In our day there is much confusion in and outside the church about what in the world the church is. In this series, we seek to explain in detail most every aspect of the Church. Today we focus on the nature and purposes of the church. This teaching is not meant to be exhaustive, but simply an introduction to what the Bible teaches about the church. If there is any topics on the church that you wish we would address, please tell us in the comments.
A simple definition of the church is “all true believers for all ages” yet this definition must be refined when dealing with some instances of its usage in the New Testament. To start, the Church is invisible yet visible. With the definition given above, it is obvious that as of right now, the entire universal church is not gathered together at one time (therefore is invisible). Yet the church is also visible in that it gathers into local churches where they can be seen by the world. This also leads to the next reality of the church; it is local and universal. Sometimes a biblical author refers to the universal church (Eph. 5:25) and has in mind the entirety of believers over all time. Most often though, NT writers refer to the local church (Rom. 16:5, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1 etc.) which is the regular gathering of believer in a particular location to worship, hear the word preached, and practice the ordinances (baptism & comunion). There are also many metaphors for the church. The church is referred to using family images (Eph. 3:14), agricultural images (John 15:5, Rom. 11:17-24), as a new temple (1 Peter 2:5) priests (1 Peter 2:5) and finally, as a body (1 Cor. 12:12-27, Eph. 1:22-23, 4:15-16, and Col. 2:19). These metaphors help us understand God’s intention for the church.
The church’s relationship to Israel is also important and has been given much attention in our day. Dispensational pastors/theologians see much discontinuity between the Old and New Covenant and argue that Jews and Christians are both God’s people but they are separate in God’s plan of redemption. Covenant pastors/theologians see more continuity between the Old and New Covenant people of God and say that those in Christ are now part of Israel and that God has one plan for his one gathered people consisting of both Jews and Christians. This explanation is quite simplistic though as there is in actual a spectrum of opinion on this topic with dispensationalism on one end and covenant theology on the other. The final aspect of the church here is the relationship between the kingdom of God and the Church. The Kingdom is different than the church though the Church is the means in which God brings about his kingdom.
Completing this discussion on the church, we cannot pass up a discussion on the marks of a healthy church and the function of the church. Since the reformation, Christians have seen the Biblical marks of a healthy church as a church which has rightful preaching of God’s word and a right practice of the ordinances. The church exists to worship God, nurture believers, and evangelize the world.
I pray that these blog posts help you gain a more Biblical understanding of the church and grow your hunger for Biblical truth and for church community. These posts on the church will come out every Sunday morning for the next few months.