If you look around at Christendom, you might feel confused about why there are so many churches, and what God’s plan is for His church. In this post, find out what God has to say about the question, “What is the church?”
What is the church?
The word “church” in the bible is from the Greek word ekklesia, which means “an assembly or gathering” or “called out ones.” The church isn’t a building, which many associate it with today. (There is nothing holy about a fancy structure with a cross or steeple.)
Instead, the church is made up of God’s people, worldwide. His set apart sons and daughters who have chosen to follow and obey Him.
God has an amazing, divine plan for His church. Ephesians 3:9-10 explains this further “…to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
If you do a quick Google search for the number of Christian denominations globally, you will find that the numbers range from 34,000 all the way up to 45,000 different groups, all claiming to be a church. But is this really God’s intention?
To answer “What is the church”? according to this author’s opinion, might just be the beginning of church 45,001. But my opinion doesn’t matter one bit. To answer this question correctly, we must ask, “What is the Church according to the Bible?”
(Also read our article about how to study the Bible in its context.)
How does the Bible define the church? (A Place or A People?)
The church is the people of God, made up of those who are saved through Jesus. The church is not the building – it’s the people of God. We see evidence of this in Romans 16:5, “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” Since it specifies the church meeting IN the house, the church has nothing to do with a physical structure.
The bible also defines the church as the body of Christ. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” So, Jesus is the head, and Christians are the body.
The bible also refers to local churches – this is defined as groups of believers who gathered in different locations where they lived. For example, 2 Corinthians 8:1 states, “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.”
There are plenty of other examples of this as well. To sum up, the one true church consists of every person who is added to the Lord’s church, worldwide. But, there are also local churches (also called congregations) that meet in smaller groups locally.
It doesn’t matter if they meet in a fancy stone structure, a simple one room meeting house, or under a tree — it’s still the church!
What is the purpose of the church?
You may be wondering, “What is the true meaning of the church?” The church exists for several God-given purposes:
- The church exists to worship, honor, and glorify God. In John 4:23-24 Jesus states, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” See also Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
- The church exists to edify and encourage those who are saved. We see this in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
- The church’s mission is to reach out to the world — to provide for those in need, and evangelize the lost. Hebrews 13:16, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” And Jesus Himself gives us the great commission in Mark 16:15-16, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
9 Key Bible Verses About the Church
In God’s Word, there are lots of bible verses that describe the church, what it is, its purpose and function. I’ve outlined some of the most significant ones below.
1. The Church is the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (Matthew 16:19)
Jesus tells the apostle Peter that he will build His Church, and then says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
The Apostle Paul describes the church as the Kingdom of God when speaking with the Corinthian congregation. “I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:16–20).
From these Scriptures, a beautiful picture is painted for us that God’s Kingdom on earth is the church.
2. The Church is the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:24)
Another way the bible describes the church is as the body of Christ. As brothers and sisters, we unite as members of His body.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
“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 1:18–20).
3. The Church Belongs to Christ (Romans 16:16)
The bible also explains that the church belongs to Christ — we are His!
“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).
“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16).
4. The Church is the Way to the Father (John 14:1-6)
Jesus explained to the disciples that He would be leaving them. In John 13, he put a towel around his waist to wash the apostle’s feet. He was leaving them an example of service they could emulate after His departure.
In John 13:21-30, He says that one of them would betray him that very night. He is about to go to the cross to prepare a place for the apostles and those who believe through their teaching. This gives the background to John 14:1-6 where Jesus explains that He is about to go:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Through Jesus, the Truth, we come to the father, and He has chosen the Church to be ‘the place prepared for us” to make this happen.
5. The Church is the Pillar of Truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
In John 16, Jesus explains that His departure is so the Holy Spirit will come and guide them into all truth (John 16:13). This will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:7-11), which also describes the process for how we have truth today — through the New Testament Scriptures.
The Apostle Paul later became one of those writers of truth. He tells Timothy, a young leader in the Church, that he longs to see him face to face and encourage him. The way he encourages him is by explaining what the Church and the truth have to do with one another.
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
The Church is the household of God, and this household is supported by a pillar and buttress system. A physical pillar is placed inside a building and it used as a load bearing agent for the roof. A buttress is an engineered outcropping that comes off of an outer wall. It supports the wall from falling outward.
Therefore, the Church of the living God has been engineered by Him to hold up the entire configuration of the truth. This means the household of God, the body of Christ believers, hold to the truth as their support. So, from the Church, one must find the truth.
6. The Church is Not a Building (Matthew 16:16-18)
“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 statement of Jesus almost sounds like His church is a structure built on a rock. The greater context shows otherwise.
Jesus poses a question to the Apostles: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They respond that He is one of the prophets of God, reincarnated. Jesus then asks the apostles who He is. Peter speaks up:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of John! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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 16:16-18).
The name Peter derives from the Greek word Petros, meaning stone (where we get the word petrified). If the Church is built on a literal stone, then Peter is also a literal stone. Also, some have stated that Jesus was building His church on the rock that is Peter. Reading the context shows that it is the confession Peter makes — this confession is the rock where Jesus builds His church.
7. The Church is the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27)
In Revelation 19:7, John writes, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.” In Revelation 21:1–3, the “New Jerusalem” refers to a Bride adorned for her husband. This is in reference to the Church.
Paul tells the Church that meets in Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25–27).
8. The Church is Not a Sacrament (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
Some believe that the church building is a sacred symbol or a sacramental image of heaven, which gives a sample of what heavenly worship will be like. This places more emphasis on the building than those worshipping within its walls. Those walls can be a cathedral, a school building, or even personal home. It doesn’t matter.
“Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house” (Romans 16:3-5).
The belief that the church building itself can be holy is based on 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
The “You” here in the Greek is 3rd person plural and has the meaning of “you all.” This means that the body of believers that meet in Corinth are themselves a temple. He is talking about the people being God’s temple, not a holy place.
9. The Church is a Hospital for Sinners (Romans 3:22-23)
Christians have been rejected by the world, but the Church is a body where all are accepted for treatment. No one is turned away in this hospital where healing is found. We all have the sickness of sin. “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).
We all need the hospital for sinners for without it, we are left with a mortal wound. The Church that met in Corinth experienced this healing as individually they were on the brink of destruction before they found the Church.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
If you would like to learn more about how to become a part of God’s church, take this free online bible study course!
Do you have more questions about the church? Let’s talk in the comments.