Meaning of the Church

No one will deny that the Bible talks about a church. But whose church? Which church? What church? These questions, and many others, will be answered in time, but right now we want to find out what the church is.

Let us begin by pointing out what it is NOT. The church as described in the Bible is not Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. It is not denominational, inter-denominational, or sectarian. It is not a political organization, just another social organization, and neither is it a material meeting house.

So if it is none of these, what is it?

The majority of people do not understand the church because they do not know what it is. Consequently, they do not understand the purpose of it, the importance of it, or the work of it. But the Bible plainly tells us what it is.

The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which means “the called out.” So the church is a called out body of people, those who have been called out of the world into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13). It is the spiritual body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), made up of those who have obeyed Christ (Hebrews 5:8,9), and are therefore saved by him and added to his church (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:47). Another way of putting it, the church consists of the followers of Christ.

The word church appears in the Bible in two senses.

First, it is spoken of in the universal sense. This is what Christ had in mind when he said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). There are many other verses where the word church is used in the same way, speaking of the church in a universal sense. That is, wherever the church may be found in the world, if it is the Bible church, it is that church which Jesus said he would build.

Second, it is spoken of in the local sense. For instance, when Paul was writing to the church at Rome, and speaking of the various congregations, he said, “The churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16). He wasn’t speaking of a number of churches, in the sense of denominations, but rather a number of local congregations of the Lord’s church.

To further explain, you will note that the scriptures speak of the church at Corinth, the church at Ephesus, the church at Philippi, etc. (1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1). All of this is confusing to some people because they are accustomed to thinking of the church only in the terms of denominationalism. But you will not read of the first denomination in the word of God. In the foregoing cases, you have a number of congregations spoken of and each congregation is the Lord’s church in its particular community, but all of them together compose the church universal. It is so simple when denominationalism is forgotten and one goes to the Bible and sees the church as the Lord gave it.

To further help us to understand the meaning of the church, let us realize that the Bible pictures the church as being:

1. The body of Christ. It is the spiritual body of Christ, with Christ as its head (Ephesians 5:23). There is but one body (Ephesians 4:4), and the one body is the one church (Colossians 1:18).

2. The household of God. The word house in the scriptures suggests a family, which helps us to understand that the church is the family of God. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul says that the house of God is the church of the living God. God is the Father and we are his children (Galatians 3:26,27; Ephesians 1:3).

3. The kingdom of God. Kingdom suggests a king, and so Christ is the King (Revelation 17:14). But to be a king, the kingdom has to exist now, and it does (Acts 8:12). We are his subjects, the world its territory, and the New Testament its law. This is the church (Matthew 16:18,19).4. The vineyard of the Lord. Christ is the vine and individual Christians are the branches (John 15:1-8). The idea here is to work in the vineyard and to bear fruit for the Lord.

The church is thus defined. Please study these matters in light of the scriptures and see for yourself. If you will see the church as God intended for you to see it, then your whole attitude will be changed, and perhaps even your life.


Please circle the correct answer:

YES NO 1. The Bible speaks of a church.

YES NO 2. The church is Catholic.

YES NO 3. The majority of the people understand the church.

YES NO 4. The word church is used in the Bible in only one sense.

YES NO 5. Christ said he would build his churches.

YES NO 6. The seven churches of Asia refer to seven distinct denominations.

YES NO 7. The church is the body of Christ.

YES NO 8. There is one body.

YES NO 9. Christ is the head of the church.

YES NO 10. The kingdom is yet to come.

Please give the correct answer:

1. List some things the church is not:

2. From what Greek word does the word for church come?

3. Of what does the church consist?

4. In what two senses is the word church used?

5. Who said he would build his church?

6. How many did he build?

7. What were the seven churches of Asia? .

8. How many bodies are there?

9. Who is the King of Kings?

10. What are we to do in the Lord’s vineyard?


This article is from “The Church of the Bible” by J.C. Choate Publications

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