What is the Church?

One theme in my articles is the Church: Church history, Church teaching, Church governance, and the life of the Church in the lives of Christians who are members of the Church.

So just what is this Church? As I shall demonstrate, the word "Church"has a broad meaning including everything relating to Jesus and salvation, but excluding error and sin.

People often misunderstand what the Church is. Some think of it as a stodgy institution with corrupt leaders who demand superstition and teach a false gospel. But this is not the Church at all;these things are outside the Church!

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)

Just as sin corrupts our true divinely-created human nature, so also the sins of Church leaders corrupt and deform the Church. Just as we should not focus on our own sins (other than to repent from them and gain forgiveness for them), so also we should not focus on the sins of the Church.

The Church is the source of truth and salvation for all the redeemed; it was founded by Jesus for this purpose.

Thou art Peter [Rock], and upon this rock I [Jesus] will build my church. (Matthew 16:18)

Notice that Peter (renamed to Rock) and his divinely-inspired confession of faith are the foundations of the Church. Thus the Church is both a visible human institution and the body of true believers.

Jesus is the head of the Church, and so the Church is holy and righteous — sin is not part of the Church.

He [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18)

Just as God considered the Old Testament nation of Israel to be holy, so also he considers the Church to be holy. And just as God hated the sin of Israel's wicked leaders, so also he hates the sin of corrupt Church leaders. God always judges sin.

Jesus loves the Church; and so should we.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. (Ephesians 5:25)

We should not despise what Jesus loves. (In like manner, we should love Mary, the mother of God, just as Jesus loved her and will continue to love her for all eternity.)

Salvation is found in the Church. Those who are saved are members of the Church.

The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:47)

It is wrong to think we don't need the Church. After all, the Church provides every aspect of our Christian life including: the gospel message of salvation, true doctrine (for example, the Nicene Creed), a religious society of fellowship.


Church Study

I emphasize the study of the Christian Church, of the Church founded by Jesus and the apostles. To my thinking, all aspects of Christianity are subsumed within the Church because in uniting with Christ in faith we become members of the Church having Christ as its head.

People wonder, why bother studying the Church? Shouldn't we, rather, be studying the Bible, or praying to Jesus, or evangelizing? Why, yes, we should be doing these things; but all these are part of the Church.

Christianity = the Church

Christian faith = the Church

Many churches emphasize Bible study. I emphasize Church study which includes Bible study, but also the study of the early church and the early church fathers.We cannot properly interpret the Bible without considering what the first few generations of Christians believed and practiced.

The Bible does not address every topic important to Christian faith and life, and so we should study the Church.

By Church I don't mean the Catholic Church, or the Orthodox Church, or some particular Protestant denomination (or "non-denominational" denomination), but rather, the one, holy, catholic [universal], apostolic Churchfounded by Christ and with Christ as the head.

The church, which is his [Christ's] body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22b,23)

The Church is the body of Christ and his fullness. In studying the Church we study Christ himself as we enter into his presence.

Jesus established his Church having holy leaders, infallibledoctrine, sacraments, traditions, and various devotional practices. And, of course, the early Church was apostolic, that is to say, the apostles were the authority for everything, and they passed-on this authority to the bishops.

Sadly, the bishopssoon lost sight of their apostolic mission as they put a wedge between clergy and laity, and the faith-life of Christians deteriorated into mere obedience to rules of rites and rituals. Borrowing from pagan culture and philosophy, heresies developed and were argued about in councils dominated by emperors; the Church became a political institution.

Jesus never intended the Church to be this way.

My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews. (John 18:36)

Over the centuries there have been all kinds of attempts to reform and restore the Church, to fix the Church, some bringing true Christianity, some bringing a lie...

Non-Christian (Mormonism), heretical (Gnosticism), authoritarian (Catholic), revolutionary (Protestant Reformation), fundamentalist (Evangelical movement), charismatic (including word-faith, health-wealth), house-church movement (denying institutions altogether)

Each of these has further increased the fragmentation and disunity in the Church, the body of Christ,as ever more and more varieties of Christianity appeared.


Unity

So what do we do about all this today? How are we to have Church unity, Christian unity?

Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful [kindhearted], be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing [accusing] for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8,9)

To be of one mind means we know and understand each other's perspective, to study the Church, why others believe what they do, and how we can love our fellow Christians without judging them for daring to be different than us.

Some (Catholic, Orthodox, Church of Christ) think the answer is to force everyone to belong to their Church considered as the "one true Church" established by Jesus. This is, of course, impossible. We must be united in the face of diversity, united in our core beliefs, accepting of diversity.


Evangelism

Unity among fellow Christians is not the only mission of the Church; we must reach out to a lost and dying world as witnesses of truth, of Christ's love, of his gift of the gospel.

And Christians are not the only people who study the Church — others do: to mock it or to join it. They study the Church and so must we.

They mock our ignorance of church history and of development of doctrine.They mock our narrow-minded religious bigotry and ignorance. Because we neglect to study of the Church, they are repulsed by the results: hypocrisy, contradictions, fighting and arguing over the dumbest of questions.

You might object to my claim that the study of the Church is the antidote for all these problems. But with a little reflection it is easy to prove that ignorance about each other leads to conflict, while knowledge leads to understanding and peace — for those who seek such virtues.

Those who otherwise might have joined Christ's Church instead turn away because Christians-at-large can't discern truth. The Church is mockedby the culture-at-large (and rightly so) for its absurdities such as...

In sorting all this out, it is not enough to merely study the Bible — we must study the Church, and reflect on Christian truth. And, hence, my web site devoted to the topic.