What is the church, and why is it important?

First of all, the word “church” tends to bring a certain picture to our minds today–at least us in America. We instantly picture a building, usually with a steeple and a cross. It may be large or small, with a peaceful country setting or the middle of a big city. Some may picture a more ornate building than others with beautiful stained glass windows, intricate statues, and fancy seating arrangements. Even searching for the picture for this article, I only used the keyword “church”. This is just one of many buildings that popped up.

Hopefully though, there are some that simply picture a group of diverse, imperfect people gathered to worship a perfect God and celebrate their unity in Christ. That’s what the church is. It’s not a building. It’s not a regularly scheduled event that we “go to.” It’s a group of people living out their purpose as Kingdom citizens to be the salt of the earth and light to the world.

Perhaps we would be doing ourselves and everyone else a favor if we began to refer to the church as the ekklesia–the Greek word that is often translated as “church” (Matthew 16:18, among many others). Maybe this would help us wipe out the cultural definition from our minds and give us a new perspective of who we are. We say without thinking things like: “Let’s go to church” or “Where do you go to church?” We need to leave this language behind. If we really believe that we ARE the church, then that word is not something we “go to” on Sundays. We ARE the church 24/7/365.

Even more than ekklesia, I’ve grown fond of using “Kingdom Community” to refer to the body of Christ. It reminds us that we are called to live in community with one another (Acts 4:32), and it reminds us that our lives should reflect a Kingdom perspective (Matthew 6:33).

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the word “church,” as long as we can train ourselves and teach others what it really means and what it does not, and we use it correctly.

To answer the question in the title, I’ll use “church”–if for no other reason than to help create a new picture for your mind to associate with the word. I hope that you’ll provide your answer to the question in the comments below!

Put simply, the church is the body of Christ! What could be more important than the manifestation of Christ on earth right now, representing the Kingdom? We are the community of the believers, bound together by Christ in perfect unity.

There is a local aspect of the church, as well as a global aspect of all citizens of God’s Kingdom. I believe most of the emphasis of practical instruction in the Bible is placed on the local body, because that is where we as individuals are meant to operate—both in receiving edification as well as offering edification. The unity of the church is based on LOVE, which we have received a perfect example of in Christ. In fact, Jesus says that the way the world will even recognize us as His disciples is how we love EACH OTHER (John 13:34-35). One might think that the world would notice us when we love strangers, and indeed we should; but Jesus said the world will notice our great love for ONE ANOTHER, the church. That inexplicable bond was demonstrated so powerfully by the first century church—Jews and Gentiles, once vehemently opposed to one another, now locked arm in arm and praising Jesus together. Rich people liquidating their assets so they could support the poor, slaves congregating with the free, all in love. How could the world not take notice?  (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

We come together as His church and remember that He has arranged us according to His purpose. He has gifted each member in the way that He planned so that we can build each other up. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11,18) He gives us spiritual gifts so that we can help equip other saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we ALL attain the UNITY of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the FULLNESS of Christ! (Ephesian 4:11-13).

Before Jesus was crucified, he prayed that that we would all be ONE just as He and the Father are one. He was praying for His church. He was praying for all people that believed and would believe in the future.  (John 17:20-23)

The church cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 reads like this: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Notice that it’s not: “so it is with the church.” What did Jesus ask Saul on the road to Damascus? Acts 9:4: “…Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Those people Saul was seeing thrown in prison–they were part of Jesus–they were His body! In 1 Corinthians 1:13, Paul pleads with the members of the body there, asking them “is Christ divided”? Surely the church can’t be divided if her head is not divided Himself. Eve came out of Adam, and is Adam in another form. Eve represents the church just like Adam represents Jesus (see Ephesians 5)! The church comes out of Jesus, and is Jesus in another form. The church is Jesus’s bride, and they are one.

Jesus is also referred to as the new Jacob and the new Israel. Consider when Jacob met his would-be wife, Rachel, at a well in Genesis 29. It was the middle of the day–an odd time to go fetch water… Now look at John 4:1-45. This is the story of the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the very same well mentioned in Genesis 29. What time did Jesus meet this woman? Noon! (John 4:6) She even questions if He is greater than her father Jacob (vs 12). Jesus gently leads her to the truth that He is indeed–He is the Messiah, the Christ, and He’s come to provide the eternal spring of Living Water. Who does this Samaritan woman represent? Samaritans by birth are part Jew and part Gentile. She is a perfect representation of the church which has that same genetic makeup! We are the new creation, we are the new race (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, 1 Corinthians 10:32)–where earthly, fleshly distinctions no longer carry any weight or shame!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

What are your thoughts? Please share with us!

Parenting with an Eternal Perspective – Part 2: Kingdom Community

This morning Luke and I were talking about when boy Jesus was lost from his parents. We discussed how he and his parents had gone to Jerusalem with a group of family and friends for Passover (Luke 2:41-50). Luke’s immediate response was, “like Life Group?!” (what we call our small group we worship with). The more I thought about it, the clearer a picture came to me of what their lives must have been like. They went to Jerusalem with Jesus’s village. They went with people they worked and lived in community with to help raise each other’s children. God trusted Mary to raise his Son and Mary trusted her village. I stopped in awe at the insight my 4-year-old son had brought to this story.  

We see another community formed in the name of Jesus in Acts 2:41-47. The first Christians worshipped, evangelized, took care of each other, ate together, rejoiced together, and had all things in common. The result of that was that (vs 47) “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” It is so easy in our busy lives to compartmentalize family, “church,” work, entertainment—but what would our lives look like if we meshed all of those together?  What if our church was our family, and what if those bonds were woven through all aspects of our life?

What if our church was our family, and what if those bonds were woven through all aspects of our life? Click To Tweet

If we mixed family and church together, the church would look a lot more like family. We do call each other brothers and sisters but do we really have a relationship close enough to really be analogous to that of brothers and sisters? I would say the first century church did. We can only achieve that through engagement with one another. We need to know each other well enough to know our spiritual and physical struggles, not just by sharing them during confession or a prayer request time but because we are living the struggles together, discussing them, supporting one another through them via prayer and spiritual discipleship. When Jesus taught people and discipled them, he took time to break bread with them. Meals are a time of fellowship and conversation when we learn what is going on in each other’s lives. We all need to eat so we might as well do that together, in restaurants or in each other’s homes like family. Today people often live far from their biological families so what a blessing it is that we can raise our children with spiritual aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., wherever we might be! 

What if we mixed church and work? It might look like putting in a few extra hours of work so we have more to share with a family in our group who is struggling financially (Ephesians 4:28); taking care of a sister’s children so she can work; discipling co-workers and introducing them to the rest of our community to show them Jesus’s love abiding in all of us; hiring a brother or sister to do some extra work to provide for our own. We are not told to work so that we can have enough to build bigger barns or store more in our storage shed. We’re told to work so that we can have enough to give to him who has a need. If that is our motive, our occupation should not be what defines who we are. In our community, we all have a variety of spiritual gifts but the nature of a group also offers a variety of physical skills we can offer one another, whether that be fixing an air conditioner, treating a pet, teaching a child, etc. We are more complete and provided for because we have each other.  

God lays the foundation for rest in the Old Testament at creation. He institutes the Sabbath as a time to stop working and rest in Him. He set aside feast days for his people to rejoice and celebrate their lives and who they were in Him. Likewise, today we all need a rest. We need time to clear our minds from the stresses and trials of life. We need to rejoice together in our successes and rejuvenate one another to continue.  We need to celebrate our unity by gathering frequently and participating in it. We all have hobbies or things we do for entertainment. Do them together! Take a night to gather to eat dinner to celebrate a graduation, promotion, or a new Christian. Make spontaneous invitations to lunch!  The technology and communication of the day makes this easy for us. Every time we gather, for whatever purpose, we have the opportunity to keep or place our minds on spiritual things, to encourage one another, to find out a need, to pray together. It allows our children to be around other children who are being taught to follow the same God and to view other godly role models. Playing a game together, sitting around a fire, or drinking a cup of coffee together fosters the perfect environment for us to invite those outside of Christ to experience the love of our Savior through our kindness, gentleness, and goodness to all men (John 13:35). Jesus’s village even went on a trip together! (Luke 2:42) 

Paul tells the Christians at Colossae to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is… Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3). We can surround ourselves and our children with a people who strive to “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). We have already been granted the Kingdom of God here on this earth and our Christian villages are a reflection of what we anxiously await (Philippians 3:20). What better way could there be to prepare our children to be disciples for our King?! 

(If you missed Part 1, read it HERE.)