Summary: In the Bible “church” is by definition either all of the disciples of Jesus Christ or a specific group of believers. In 1 Timothy chapter 5, The Apostle Paul describes the church as people dedicated to doing whatever it takes to reach out and help others
We continue in our series Hope Found Here, and this month our focus is on Hope in the Church.
Many people associate the word “church” with a building. Often something old, draughty, with uncomfortable wooden pews and a smell of damp.
I have spoken to people in Ashingdon and Rayleigh who did not know that our buildings were churches.
In fact, a number of people thought our buildings were bungalows!
Even though we have the signs outside the front door here, many of the parents of the children that attend our nursery during the week do not realise that a church meets here on a Sunday.
Some people think that church is a place where weird people go on a Sunday.
I won’t pursue that line of thought further other than saying this building is a place we come to on a Sunday.
We get up, get dressed, drive through the traffic, come in sit down, stand up, sing, sit, stand, sing, sit, pray, stand, sing, sit, listen, stand, sing, drop a few coins in a bag, pray, have a drink, and go home.
Sunday after Sunday, we can do everything on auto-pilot, and maybe we have lost sight of the fact that our church is more than just this building; we, the people, are the church.
In the Bible there are several specific terms used to define what “church” actually is:
Ekklesia which means an assembly of called-out people.
Kuriakos – People who belong to the Lord.
The local church - “the church in Jerusalem” or “the church that meets at their house”
Universal Church – e.g. “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
The “Body of Christ” – Romans 12 describes how “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others”.
“Body of Christ” is commonly understood and used to refer to both the local and universal body of believers.
Nowhere in the Bible is “church” defined as a physical structure or the leadership/staff of an organization.
In the Bible “church” is by definition either all of the disciples of Jesus Christ or a specific group of believers.
The words our English bibles translate as “church” are in the original language plurals, and “church” always applies to people, not a place.
For example in the Book of Acts, where the Church began and spread, the personal and plural nature of the word “church” is clear.
In Acts 12:5 when Peter was in prison it says, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him”
In Acts 14:27 when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch it says “they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
In Acts 15:3 Paul and Barnabas and some other believers were going to travel from Antioch to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders there and “the church sent them on their way”
When they arrived in Jerusalem Acts 15:4 records “they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders”
Buildings don’t pray, gather, send or welcome. Nor was it only the Ministers and pastors and staff praying, gathering and welcoming, it was every person, the whole church was involved.
In 1 Timothy chapter 5, The Apostle Paul describes the church as people dedicated to doing whatever it takes to reach out and help others.
Paul says we have a responsibility, as the church, to serve and help others.
Caring for each other as well as those outside of the church is the quickest way to see Jesus change lives.
God gives each of us skills, abilities and opportunities to serve Him and each other.
In the Bible, church is always a reference to people, not a place. The church is the body of believers that live out the Gospel in their words and actions.
The church is at its best when people inside the building take Jesus’ message outside the building and serve those they meet.
Sadly not every church in the world today follows the biblical definition of church.
Many modern churches would be barely recognizable to Jesus’ disciples and the leaders of the early church.
There are churches that have characteristics or perceptions which do not correspond to any of the terms used to define “church” in the Bible.
Church is now commonly defined as the specific place where Christians go rather than the people themselves.
Church is a place people only go to for special events like Christmas & Easter, or for a wedding, or funeral, or Christening or baby dedication. Over the years at Ashingdon there have been a number of people from outside the church who have requested we hold a dedication service for their children, not because they wanted to be part of church, but because they wanted to be able to show the dedication certificate to the local Catholic School when they applied for a place for their child.