The basics of New Testament Christianity need to be thoroughly engrained in New Testament Christians. We simply cannot overlook the importance of understanding the truth concerning the Lord’s church. Let us be grounded in this truth, defend it, and teach it to all.
In Matthew 16:18, the word “church” is used for the first time in the New Testament. From this text we learn at least three important facts:
- Christ is the builder of the church.
- The church belongs to Christ.
- The gates of hades (“gates of death,” Psalm 9:13; Job 17:16; Job 38:17) would not prevail against His establishing His church. The word hades can also refer to death. Jesus knew He was going to die (Luke 9:22). He also knew that His death would not keep Him from building His church.
What Is the Church?
The church is the ekklesia or “the called out” of God. Some argue against this definition, preferring to refer to the church as an “assembly.” However, ekklesia is a compound word from klesis “to call” and ek “out of.” Thus, the word literally means “the called out.” How could there be an assembly without a calling?
The church has been called out of the darkness of sin and ignorance by God’s word to form the spiritual body of Christ (Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Peter 2:5, 9-10; 2 Timothy 1:9-10). The gospel is the calling to which the church has responded obediently (Romans 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Ephesians 3:6). The gospel is the very “voice” of Christ which compels men to follow as His disciples (John 10:27; John 8:31-32).
However, the church is also an assembly. It is an assembly of the called, and into which we have been called by the gospel (Hebrews 12:23). Ekklesia is also translated “assembly” in Acts 19:32, 39, and 41.
Christians are not called out of homes and assembled into a theater or town hall, but are called out of the darkness of sin and assembled together in the spiritual body of Christ (Ephesians 1:20-23). The church is assembled together on earth in the spiritual body of Christ and will someday forever be assembled together with Christ in heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
The church is the called out assembly that belongs to the Lord. Kuriakos – “belonging to the Lord” – is the Greek word from which our English word “church” is derived.
The church is the house of the Lord (1Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:1-6; 1 Peter 2:5). The church is the “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). To belong to the house of the Lord is to belong to “the church of the Lord” (as Acts 20:28 is worded in the ASV).
The church is the temple of God (Ephesians 2:19-20). God does not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24), but He does dwell within the temple of the body of Christ collectively (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and every Christian’s body individually (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The church is God’s kingdom upon earth. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:22-23, 28).
It has been advanced by some that because the words “kingdom” and “church” are not synonymous that they cannot refer to the same thing.
Let me give two examples of how words with different meanings can apply to the same thing. I am a husband, a father, a brother, a brother-in-law, a nephew, a grandson, a son, a son-in-law, a preacher, a writer, and an editor. Each of these words has a very different meaning and yet they all refer to the same person.
Let’s do the same with Jesus. He is King, Son, Savior, Head, Brother, Word, God, Mediator, Prophet, Physician, Priest, and Author. Each one of these words has a different meaning, but they all refer to the same Person.
Now let us look at the church. In the New Testament, the church is called the kingdom, body, family, house, household, nation, priesthood, temple, assembly, etc. Each of these words has a very different meaning, but every one of them refers to the same group of people. Each word simply presents a different aspect of the church. The word “kingdom” describes the government of the church. It is a kingdom and Christ is her King. Words do not have to be synonyms to refer to the same thing.
The Church of Christ
It is in this possessive sense that Paul speaks of the churches of Christ (Romans 16:16); i.e. churches belonging to Christ.
Two predominating uses of the word “church” include:
- A universal application to the church at large (Matthew 16:18).
- A local application to a particular congregation(s) (Galatians 1:2).
Wherever and whenever the church is spoken about in the New Testament, it belonged to Christ – it was a church of Christ. The church in its entirety belongs to Christ. He said it is “My church.” And, the church individually – congregationally – belongs to Christ. These are “churches of Christ.”
One cannot take the New Testament and read about Luther, Calvin, or any other. He cannot take the New Testament and read about the churches they established. He cannot take the New Testament and read about the names that they wear or the creeds they accept.
However, if one will take the New Testament and the New Testament alone, he will read about the church of Christ – and that is all he will read about! Why belong to a church that you cannot read about in the Bible, when you can belong to the church you do read about in the Bible? Go back to the Bible, and there you will find the true religion of Christianity.
The church is the assembly of all those who have been called out of the darkness of sin and ignorance by obeying the gospel and are thus added by God to the spiritual body of Christ (Acts 2:42, 47).
The church is now assembled on earth and will someday forever be together with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
One can be added to this sacred assembly and spiritual kingdom today by hearing the gospel preached (Romans 10:17); believing the facts concerning Christ as revealed in the gospel (John 8:24); repenting of sin (2 Peter 3:9); and being baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3), having called upon His name in a good confession, to wash away one’s sins (Acts 22:16).