What is the church?
Throughout the Bible, the ‘church’ is referring to a body of believers, not a building. In many references it is referring what is commonly called the “Universal Church” or all the believers throughout the universe.
The church is not mentioned in the old testament. The Jews worshipped in a temple. For many Jews, they were only able to go to the temple once a year. Perhaps that is where we get the idea of only going to church only on Easter?
References to the church began in the New Testament. Jesus began to talk about the church in Matthew 16:
Jesus 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:17-20 (NIV)
As the Apostle Paul travelled on his missionary trips, he referred to the church, a part of the body that lived in a given geographic area. i.e. the Church of Corinth, the Church of Philippi, etc.
In our society today, we talk about the church and usually it refers to a certain building or congregation that assembles in the building. Unfortunately, when we limit ‘church’ to a particular congregation or denomination, we lose the real meaning of church. As we talk about a given congregation, we have a tendency to become territorial in our ministry.
The book of Acts records the Holy Spirit coming to all believers, the church. It also talks about what the church did after receiving the Holy Spirit.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)
It should also be noted that in the New Testament there is no references to raising money for a ‘building fund’. Within the church, the people were selling their possessions, or giving their possessions to the people who needed them.
In other words, the church spent time in prayer, worship, teaching, fellowship and mutual encouragement. It should also be noted that this was an everyday occurrence, not just a once or twice a week event as many practice today. Is it any wonder that church congregations are getting smaller and Christians become fewer?
Many times people are asked if a person can be a Christian without going to church. The truth of the matter is that if one is a Christian, they are part of the church. Everywhere they go, they are in church.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 (NIV)
God does not intend for Christians to be ‘loners’ nor does God intend for us to be dependent on a large number of Christians. But God does want us to encourage one another in our Christian walk. He wants us to depend on him, not a large denomination or a large congregation. For a church to do what God intended, it only takes two or three. The success of a church is not the number of members or baptisms, it is about doing the Father’s business.
The idea that a church needs a facility to carry on the work of the church, limits how we practice being the church. According to Matthew 18:19, the practice of church takes place wherever there are two or more Christians. How difficult would it be to live the Christian life if you had fellow believers encouraging you on a daily basis?
When churches have a facility in which to worship, they tend to begin to become territorial in their ministry, becoming judgmental of other Christians and rather than encouraging them. They begin to brag about how well they can have “church”. They need the latest electronic gadgets, the latest methods, and the best programs.
However the church described in Acts, was busy seeing to it that others had what they needed to worship God. In the book of Galatians, Paul writes about the church. The church is to ‘carry each other’s burdens’ (Galatians 6:2 NIV). This does not take place if the members of the church are in competition with each other.
If a church doesn’t have a facility, where should they operate? Churches can meet anywhere. They can meet in coffee shops, places of employment, schools, parks, and homes.
When Jesus was born, where were the shepherds? They were in their fields when the angels told them of the Christ child’s birth. In other words, they were at their workplace. You will also note that the message came through cyberspace. The angels came down from the heavens. Could this have been the social media of the day?
Christians are the church. Wherever Christians go, there is church.