By Jim Sparks
What is the church? What do we mean by the word “church”? The word “church” comes from the Greek word “ekklesia” which means “called out ones” or “assembly”. It means any assembly, or in our case, a Christian assembly that meets together to worship the Lord. But, most people today think that the church is the building, or the organization (programs and system of operation). However, Jesus did not die for a building, a program, or an organization; He died for people. Saved people are the church. It’s all right to have a building the church meets in, and people should be organized, but don’t be deceived. That’s not the church. No, saved people are the church. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God…….(I Cor 6:19). Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Eph 5:25). Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, TO THEM THAT ARE SANCTIFIED in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (I Cor 1:2). He wrote to the church or to them that are sanctified (saved people).
Interesting Note: Have you ever heard someone say “Come visit my church”, or “May I come to your church?”, or “This is our church.”? Common language, right? Let me show you how off base we are on this. The word “church” is mentioned 79 times, and the word “churches” 36 times in the Bible, all in the New Testament, and not one time is it “your” church, “my” church, “our” church, and so on. You see, it is not yours, or mine, or ours. It is His church. He died for it, purchased it, and it is His body. ” … and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church , Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph 1:22.-23). Following are the words that come before “church” and “churches” in the Bible. (Not one time will you find a possessive pronoun before them, except in Matt 16:18 when Jesus says “upon this rock I will build MY church”.) “Church”: my church (once referring to Jesus), the church, every church, whole church, glorious church, no church, “Churches”: the churches, of churches, all churches, other churches, seven churches.
So, you see, not one time in 115 verses that the word “church” or “churches” is mentioned, will you find a possessive pronoun referring to you or me before the words. It is not “your” church, “my” church, or “our” church. It is HIS church. It’s HIS body. Any adjectives or prepositional phrases before the words indicate that it belongs to Him. God doesn’t miss anything or He doesn’t get anything wrong. He is very consistent. It is “you”, “I”, and “others” that get off track.
Local or Universal? I know there is a great debate about the term church today, whether it is local or universal. Both sides have a good argument, and verses that support each. Since there are verses for both, then I personally believe that they both are true. For example, you can speak of McDonald’s as a local restaurant in town or you can speak of McDonald’s as a large chain. When the Bible speaks of a church in a particular area, it is referring to a local church. At other times it refers to the church as a whole. ” …. even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). The word church here is a collective noun which covers all saved people. Also, Eph 4:3 indicates that the church is one body, not several. “[There is] ONE BODY , and one Spirit,…one Lord….” But, there are numerous verses that refer to a specific church in a specific location, and that is a local church. So, they both apply in the Scriptures.
Now, the biggest problem I have today with the term “local church”, is that I hear many explain that the only way you can serve God is through a local church. So then, all spiritual matters are confined to the local church. You can’t serve God other than through that local church that you are a member. You can’t give unless it is through that local church. You can’t witness or do good deeds unless it is through that local church. I do believe that Christians should collectively serve and worship God through a local church, but I don’t think it is just limited to that. As an individual, there is a great deal that you can do on your own to serve God. I don’t have the time nor the Scriptures to argue this, but neither do they. For example, when I provide, take care of my family and meet their needs, try to be honest and pay my bills, etc., that is serving God. However, that is not through the local church. Those of contrary belief would say that that is not spiritual, but I believe that if anyone obeys Scripture, then that is being spiritual. When we do what God tells us to do in His Word, that is serving God. This is one problem you get into when you say that only a local church exits. Now, if all aspects of a person’s life are to be under the “local church” and it’s pastor, then it seems to me they are entering into some realm of cultism. Scripture is very clear that we serve God, which includes service to the church.