What is a church?
By Jim Murriner
In our study today we want to define from the bible exactly what a church, really is. As we attempt to do this, we need to point out first of all that no one is saved by joining a church, because there is no salvation in any one or anything other than Christ.
There are many theories today as to what a church is. The two most popular theories are the theory of the universal invisible church and the theory of the universal visible church. Both of these theories are widely taught by every Christian denomination today.
First lets look at the theory of the universal invisible church, and study this theory in the light of the bible. If the bible should confirm this theory, then we must teach that a church is both universal and invisible, but if the bible does not confirm this theory, we then need to discard it and teach that it is false doctrine.
One person who sets forth this theory, states that the church "is the whole company of regenerated persons in all times and ages, in heaven and on earth" This is why this theory holds that the church is invisible. it, they say, cannot be seen because it consists of all saved people. both those who are alive and those who have already died.
MATT. 18:17 becomes very hard to explain or understand in the light of such a theory.
"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican."
If the Lord's church be an invisible church made up of all saved people of all ages, everyone from Adam and Eve, until this present day whom the Lord has saved, then how is it that I am to contact this entire unassembled body?
The telling of this unto the invisible church of all ages would involve communication with the dead.
In I SAMUEL 28:7-19 we see King Saul communication with the dead. In (vs. 8) Saul asks this woman to divine for him.
"And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and went, and two men
with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine
unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee."
What Saul did here is an exceedingly sinful thing, which God had already told Israel to have no part with.
DUET. 18;10 condemns divination, and makes it equal to offering our children in sacrifice to a false god.
"There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter
to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or
an enchanter, or a witch,"
Would the all sovereign God of the bible command us to not permit a person who contacted the dead to live, then also tell us to tell something to the universal invisible church, which is made up of the dead as well as the living?
If there exists in scripture a universal invisible church, we then have a contradiction of scriptures in the matter of telling a problem unto the church.
We also have a problem with just how this universal invisible church is to speak unto the person that is in the wrong in (Matt.18:17) ..."but if he neglect to hear the church" How can anyone claim to speak in behalf of all people who have been saved since Adam and Eve?
The wife is shown in scripture to be a type of symbol or picture of the Lord's church.
EPH. 5:22-33 shows this symbolism.
"Wives, submit yourselves into your own husbands, as unto the Lord"
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the
church: and he is saviour of the body."
"Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their
own husbands in every thing."
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave
Himself for it;"
"That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the water by the
"That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or
wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his
wife, loveth himself."
"For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but norisheth and cherisheth it, even as
the Lord the church."
"For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones."
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined
unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh."
"This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
The entire context of this portion of scripture bears out that the wife and the husband are figurative of the church and Christ. Just as Christ loved the church and died for it, the husband is to show a great love to his wife. If you are a married man (vs29) here tells you that you are to nourish your wife just as your own flesh, likewise, the wife is to be in subjection to her own husband, just as the church is unto Christ.
With this beautiful picture of Christ and His church being found in the husband and wife, we must understand the church to be visible instead of invisible. Nowhere in scriptures do we see an invisible wife.
If then the wife is to represent the church, the church must be visible and not invisible.
Lets turn our attention now to the question of a universal church. What do we mean when we speak of a universal church? In theological circles when the term universal church is used, the term is understood to be a world wide church, or a church which is made up or all of those whom the Lord has saved that are now in this world.
Lets apply the figure of the wife representing the church to the theory of the universal church. Can there be any such thing as a universal wife, who is the wife of every husband? No each wife is a local wife, she is only the wife in one home.
We must consider the universal church theory also in the light of what the word church means. The word church comes form the Greek word "ecclesia".
"Ecclesia" as used in the bible as well as in Greek literature means " a called out assembly."
In ACTS 19:39 the word "ecclesia" is used of a lawful assembly, in contrast to a mob.
"But if ye enquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined
in a lawful assembly."
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word is used in
JUDGES 21:8 where the King James Version uses the word assembly.
"And they said, what one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to
Mizpeh to the Lord? And, behold there came none to the camp from Jabesh Gilead
to the "assembly".
We cannot use the word "ecclesia" in any way other than the way that it is used in general use in scripture or of the time the New Testament was written.
It would not fit with the context if we were to translate "ecclesia" to mean a universal assembly either in Judges 21:8 or Acts 19:39.
If we consider the Lord's Church to be a universal or world wide church, we cannot be consistent with the meaning of the word church as used in the original language.
How can we have a world wide assembly? It is true that people from all parts of the world may assemble together in one place such as in the United Nations, but even the officials of the U.N. would not consider the representatives from the different countries to be an assembly if they never came together.
No one has the right to change the usage of words used in the bible to fit modern times. Even though usage of the word "church" has changed to mean something today that Christ and those of His time did not intend it to mean, we have the responsibility to use the word as it was used by our Lord, and as it was understood by His hearers.
The Greek word "ecclesia" as used in the New Testament always speaks of a local body or a local assembly and is never used of a world wide or universal body or group.
MATT. 16:18 is the first mention of the word "church" and the first usage of the Greek word "ecclesia" in the New Testament.
"And I say into thee, that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Those who heard Jesus speak these words understood the word "ecclesia" or "church" to mean a local visible assembly.
The only other times in the gospels that we see the word church or "ecclesia " is in
Matt. 18:17, the verse which commands us to tell it to the church. Those hearing our savior speak in Matt. 18:17, give us no indication that they understood the word "ecclesia" or "church" to mean anything other than a local assembly.
ACTS 2:47 is the next time that we see the use of the word "ecclesia" or "church" in the New Testament.
"Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
The church or "ecclesia" or assembly here is the same one mentioned in (vs. 46)
"And they, continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness, and singleness of heart,"
All who went to the temple did not continue daily with one accord, and did not go from house to house, but they who did were the assembly spoken of in (vs. 47)
These were the same ones whom Peter preached unto in (vs. 38) and the same ones that had all things common in (vs. 44)
The context here shows that the word "ecclesia" as used here means a local assembly.
In ICOR. 1:2 this same word is used to indicate the local assembly or the Lord's church at Corinth.
"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's:"
Paul is here writing unto the Lord's local assembly at Corinth. He is explaining that they have been sanctified or set apart in Christ Jesus, and that they have been called of God to be saints, they did not merely declare themselves to be saints, or they were not merely called saints by those around them, but they had become saints by the effectual call of God. Paul is also stating here that all people in all places who call upon the name of Jesus Christ, do so because they have been effectual called.
There is no room at all here to consider anything as a church except a local body, of those who believe in Jesus Christ as their own savior.
In the New Testament where mention is made of more than one of the Lord's churches, the word is always used in the plural. Never are two or more assemblies called a church but they are always called churches.
Believing the truth about what a scriptural church is will not save you. If you are saved it will only cause you to see how that you can be more pleasing to God.
The only way to be saved is for God to give you faith to trust the death of Christ to have been payment for your sins.