What is a church?
According to Webster, a church is:
A building that is used for Christian religious services
The clergy or officialdom of a religious body
A body or organization of religious believers
A public divine worship
The clerical proffession
When we use the word church we’re usually referring to a building or an organization, definitions 1 and 3. When people blame the church for things they are referring more towards #2 or 5. Things like “I’m going to church” “that’s a beautiful old church” or “the church is having a fund raiser”. Or the negative side, “the church is judgmental”, “the church persecutes people”. These aren’t necessarily a misuse of the word, but it does distort people’s perception of what it really means. None of the world’s religions use the term “church” outside Christianity. Temples, Mosques and Synagogues serve much of the same purpose as places to practice the tenants of faith, but are considered holy places among Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews or any number of other religions.
As the facility manager for an Anglican Church, I take my job seriously. I want to maintain the highest of expectations as to the care and attention to detail, so it is welcoming to church members and accommodating for the work of the church. And though Christian facilities are to be respected for the work that they enable, they are just buildings. Property to be owned and maintained for the use of the Church, they aren’t sacred or holy. The Kingdom of Christ isn’t restricted to or centered on a location. The bible never refers to a building as a church.
Nowhere, even in the Old Testament do you see the word church mentioned, clarifying there is one Christian church and God gave his only son to and for the church. The first time the word is used is in Matthew 16:18 where Christ is quoted speaking to Peter, “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.” Jesus wasn’t saying he was beginning construction of a building on top of Peter, with walls and a moat designed to physically protect His followers from evil. Any reference to church you can find is referencing those joined together through faith in Christ. Faith in the Lord is our protection. The church as the bible uses it fits the 3rd and 4th definitions best.
In Paul’s letters he writes to the early members of the church. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 he says “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:” Galatians 1:2-3 “ and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:” Ephesians 1:22-23 “ and he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” From the perspective of the Father, all Christians are gathered as the bride of His only Son.
We can refer to a portion of the entire church as a church, so you do have churches. In Acts 15:41 Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” He’s referring to multiple separate gatherings of church members. Each group is equally the church as an individual gathering, but the purpose and mission is all under the singular authority of Christ. Paul was attending to the needs of the whole church by addressing the individual needs of a particular group. You can compare it to personal fitness in a way. You only have one body, but it’s made up of many parts, each require different things to grow and stay healthy.
There are many factions or denominations of Christians, but only one body of Christ. Every person who has faith in Jesus Christ is a member of his Church. Each of us are like a single cell of a greater being, each with our own function. Christians commonly refer to the church building as church, that doesn’t mean that’s what the building is, that is what the building is for.
Showing up at “church” every Sunday no more makes you a Christian than wearing a suit makes you a gentleman. The Church, as the Bible teaches us Is Christ’s body, it’s health is maintained by offering honor to God and sharing the gospel with everyone by teaching and example.
Every Christian should feel like a welcome guest and a gracious host when attending church. Honoring the Lord of Hosts who has brought us into his Kingdom, serving and attending to our fellow saints. Whether that be at a building specifically designed and used for worship and sharing the gospel, or simply engaging in a conversation regarding faith. Matthew 18:20 says “for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”. All in all, definition #3 fits pretty well.
As for definition #4; a public divine worship. We don’t check our Faith at the door when we leave, we are to be lights to the world. Matthew 5:16 “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”. How we behave when we are outside church as a gathering, says as much or more about our individual faith as when we are among other Christians. As members of the Body of Christ, we are to behave as such wherever we are. Showing up at “church” every Sunday no more makes you a Christian than wearing a suit makes you a gentleman. The Church, as the Bible teaches us Is Christ’s body, it’s health is maintained by offering honor to God and sharing the gospel with everyone by teaching and example.