Have you ever wondered what exactly the church is? We know where the building is and we know what we are to do on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, but do we really have an understanding of how the scripture talks about the church and about what God is calling her to be in these days? I want to spend some time talking about how the church is not a building but a body, and how we can let go of some of our assumptions and priorities in order to agree better with the Father’s heart for his people.
Matthew 16:18 is the first use of the word “church” in the New Testament. In it, Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overpower it.” The word church here is ekklesia, which means “the called-out ones.” So Jesus says he will build his church—the assembly of the called-out ones—and the gates of hell will not overpower it.
Now, I know the word of God is true, and I know he watches over it to perform it. I also believe everything written in the word will come to pass, but it seems to me that in this season the gates of hell are prevailing against what the world calls the “church.”
There are four ways the New Testament talks about the church.
Matthew 16:18 refers to the church in the whole earth. When Jesus looks down from heaven, what does he see? He sees his church. He doesn’t just see all these different forms of what the world calls the church. He sees THE church.
Let me ask you this: How many churches are there? One. How many heads are there? One. How many bodies are there? Just one. How many members are there? Many. There is one church that Jesus gave his life for, and then he prayed “that they all may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:21, paraphrase).
The second place church is mentioned in the scripture is in Acts 9:31. It says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace.” This passage refers to the church in a region or the church in a larger area. So we start with the church in the whole earth that Jesus built, and then we see here that that church can be seen in a region and identified as the church in a large area.
The third time scripture mentions the church is in Acts 13:1, when referring to the church in Antioch. Here it talks about the church in a particular city. So again we start with the church in the whole earth, and in that church are churches in the region. In the church in the region, there are churches in a city. And then Romans 16:3-5, Colossians 4:15, and Philippians 2 all talk about the church that meets in a house. So even here in the midst of the city, you have a form of the church meeting in homes. So there are different forms of the church, but they are all still what? The church in the whole earth—the called-out ones.
There is one church; there is one body. There is one head, but there are many members in the different forms of the church. But there is still just one church. Jesus died for the whole earth, and anyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord is part of his church. Jesus is building his church, which is his bride.
When the Bible speaks of church or a church, it is always referring to a group of believers, never a building. It’s never referring to denominations. The church is the people.
Who is the church? We are the church. When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you become part of his church—the church that he is building. And the gates of hell cannot overpower it.
When I was growing up we sang a little song.
Here is the church.
Here is the steeple.
Open the door.
Here’s all the people.
Remember that one? Most of us when we close our eyes and think of church see steeples on top of a building because that is the tradition we have been taught. We have been taught that when God speaks of the church, he speaks of the building. NO! When God speaks of the church, he speaks of the people. Jesus didn’t die for brick and mortar. Jesus is not coming back for brick and mortar. We are the living stones that he is building together for his own holy habitat.
A while back I asked a group of believers, “How many of you think this building is the church?”
They raised their hands.
Then I asked, “Well, how many of you believe in the rapture?”
They raised their hands.
So I said, “Well, you’re in trouble because if Jesus is coming back for this building and you are not in it when he does then you’ve got a situation. You’d better hang out 24/7 in this building.”
When Jesus comes back, he is not coming back for the building. He is coming back for me. He is coming back for you. He is coming back for all those that confess him as Lord and Savior. Jesus is coming back for his people, and the church is his people.
Again, when the Bible talks about the church, it is always talking about a group of people that believes in Jesus.June 6, 2013