If you were to ask people what they think of when they hear the word church you would get many differing responses. Some responses may be accurate and some may not be accurate. However, most people are surprised to learn what is the Bible definition of church and what is the Biblical view of the church.
What is the common definition of church?
Church is commonly defined as a building used for public worship (1). However, many people refer to a church as an organization. Examples are the Catholic Church, the Church of England, and the Southern Baptist Church amongst many others.
What is the Bible definition of church?
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. It can be a mob (Acts 19:30-41), the children of Israel (Acts 7:38), and the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:25, 32).
We see the word church used three different ways: First, as the body of Christ, the church is often defined as a local assembly or group of believers (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1-2). Second, it is defined as the body of individual living believers (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13). Finally, it is defined as the universal group of all people who have trusted Christ through the ages (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:23-27).
What the church is not
The church is not Jews or Gentiles
We see three distinct groups of people in the Bible: Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Galatians 3:26-29). Jews are all born as descendants of Abraham through Isaac (Romans 9:6-7). Gentiles are all other people born who are not Jews.
When a Jew or a Gentile trusts Christ as their Savior, they are born again into God’s family, become a child of God, and are part of the church. They are no longer a Jew or a Gentile (Galatians 3:26-29). The wall of separation between Jew and Gentile is torn down and they become one body (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The church is not a kingdom
Some people try to make the church the kingdom of Heaven that has already come. They ignore the following: The church inherits the kingdom (Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:47-50). The church is here on earth, but the kingdom of Heaven is not here (Isaiah 9:7; Matthew 5:19-20; Matthew 8:11)
The church is not a physical building or business organization
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 are organized in such a way that the public face of a church is seen as a business. However, since many people have a difficult time putting a label on a church, the term local church is often used to denote the local assembly of believers along with their meeting place and operations.
What is the Biblical view of church?
The church is the building or temple of God
Although the church is not a physical building, believers are referred to as the building or temple of God. Like a physical building, believers also have a Cornerstone; Jesus Christ. The foundation is the prophets and apostles. (Matthew 16:16; 1 Corinthians 3:9-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 2:19-22).
The church is the bride of Christ
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 a direct reference to when a man proposes to a woman and they are engaged. The man goes back to his father’s house to build on an addition. When the addition is done and everything is ready, he comes to call for his bride, which symbolizes the resurrection (Matthew 25:1; Revelation 19:7-9).
The church has a Spiritual purpose
The local church or assembly of believers has different roles that God gave to specific believers for the purpose of perfecting or training the believers, doing the work of the ministry, and strengthening of the church body (Ephesians 4:11-14). The roles given in the Bible are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Deacons are also mentioned in Acts 6:1-7 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13 as servants to wait upon people with physical needs.
The church body also serves as a local group to resolve conflicts (Matthew 18:15-20) and serve as a court (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). In addition, baptisms and the Lord’s Supper or communion are observed by the church body (Acts 2:37-40; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Depending on the size of the church body, other ministries are performed by the members of the church as God has gifted each person (Romans 12:3-13; Ephesians 4:1-8).
When Jesus had dinner at Matthew’s house He was asked how He could spend time eating with sinners (Matthew 9:9-13). When Jesus heard this He answered with words that were very telling. He said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
With these words, Jesus described the church. Imperfect people who know they needed a Savior, working together to build relationships, help those in need, and to glorify God by striving to be like Christ and share His love with others.
Dr. Michael L. Williams is a pastor, author, Christian educator and Biblical counselor who has served in ministry since March of 2000. Dr. Mike holds under-graduate through post graduate degrees in Christian Education and formerly worked as a nurse. Dr. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Selah Mountain Ministries, which he founded in March of 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA (selahmountain.org). In addition to counseling, he teaches how to overcome life issues Biblically on topics such as anger management, marriage, addictions, and other subjects typically referred to as mental illnesses. Dr. Mike is also a writer at What Christians Want To Know. Dr. Mike lives with his wife Pamela Rose and adult daughter Hollie Rose. He and Pamela have other adult children and several grandchildren as well. Learn more about Dr. Mike at his personal ministry web site Wisdom4Today
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. Resource – Williams, Michael L. (2014). Ecclesiology: The Doctrine of the Church. Bible Doctrines: An introductory study of the doctrines of the Bible (Chapters 12 & 13). http: //www. wisdom4today. org. (1) Google. (2014). “Church”. Retrieved from Google, https :// www. google. com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=what+is+a+church