Is it a building, a denomination, a place for evangelism, or is it an assembling of believers (fellow citizens with the saints, the body of Christ) for the purpose of worship, praise, song, edification, prophesying, teaching, sharing communion, and comforting ourselves together. Ephesians 5:18-20 “…but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all Your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
The word church in the Bible comes from the Greek word ecclesia, which means a called out company or assembly. Wherever it is used in the Bible it refers to people, specifically the body of Christ (“because we are members of His body” Ephesians 5:30), those who “having believed were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). See also Ephesians 1:21-23, 2:1; Ephesians 4:11-16; Ephesians 5:25, 31-32.
The Church is the body of Christ. It was never meant to be a mixture of believers and non-believers. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16King James Version (KJV).
The body of Christ today has become so diluted, lukewarm and of no real effect because it has become an acceptable (to itself) mixture of light with darkness. What else can we expect it to become? Jesus makes it very clear who His Church is in Matthew 16:15-19. It is all of us who to whom God has revealed the answer to the question: “Who do you say I am?” Those to whom the Spirit of God has not made known the answer, are not of the church and do not belong in it. 1 Peter 2:9-10 “But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past [were] not a people, but [are] now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
The body of Christ, the church, is often defined as a local assembly or group of believers (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1-2; Galatians 1:13), for the purpose that “He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” Ephesians 5:23-27). The Bible makes reference to the church being the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32). This also alluded to in John 14:1-3 when Jesus talked about making a place at His Father’s house for us. This is reference to the Jewish tradition when a man and woman are engaged, and the man goes back to his father’s house to build on an addition for them. When the addition is done and everything is ready, he comes to call for his bride, which symbolizes the resurrection (Matthew 25:1-12; Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 22:17 “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”).
Too often people describe a church building or organization as the church. This is because they emphasize the facility or organizational hierarchy as what constitutes a church. Most churches today are organized in such a way that the public face of a church is seen as a benevolent business (how many today are 501(c)3 organizations), and not as the body of Christ – a peculiar people, a holy nation, in the world but not of it.
The church is not a physical building. Believers are referred to as the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19 “…your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you,”). As with a physical building, the church also has a chief Cornerstone – Jesus Christ, and a foundation built upon the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:19-22 “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone]; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”).
Within every local church or assembly of believers, Christ has given gifts to each believer for the purpose of equipping the saints and edifying the body of Christ, His Church. Ephesians 4:11-16King James Version (KJV) “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
I do not know when or how evangelism crept into the church to become a part of the worship service of the body of Christ, but it is clearly wrong. Jesus never told us to bring the darkness into the body of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:5 “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” He clearly told us in Matthew 28:19-20King James Version (KJV) to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” We were called to go out into the world and preach the gospel (each one of us individually who is in Christ is called to evangelize wherever we find ourselves “in the world”), and then bring those who believe and are saved into the body so they might be equipped and edified. Luke 24:47 “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” and Matthew 28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” Acts 1:8 – But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
The church body also serves as a local group to resolve conflicts within the body of Christ and serve as a court (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8). In addition, baptisms and communion are observed by the church body (Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26). Other ministries are performed by the members of the church as God has gifted each person (Romans 12:3-14 “But the manifestations of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all”; Ephesians 4:1-12). This makes me wonder where the “tradition” of one man or woman leading the church service – to the exclusion of the gifts of the Spirit given to each one for the profit of all – came from. That certainly was not how the biblical church operated.
A biblical church involves at least two people gathering together in the name of Jesus. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Church consists of believers coming together, in the same physical space, in the name of Jesus Christ to publicly worship Jesus, serve Jesus, and help each other know and love Jesus more through the study of His Word. If you are not gathering together with other believers in the name of Jesus, do not call yourself a church.
A biblical church is overseen by qualified elders. In Titus 1:5–9, Paul said to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” If you are not being led by qualified elders, do not call yourself a church.
A biblical church maintains corporate holiness through church discipline. Matthew 18:17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The church really is a place of spiritual protection. Jesus expects his followers to help one another pursue holiness. If a Christian begins to engage in serious sin, Jesus expects the members of his Christian community to lovingly rebuke him. If the person refuses to repent of his sin, the entire church is expected to get involved. This process presupposes that a Christian will be vitally connected to other Christians. The reality is, the process of discipline cannot happen apart from a local church. If you are not maintaining holiness through church discipline, do not call yourself a church.
A biblical church is a place where Christians can use their spiritual gifts to bless one another. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” Paul was clearly assuming that the Corinthians would be gathering together on a regular basis in the name of Jesus for the purpose of worshiping together. When they gathered together, they were to use their spiritual gifts to build one another up in the context of corporate worship. If you are not using the spiritual gifts to of the body to build other Christians up, do not call yourself a church.