What Is the Church?

Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash

In the Bible, the word “church” first appears in Matthew 16:18. It translates the ancient Greek word meaning “assembly.” In Matthew 16:16, Peter confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, referring to Peter’s confession, answered, “on this rock I will build My church” (Matt 16:18). Peter’s confession is the confession shared by all Christians. The church refers to the community of Christians worldwide who share the confession that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:47; Eph 1:22; Col 1:18, 24)

The primary spiritual relationship between God and the church is the church’s identity as the bride of Christ. Christ is her head and she voluntarily yields to Him. The church is joined in spiritual covenant with Christ by God’s grace, being redeemed by Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which is received by every Christian through faith in Christ. Historically, the church began at Pentecost, when God poured out His Spirit as He promised in the Old Testament. Concerning the future, the church looks forward to Christ’s return, when He will make all things new (Acts 2; Eph 1:7-12; 2:19-22; 5:24-27; Jas 5:7-8; Rev 21-22)

The primary spiritual relationship between fellow Christians is the church’s identity as the household of God. Christians are brothers and sisters in a spiritual family. God places local churches within particular communities to reach those communities for His Kingdom. Christians meet together on a regular basis with their local church to encourage one another in faith and service to God and to participate together to reach the world for God’s Kingdom. (Matt 5:13-16; Eph 2:19-22; Col 3:13-17; Heb 10:24-25)

The primary mission of the church is to impact the world for God’s Kingdom. The church carries out this mission in a variety of ways by participating in evangelism, missions, local outreach and various aspects of public society. The church shares God’s heart for the lost and vulnerable and testifies of God’s goodness to a sinful world. (Matt 5:13-16; 25:31-46; 28:18-20; John 3:16; Rom 13:6; Jas 1:27; 1 Pet 2:15, 1 John 5:19)

The primary activities of the church include meeting together to study the Scriptures, take communion, sing, pray and encourage one another. The goals of these activities are mutual encouragement in faith and service to God, training for ministry and growing in spiritual maturity. These activities are to be pursued in a spirit of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, peace, unity and grace. (Acts 2:42, 47; 1 Cor 14:12; Eph 4:11-16; Col 3:13-17; Heb 10:24-25; Jas 5:14)

The primary leaders in the church are pastors, elders and other ministry leaders whom Christ anoints to direct and organize the activities of the church. Such leadership is carried out by yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the careful and accurate study of the Scriptures. Pastors and leaders tend to the spiritual needs of their congregations and train them to do the work of ministry. (Acts 20:26-28; Eph 4:11-16; 1 Tim 3:1-7, 8-13; 2 Tim 2:15)