What Is the Church?

What is the Church? 

There are many references to the church in the NT. “Ecclesia” the Greek
word for church, was a common word in early Greek speech. It meant “an
assembly” or “the called out”. The word could refer to an unlawful
assembly such as the mob at Ephesus (Acts 19:41) or to the assembly of
Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) just as well as those who assembled
to follow Christ and worship God (Acts 9:31). The basic idea of “church”
then is an assembly. In the NT the word is used in reference to disciples
of Christ. Having ascertained that “church” in the NT refers to an
assembly of God’s people does not exhaust the meaning of the word,
however. In addition to the word designating local assemblies of
Christians, the word also was used in reference to the entire assembly of
the saved from all the ages (Col 1:18). We see the word “church” finds
dual use in the NT. Again, however, having discerned that “church” can
refer to a local assembly of saints or the general assembly of the saved,
we have still not exhausted the meaning of the word. We still must
discern not just the components of the assembly (disciples), but also its
nature and purpose, that is, what is the essential nature of the church?

There are many answers to the question, “What is the church?” One answer
is that it is the body of Christ. Eph 1:22-23 says that Christ is head of
the church, which is His body. Yet another answer to “what is the church”
is that it is the redeemed (Acts 2:47). God adds those who are being
saved to those numbered in the church. Eph 5:25-27 answers the question
by presenting the church as the wife of Christ. Another answer to “what
is the church?” is that it is the aggregate of all the redeemed of all the
ages (Heb 12:23).

As we have seen, the Greek word itself for church is “ecclesia”, literally
the called out ones, and it is the meaning of being called out that each
of the above thoughts relies on to convey the idea of men being called out
to be joined to some special group. How special the church is is
reflected in what it cost. Its purchase price was nothing less than the
lifeblood of the Son of God (Acts 20:28). Such a costly item must surely
have a special purpose, but our conception of it seldom turns to the
ultimate purpose for which Christ died. More often we are so focused on
the here and now aspect of salvation that we do not see the eternal
purpose of God, yet it is this very eternal purpose that prompted God by
means of the church (Eph 3:10-11) to present His many-splendored wisdom
before the principalities and powers. In all of God’s spectacular
creation it is the church that most wonderfully reflects God’s wisdom, and
it does so in such a unique manner that He uses His workmanship that is so
manifest in it to impress the most powerful beings in heaven. The church
is the most brilliant, scintillating, and wisdom exuding item in all of
creation, God uses it to impress the highest spirit beings, and we have
the amazing blessing of being part of it.

How is it, then, that this wonderful creation of God glorifies Him? What
is there about it that in an eternal sense presents an astounding
manifestation of God’s multifaceted wisdom? It is astounding wisdom
because God first speaks into existence a material world from things that
do not appear (Heb 11:3) and holds it together by the word of His power
(Heb 1:3). According to His wisdom He creates a man from dust to rule
over all that He has made (Gen 1:26). This first man God plans to use as
the means to ransom free will. The first man, Adam, brings sin into the
world, and by this fact God can then at last bring in His atoning
sacrifice for sin. The second Adam uses the sin of the first Adam as the
means of bringing about the second Adam’s sacrificial death and the first
Adam’s eternal life.

The first Adam having now succumbed to sin, fallen man finds himself in a
hopeless plight where he surely sins, falls into the possession of the
enemy, dies physically, and descends into Satanic captivity in the dark
Hadean realm (Isa 49:8-10). Man is in a totally helpless condition (Mt
16:26). He has no means whatever to salvage his plight (Rom 6:23, Mt
18:25). Into this hopeless situation, into a world of walking dead men, a
world of men in open rebellion to the God of heaven, God sends His second
Son (I Cor 15:45, Lk 3:38), who like the first Adam, is the direct work of
God (Lk 1:35). By means of the exceeding sinfulness enabled by the sin of
the first Adam and death that followed as a consequence of that sin, God
is able to offer an adequate price, the blood of the Creator, as a
propitiation for sin. The world of excruciatingly evil men provides a
sufficiently virulent environment in which an innocent man, a perfect man,
may be taken by wicked hands and crucified and slain. By means of the sin
of the first man, God’s second man is able to cancel sin, restore all to
life, and solve the problem of free will for all eternity. God raised Him
from death for His obedience and gave Him to be head over all things. So
God created the head of the church.

Having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil Adam appears to
have sentenced his progeny to a genetic lack of control. No son of Adam
can over a lifetime maintain steadfastness and control sufficient to avoid
sin (Rom 3:23, I Ki 8:46). Our current situation is that though a man
might know to do good and even wish to do good, he will often do those
things opposed to what he knows and wants to do (Rom 7:15, 19). Under the
pernicious effects of Adam’s sin, the world once fell into such a horrid
state of sin that God described man’s condition as “every imagination of
the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5), and God
drowned them in water, save those who were in the ark with Noah. The
descendants of Noah were not much better than the men before the Flood,
for within 500 years of the Flood Nimrod initroduced idolatry and began
the rapid decline of man into darkness and superstition. God then
isolated Abraham and his children from idolatry and created a nation that
through a checkered history served Him on occasion. Those who made no
attempt to serve God often oppressed those among His people, who to the
best of their fallen nature were trying to serve God. These evil men
brought cruel mockings and scourgings with bonds and imprisonment upon the
servants of God (Heb 11:36). They were stoned, they were sawn asunder,
were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins
and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented, they wandered in
deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb
11:37-38). God’s people often were, as Paul described himself, “the
offscouring of all things” (I Cor 4:13), that is, they were the bottom of
the social ladder.

The situation is then; we now have a world that is heavily stained with
sin. In it every man of age is a sinner and utterly void of any means of
helping himself with respect to eternal judgment. Those who are making an
attempt at serving God fall short of His will in almost every respect, and
even their imperfect attempts at serving God are ridiculed and physically
opposed by evil men who hate God. The servants of God are often poor and
despised. Into such a situation came the Lamb of God. He died and
presented to the Father in heaven His own blood as atonement for sin (Heb
9:23-26). With that blood He purchased the lowest men of the earth (Acts
20:28): the halt, the maimed and the blind, those living in hedgerows and
along the highways (Lk 14:21-23, I Cor 1:26-27). So God created the body
of the church.

We have a church then whose head is a dead Galilean carpenter who was
rejected and killed by His own people. He has purchased the human debris
of the earth as His body of followers, and in this eclectic human flotsam
God shows His wisdom? As Paul Harvey would say, “That’s the rest of the
story”. This dead Galilean carpenter is none less than the Creator of the
universe (Jn 1:1-3). By means of His death He has secured the ability to
raise from the grave every man who ever lived. His sacrifice is
sufficient to pardon every sin of every creature forever. He is willing
to utterly pardon any who will believe on Him, the risen Galilean
carpenter, the Son of God, and obey His voice. God raised Jesus from the
dead and by that act showed Jesus to be the Son of God through the power
of the resurrection (Rom 1:4). Jesus has been raised from the grave to
sit on the right had of the Highest where God has given Christ all
authority in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18). Those rejected and despised
men, His church, who followed Him and loved not their lives unto death in
service to Him, He has made them one with Him for eternity (Eph 2:14-16, I
Thes 4:17).

The church is joint-heir with Him (Rom 8:17) of the entire creation (Rev
21:7) and will share with Him in the rule the world (Rev 3:21). Every man
from every age and tribe, and multitude, and nation and tongue who served
God will be utterly pardoned from sin. His transgressions will be removed
as far from him as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). The despised,
poor, maimed, halt and blind will be raised in glorious bodies (Php 3:21).
They will mount up on eagle’s wings (Isa 40:31a). They will run and not
grow weary (Isa 40:31b). They will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom
of the Father (Mt 13:43). They will rule the universe in righteousness,
peace and truth forever and ever (Isa 9:6-7, 16:5). Of the increase of
their kingdom and of their peace there will be no end (Isa 9:7).

What is the church? It is His sons, reigning with Him, rejoicing with
Him, loving with Him, becoming ever more like Him as their kingdoms grow
without bound in ever-increasing glory forever and ever. Herein is seen
the wisdom of God in His eternal plan in the church.

From their ignoble beginnings as eaten with worms (Job 7:5, 21:26) they
rise eternal as sons of God (Jn 1:12). From hopeless fallen men with no
light or future they have been made to be kings and priests forever (Rev
1:6). From poverty, discredit and abuse they will be raised to riches,
honor and glory. From foolishness and disobedience they rise to wisdom
and faithfulness. From the dregs and offscouring of society God has
created the rulers of the universe. From a crucified Galilean carpenter
He has raised up the Savior of the world. Truly God’s wisdom is
multifaceted and His ways past finding out. Truly the church exhibits the
manifold wisdom of God.

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, Church Doctrine. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *