“The church is a people, not a place.” This has become a prominent catchphrase for many American Christians. It is usually referenced when there is discussion over what church is, and then eventually leads to who the church is. Many argue the church is not the building God’s people gather in, but God’s people. While it is true the church is made up of people, it is also true the church is a gathering somewhere. What many have come to see as opposites are better described as two sides of the same coin.
Biblical Etymology of the Word “Church”
We first see the Hebrew word qahal in Deuteronomy 4:10, which translates to the assembly or gathering as a congregation. Transliterated into the Greek this word is ekklesia. We first see ekklesia in Matthew 16:18, which is translated to church. According to the Bible, the church is a gathering of God’s people.
In Ephesians 5:23, we see the Greek word ekklesias or church is used to refer to the “Bride of Christ.” According to the Bible, the church is God’s people.
These words and their meanings do not contradict each other. If they did, there would be no solid meaning for the church, which could lead to loose and false implications of God’s people and their gathering. Instead, the church is precisely as the Bible explains: both the people of God and their gathering.
The Church: God’s People
Those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised them from the dead are called Christians (Rom 10:9). In the New Testament, Christians are also commonly referred to as “the church” (Matt 16:18, Acts 20:28, Eph 5:23-25, Col 1:18, 1:24, 1 Tim 3:5).
Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, says:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” – Acts 20:28
In this verse, God illuminates for us three beautiful truths:
- Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection enable sinners dead in their trespasses to be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
- God’s mercy in sanctification enables us to daily walk with Jesus.
- God’s love is demonstrated to us in that we may be called the church, the bride of Christ.
The Church: The Gathering of God’s People
A common thing to hear among Christians is the reference of a “local body” or “church.” This phraseology is not a made-up concept, but a biblical one.
An obvious example that the church is a gathering of God’s people is the existence of the epistles. Paul wrote to local bodies of God’s people: churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. These were churches that gathered on the Lord’s day to worship through the preaching of the Bible, communion, and fellowship. Just as churches gather today, so did the early churches.
All throughout the epistles, the church is mentioned as the gathering of God’s people. One specific instance we see of this is in the book of 1 Corinthians.
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” -1 Corinthians 14:26
In this verse, God illuminates for us two beautiful truths:
- God’s redemption of His people is meant for them to glorify Him by gathering together, so that they may worship Him and seek His holiness.
- The Holy Spirit that dwells in each of God’s people enables them the ability to worship God and build up other saints.
The Responsibility of the Individual Believer as a Member of the Local Church
Since the church is both a gathering and a people, there are a few responsibilities we have as the church both individually and communally.
Proclaim the Gospel
“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
Jesus has given the church a command, known as the Great Commission, to proclaim the gospel to anyone and everyone. If we have truly been saved by God and brought from death to life, we will have a desire to obey Christ, which includes obeying the Great Commission.
Desire to Meet With The Local Church
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
We were not made to try to know God as isolated beings. God’s people are not only meant but commanded to meet together. The church is not optional for the Christian; it is an expectation. There ought to be a desire for the believer to meet weekly with their local church body to learn more of who God is, praise Him in worship, encourage others, and be equipped to reach unbelievers with the gospel.
Cherish the Church
“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” – Romans 12:9-13
We have been exhorted to love our brothers and sisters, and seek to edify each other as we worship and glorify God (Rom 12:4-5). As we seek to know God more, we will further desire to not only meet with the local body of believers, but to love both the local and universal church.
Walk In Accountability
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
It would not only be foolish of us but sinful to neglect accountability from brothers and sisters in our church and hurtful to them. We are exhorted and commanded in James 5:16 to confess our sins to one another, and then to pray for each other, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). (For a deeper look into accountability, check out a previous article I’ve written over that topic).
A Quick Word On The Church Amid Coronavirus
Although we are the church, we must remember the church is also our physical gathering. I am not saying it is not good to meet online, for how else can we meet in the current dilemma and how good has it been to still hear God’s word preached? But, we ought to remember the beauty and fulfillment of the church when we physically meet with our local body of believers and not neglect meeting together again when we are able to. In the midst of this, I desire so earnestly to gather together again in person with my local church body and truly experience the church as we are meant to gather. For more on how to address the pandemic, check out this article.
Praise God For the Church
All praise be to God for the gift that is the church! God, in His mercy, displays His righteousness by calling those who are saved to be the church, which is the bride of Christ. God, in His mercy, displays His righteousness by enabling His people to gather so as to glorify Him, encourage each other, and be equipped to share the gospel with the world. Let us go out and proclaim the gospel, desiring to meet again with the local church, cherish the church, walk in accountability, and love the world as God has loved us.