What is church?
Have you ever thought about what is church…...most would instinctively say it’s a building, maybe a place of worship? Undoubtably your definition of what church is has been changed or restricted over the last few months. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the church as a building for public and Christian Worship. So, what happens what we can’t meet in this building…or in our case what if we don’t have a building…. does this mean the church stops or doesn’t exist?
I (Brian) heard an interesting thought the other day about early Biblical leaders…..Do you think Paul asked Timothy, “Did you go to church this week?”....or Peter ask John, “What church have you been attending?” I personally don’t think so, because their definition was different than what is common today. So, what was their definition and what was the early church? To start I looked up and found the word church is used 108 times in the Bible (New Testament only). The first time the word church is used in the Bible Jesus is using it….”And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18. This tells us a couple things: First, “I will” means that at this point in time the church has not started. Second, “my church” shows that Jesus is taking full ownership of the church. Jesus also makes mention of the church in Matthew 18:17. We don’t see mention of the word church again until the book of Acts.
To give some context, Jesus had risen from the grave, was seen by many, and had ascended to heaven. All of his followers were grouped together in one place, I would assume fearing the unknown and wondering what exactly was going to happen to them next…. They were in a holding pattern for Christ to send them the Holy Spirit he had talked about. He did in Act 2, and this was called the time of Pentecost. These followers of Jesus now impowered by the Holy Spirit began to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “(vs38) And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…….(vs42) And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:38,42) We continue to see this group of people grow, meet together, and share what they had with each other.
“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” (Acts 5:11) This is the first place in Acts that we hear the word church directly and by its use it shows it is now in existence. It starts to become clearer that the church is referring to this group of Jesus followers who we now know as Christians. This name “Christians” was given first to this group of people out of contempt or reproach as these people were always talking about Christ. Does this describe you?
So, what do we make of all this?……as I read through the expansion of the church it always is in reference to an assembly of people. So, the church can be defined as an assembly of followers of Christ who derive their identity, mission, and purpose from Jesus Christ. This can apply to the local body of believers or to the universal church. As I read, I must acknowledge that where ever the church went they have been followed by persecution and turmoil. So even today as we see the building where the church comes to gather are closed or in our case there is no building but we are restricted by numbers of people, this does not mean the church has stopped. So, let us be the church and not wait for church. Join together with others…maybe not in person, but maybe online, or a friend, neighbor, or family who is part of another church. “Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, Our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)