The word church in the Bible comes from the Greek word Ekklesia. Ek “out of” and klesis, “a calling” … meaning “called out ones.” The word ekklesia, can also be used to describe a gathering of people. So, what is church? Church is a gathering or group of believers who are called out by God for His purpose. It is important to note when the Bible mentions the word church, it is never talking about buildings, religions, or denominations. Church is more about a relationship; with God and with people.
WHY IS THE CHURCH CONSIDERED A PILLAR OF CHRISTIANITY?
In the Old Testament, God used the nation of Israel to be His mouthpiece to the world. God established covenants to maintain His relationship with Israel. The covenants included sacrificial, civil and moral codes of conduct. The sacrificial system was all about maintaining their relationship with God, which included priests to carry out the duties to reconcile man with God and prophets who spoke God’s words to the people. The civil codes were all about maintaining their relationship with one another as they would become a great nation. The moral codes were all about human dignity and worth. But it was also to understand sin, it’s consequence and the blessings found through the sacrificial system that God provided. The most important point is that God used the nation of Israel to bring Jesus into the world. All the laws and commands pointed to Jesus. Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the law and ushered in a new covenant. The “old” covenants with Israel were all about works. The “new” covenant is all about faith in Jesus and being saved by grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The new covenant tore down the “dividing walls of hostility” between Jew and Gentile. Gentiles (non-Jew) who were excluded from citizenship of Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise are now included through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The new covenant, filled with hope, blessings and salvation for all people, has made the two groups (Jew and Gentile) one. Through Christ, we can all come to God. Church is a “new covenant” people and the new covenant is the foundation of Christianity (Eph 2:11-22).
JESUS BUILDS HIS CHURCH
In Matthew 16:13-19, Jesus asks the famous question, “who do people say I am?” Then He asks His disciples, “who do you say I am?” This is a foundational question. Your answer to who you say Jesus is, not only holds eternal consequences but carries a rather weighty global impact. As the Biblical account shows us, Peter answered the question with a resounding, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” Jesus blesses Peter saying that answer was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven. Jesus goes on to call Peter a rock. Then Jesus says on this rock I will build my church. A few things to note about this passage… 1) Your answer to who you say Jesus is will either be revealed by God or by man (the right answer as opposed to the wrong answer). 2) The church will be built on “the rock” … this is not speaking about Peter even though Peter’s name means rock. “The rock” is the foundational confession that Peter just made stating that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God. When a person confesses that Jesus is the Christ, that person becomes part of the church. 3) Jesus will build His church; means HE will build it not man and He WILL build it; it will not fail. 4) Since the church is “the called-out ones,” Jesus (God) does the calling. This is not something that man chooses, signs up for or is coerced to do but rather simply responds to the inner call that comes from God. God reveals His truths and man responds by believing and saying, “You are the Christ!”.
COMMANDS AND ORDINANCES FOR THE CHURCH
There are two commands for the church to follow: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37-40). There are two ordinances for the church to observe: Believers baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the outward expression of what has already taken place in your heart. It represents dying to your old self and being born again. It is also a public display that identifies you with the church and as a follower of Jesus (Acts 2:41, 8:12, 8:38, 9:18, 16:15, 16:33; Ro 6:4). The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the body and blood of Jesus that ushered in the new covenant. Observing the Lord’s supper is a statement of faith in Jesus’s atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins. After Jesus ate the meal with His disciples during the iconic “Last Supper,” He said, “do this in remembrance of me.” (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Co 11:17-34).
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHURCH
The church are those saved by God through faith in Jesus and His “atoning” sacrifice made on the cross for the sins of the world (Ex 30:10; 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10). The church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work that God has prepared in advance (Eph 1:13, 2:10; Acts 1:8). The church uses the word of God (the Bible) as the prophetic voice for the church and for the world (2 Tim 3:16-17; Heb 1:1-2). The church is a nation in itself, a royal priesthood of believers, chosen by God to declare His praises (1 Pe 2:9). The church is the vehicle that God uses to display all His wisdom and glories to the heavenly and earthly authorities (Eph 3:10). The church is called to go into all the world making disciples of Jesus (Mt 28:19-20). The church is likened to a “body” with many parts (Ro 12:4-5; 1 Co 12:12-13) and Christ is the head (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18, 2:19). The church is the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13-16).