When the word “church” is mentioned, many people have a (usually negative) picture of an institution promoting the religion of Christianity. Throughout history, the visible church has been responsible for an immense amount of both good and bad. Is the visible church today anything like the Biblical description of church? Is there anything in the Bible to help us answer this question, what IS the Church?
Both the Greek word for church (ekklesia) and the Hebrew equivalent word (qahal) essentially describe the same concept – any group or an assembly of people gathered together for the same purpose. Jesus said:
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
The church, therefore, is an entity predicted by Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we have the reassurance that the Church will never be entirely defeated. Although the church will be persecuted, the true Church of Jesus Christ will remain to be partakers of the rapture of the Church. In the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus reveals the primary purpose of the Church:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Earlier, Jesus had relayed many events surrounding the end-times and one of the factors that will signal the end-times is the completion of the preaching of the gospel to the whole world:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
When the completion of the “proclaiming of the gospel” to the whole world is accomplished, the church ceases to have a role and will then be raptured to meet the Lord.
Is it possible to define the true Church?
The Church is described in many ways in the Bible – in the passage below, it is described as the body of Christ:
And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Additionally, in other passages, the Church is described as the “Bride of Christ” (see Ephesians 5:24-27, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Revelation 19:7-9).
It is therefore accurate to describe the church as an entity that is both the “body of Christ” and the “bride of Christ”. This passage below provides a description of the believer entering the Kingdom of God by becoming “born again”:
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:3-5)
Simply stated, the true Church includes anyone who has been “born again” and has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – it is as simple as that! The true Church is the earthly representation of Jesus Christ until He comes again. This is not necessarily a group of people that is visible to everyone else – it is a supernatural entity, powered by the Holy Spirit. The true Church is an “invisible” group of people known only to God. We can never be completely sure whether anyone around us is saved or unsaved – the true Church is ONLY made up of those who are genuinely saved. This group of people make up the bride of Christ that will be raptured to meet Him in the air at a time known only to the Father.
Many people view church as a specific building or a particular denomination. Paul makes an interesting reference at the end of his letter to the Romans where he refers to the church that is INSIDE the house – in other words, the church was NOT the building, the church was the people within the building:
Likewise greet the church that is in their house (Romans 16:5a)
In other words, the church were the believers inside the house. Remember, God does not look at us as being identified with a particular church building or denomination. There are no instructions in the Bible regarding the size or location of a church. God sees the heart of every individual – we are either saved through Jesus Christ or we are not. The true church cannot be known to us – we may have reasons to feel that someone is either saved or not through their actions, but we can never be sure. We can be certain there will be quite a number of surprises in heaven as only God knows who are truly His. We suspect that there are genuinely saved believers in almost every Christian denomination even if the teachings, rituals and traditions that the church practice are at odds with Scripture. God places believers everywhere to be used for His purposes. As strange as it might seem, there are more than likely to be saved Christian’s in the most unlikely places – possibly even in Muslim mosques! Many who live in strict Muslim countries will have to practice their faith in complete secret.
Essentially, a church is a small gathering of believers. If you and a friend meet up to worship the Lord, you are in the process of participating in “church”!
Many warnings in the Bible
The Bible is littered with warnings and rebuke against churches that existed during the first century. Virtually every New Testament book contains prophetic warnings that false doctrine and bad practice will be a feature of the church, especially in the end-times. Take chapters two and three of Revelation where there is a personal message for seven churches in Asia. Although these churches existed one generation from Christ, many of them received strong rebuke for adopting false doctrine and bad practice. Surely, the modern church 2000 years further down the line is even more vulnerable to these same dangers! We are instructed to judge any church by the standards outlined in Scripture:
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1)
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Every church should submit to the standards of the Bible as it is the ONLY reliable source of doctrine. Unfortunately, what is often evident instead, is that the Bible is usually made to submit to the standards of the church, often with tragic consequences. It appears there are an array of churches where there either little teaching from the Bible or none at all. Others are emotionally blackmailed into following meaningless rituals or traditions which are not even hinted at in Scripture. In many “modern” churches, congregations are entertained like a paying audience or encouraged to chase a variety of supernatural or emotional experiences, all of which are contrary to Scriptural instruction.
So where should I go to Church?
The Bible makes it clear that we can worship God wherever and whenever we like, so long as it is consistent with Scripture. It is important to engage in some structured form of worship, but this does not mean we have to attend a church building or worship in any specific format or with any particular denomination.
Let the Bible be your only guide. The early Christians met in homes to worship the Lord – there is no reason why we cannot also. Acts 2:42 states:
And the continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42)
There are four elements in the above verse:
apostles doctrine – we can only know this from studying the Bible and having it accurately preached to us. Does your church highly value Scripture and are services immersed with references to the Bible? Do those that teach the Bible believe that it really means what it says and says what it means? Is the Bible the highest authority in the church? This is very crucial.
fellowship – this would include genuine worship of the Lord as well as cultivating relationships within the church. Is your church a warm, friendly place with a genuine atmosphere of love and urgency for the Lord? With regards to music and songs, is this genuinely “worship” that is designed to be pleasing to God or is it structured to stimulate and entertain the congregation?
the breaking of bread – this refers to communion and the apostles were instructed by the Lord Jesus to continue this act of remembrance to help us focus on the saving work of Christ in His death and resurrection. There should be no superstitious significance to this – the act of communion does not take sins away. It simply reminds us and soberly focuses us on the work Jesus Christ did for us.
prayers – the church should be a prayerful place, both during the services and at other times. Prayer is undoubtedly the biggest weapon for the Christian – we have an instant hotline with the Creator of the universe through Jesus Christ…how amazing! Does the church you attend highly value clear and orderly prayer that is in keeping with the will of God? The repetitive reciting of prayer and liturgy rarely results in heartfelt intercession with God.
There are many other instructions in the Bible that describe good practice within a church, but we would suggest that the above features are essentials!
You do not need an “ordained minister” to conduct services. The New Testament contains nothing about “ordination”. If you have a leader of a church who is ordained, he may still be a very good leader, but this is not essential. Neither is it imperative that a church leader has studied a degree in theology or some other certificate. If they have, it may well be valuable but it is best to allow the Bible to speaks for itself and trust in the moving of the Holy Spirit than simply to look at the academic credentials of any church leader. There are many places where good practice for the character and lifestyle of a church leader is described (for example see 1 Timothy 3:1-13 or Titus 2:1-8). These would be far more important than any academic qualification or an “ordination” process. The most important thing is that any worship conducted is strictly in accordance with Scripture.
At all times, worship should be directed solely to God and ONLY for His honour and glory. As such, reverence and respect should be foremost in our thoughts and actions. We are simply to worship our King – we are not in church to be entertained ourselves although any form of genuine worship to Our Creator will be stimulating and enjoyable as we praise God.
If you attend a church, please make sure that the Bible is faithfully and accurately preached where the gospel message is clearly spelled out and not compromised on or watered down. Is the reality of Judgment Day and the destination of heaven or hell for each person being lovingly preached? Is the sense of urgency and preparedness for the imminent return of Christ apparent? If you look at the Our Beliefs page, we suggest that this is a good guide in testing the suitability of any Church.
If you cannot find a Church that remains faithful to the clear teachings of the Bible (which is quite possible) then why not set up some form of worship in your own home with a few friends and family?
There ARE good churches around. We are confident there will always be true believers, even in bad churches. If you are a new Christian, do you know of a wise, mature believer who you trust? If you have concerns about any given church, it may be a good idea to chat to someone you respect. Remember to always measure up any given church against the standards set in the Bible. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions which you do not feel are being answered!