which means “gathering” or “assembly” for a specific purpose. The word was used to describe an assembly of any sort, whether it was for religious or non-religious purposes.
Therefore, Jesus’ church is not a building or a specific location. It’s an assembly of His followers, gathering in his name to glorify God, to love one another, and to love all people.
Where did Church Start?
The church officially started in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus raised from the grave and ascended to heaven (around AD 30). Luke provides us with a vivid picture of the first century church throughout the pages of Acts. In Acts 2:36-47 we see the first 3000 people baptized into Christianity after Peter shares the gospel message.
The first century church gathered daily. They were devoted to one another, to prayer, to fellowship, breaking bread together, and to listening to the teachings of the apostles. They rejoiced in their new found life in Jesus and shared the good news everywhere they went.
Multitudes were added to their number daily. They were more than just a weekly meeting at particular location; they were a movement, a powerful, unshakable movement winning hearts over to Jesus all over the known world.
Who is Church for?
Simply put, the church is for, well…everyone, the whole world, but specifically for those who choose to follow Jesus. Church is not just for the older folks or for the “good people.” It’s for the young and for the old, for the prostitute and for the drug dealer, for the tax collector and for the money launderer, for the hipster and for the athlete; It’s for anyone who places their trust in Jesus by accepting His grace and choosing to live a life of faith and repentance. Jesus wants all people to have a relationship with Him.
What’s the Church’s Function?
Colossians 1:18 identifies the church as “the body of Christ.” Jesus is the head of the body and Christians are the analogous hands and feet of Jesus in this world. See below the role of God’s assembly here on Earth:
- To love, worship and glorify God with their lives
- To love one another the way that christ loved people
- To serve and pray for one another
- To teach one another to obey the scriptures
- To care for the poor, orphans, and widows.
- To spur (call higher) one another on towards good deeds
- To share the gospel message to people around the world