Summary: The church is a community in which Christ is number one and believers worship together and love and serve others.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you when I say that many people have a negative view of the church. This negative attitude toward the church is captured in the following quotes.
“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.”—George Carlin, US comedian and actor (1937-)
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”—Thomas Paine, US patriot & political philosopher (1737-1809)
“My best advice to anyone who wants to raise a happy, mentally healthy child is: Keep him or her as far way from a church as you can.”—Frank Zappa, US musician, singer & songwriter (1940-1993)
Definition: The church is the community of all TRUE BELIEVERS in the New Testament age.
1. The church is both VISIBLE and INVISIBLE.
• The visible church is the church as CHRISTIANS ON EARTH see it.
The visible church is not the church as any person sees it (such as an unbeliever or someone who holds false teachings) but as it is perceived by those who are genuine believers and have an understanding of the difference between believers and unbelievers. We could say today that the visible church is the group of people who come together each week to worship as a church and profess faith in Christ.
• The invisible church is the church as GOD sees it.
When Paul wrote his letters, he wrote to the visible church in each community (“To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse; Col. 1:2). Paul certainly realized that there were unbelievers in some of those churches, some who had made a profession of faith that was not genuine, who appeared to be Christians but would eventually fall away. Yet neither Paul nor anyone else could tell with certainty who those people were. Paul simply wrote to the entire church that met together in any one place.
In its true spiritual reality as the fellowship of all genuine believers, the church is invisible. This is because we cannot see the spiritual condition of people’s hearts. We can see those who outwardly attend the church, and we can see outward evidences of inward spiritual change, but we cannot actually see into people’s hearts and view their spiritual state—only God can do that. This is why Paul says, “The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).
• Not everyone is a member of the VISIBLE church is also a member of the INVISIBLE church.
The visible church throughout the world will always include some unbelievers, and individual congregations will usually include some unbelievers, because we cannot see hearts as God see them. Paul speaks of “Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth” and who “destroy the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Paul says in sorrow, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10). Similarly, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure “savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Notice that some of these false teachers would come “from [their] own number.”
Caution: When we recognize that there are unbelievers in the visible church, there is a danger that we may become overly suspicious.
2. The church is both LOCAL and UNIVERSAL.
• The local church is a church that meets in a CERTAIN PLACE.
A “house church” is called a “church” in Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19. The church in an entire city is also called “a church” (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1). The church in a region is referred to as a “church” in Acts 9:31.
• The universal church is the church throughout the ENTIRE WORLD.
• The church is not the PLACE; the church is the PEOPLE.
3. The church is the BRIDE of Christ.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27).
• We should strive for greater LOVE for Christ.
Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). We are told in one of the Greek histories that the wife of one of the generals of Cyrus, the ruler of Persia, was accused of treachery and was condemned to die. At first her husband did not know what was taking place. But as soon as he heard about it he rushed to the palace and burst into the throne room. He threw himself on the floor before the king and cried out, “Oh, my Lord Cyrus, take my life instead of hers. Let me die in her place.”