What Is Church? – Part 1

This article is taken from notes made in preparation for a recent Bible study with the same title.

Around about a year ago I began to question some basic things about what we, as Christians, actually do. These questions arose because I looked at the book of Acts (which describes what the apostles and disciples of Jesus actually did) and couldn’t find a single reason for us not being able to do the same things that they did.

Many will argue that ‘it’s not time…’ or ‘when God is ready He will pour out His Spirit’. But actually these are merely diaphanous excuses for our lack of actual doing stuff. Yes, we do need the Holy Spirit to help us but the principle was a simple one…just get on with it and signs and wonders will follow.

This got me to thinking. And inevitably to doing some research. I found that I wasn’t alone. In fact I found that what I had thought to be my own over-analytical mind working overtime was in fact the same as many had been experiencing. A stirring. A craving for something more than the same old routine of Chatter/Opening Song/Awkward Greeting/Three More Songs (with offering and/or communion rolled in)/Sermon/Closing Song with Prayer for sick and lost each and every Sunday. I simply couldn’t believe that this is what the 1st Century Christians did. There had to be more.

I read a book by the Fuel Project called ‘The Restless Church’. It is an anointed work. Deconstructionist in nature, it dismantles what we do, explains what the 1st Century Church did and points us back in the right direction. The trouble is that when you start putting stuff like this in front of your pastor you become regarded as a trouble maker. So be careful…

The basic principle of The Restless Church is that we are doing is inside-out. We should be going out into the world but instead we use our buildings to try to lure people in. That’s not what the Bible teaches. So, the most basic question, assuming that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet in so much as agreeing on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the single act by which men and women are saved, has to be ‘What Is Church?’

Now, as the New Testament was written in Greek we will have to do a little study first, just to make sure that what is being said is absolutely true. The internet is packed out with half-baked, ill-researched ideas that serve no useful purposes save for the edifying the writer’s ego.

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, which focuses entirely upon the King James version of the Bible, there are 76 entries for the word ‘church’ and 37 for the word ‘churches’. In every instance for both the singular and the plural, the word ‘ekklesia‘ is used. ‘Ekklesia‘ appears to be formed from two separate words (‘ek‘ denoting a place of origin or starting point and ‘kaleo‘ which means to call) which literally mean to be called out from. This description, I feel, is in line with the notion that Christians are in fact called out from the world to be apart from the world. Rightly it was used then to describe a group of Christians or followers of Christ…But NEVER a building.

The notion of the building being the church probably originates in an old English word (possibly German) ‘kirk’ which is (possibly) translated from the Greek word ‘kuriakon’ meaning the Lord’s house. See the confusion?

J.E. Church (yes that’s his real name!) in his magnificent handbook ‘Every Man a Bible Student’ offers an excellent description of what is truly meant when we refer to church:

“So the true church consists of all those who since the time of Pentecost have been born again and have come out of the bondage of Satan, and become followers of Christ.” [Every Man a Bible Student p117]

Therefore, from here onwards when I write church I am not talking of a building where people who follow Jesus meet but instead of the people themselves.

So, now that we agree (hopefully) that each and every time the word church is mentioned in the New Testament its meaning was people who follow Christ rather than a pile of stone, let us look at what Jesus had to say on the subject:

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:18 NKJV]

This verse should be read in context in order to understand exactly why and what Jesus was saying to Simon Peter. Read from verse 13 through to 20. The word church only appears three times in the gospels and exclusively in Matthew.

What do we learn from this passage? Firstly, that the revelation of who Jesus actually is only comes via the Holy Spirit. You can tell people about Jesus until you are blue in the face but unless the Holy Spirit convicts them your words remain just that. Secondly, that the name of Peter was given to Simon by Jesus. We don’t know why He did this exactly but I believe that it was part prophetic because of the context of what Jesus is saying to him. Of course, as many will know, the Greek word for Peter is Petros which means rock or stone.

Let’s break the verse down…

You are now called Peter or rock…You are the rock upon which I (yes! Jesus is the builder, not us. See Zechariah 4:6) intend to build…the foundation (see Revelation 21 The New Jerusalem)…of MY church (yes! the church or people belong to Jesus!)…and the gates of Hell shall not prevail (be allowed to have influence over) against it (MY church or people)…

Now, when you put it like that…The church, or the followers of Jesus, not only belong to Him and no one else but Hell itself can have no right of influence over them because…

Because Peter listened to the Holy Spirit and NOT to flesh and blood for his revelation of who Jesus actually was.

This then is also our challenge. To listen to the Holy Spirit and not to men for our revelation of who Jesus truly is and when we do, no device or desire coming from Hell itself will be able to have an influence over us.

What is becoming clear is that when Jesus spoke of building His church He wasn’t talking of some visible structure made from rock and stone, but rather something invisible build on and with spiritual rock and stone.

Now, to reemphasise the notion of church being the people rather than the buildings in which the people met let us turn to Acts chapter 2, where it really started to grow. Read the whole chapter, carefully. Take note of the differences between then and now. God was adding to their number in direct response to their revelation of Him, in just that same way that Peter’s revelation of Jesus led to the Christ choosing him as foundation stone. They all lived together, shared everything, met the needs of each other all because of their own revelation of Jesus. God responded with signs and wonders and strengthening their numbers on a daily basis. I believe that is still available to us today. In fact I am certain that it is exactly what God expects from us. But how the disciples achieved this love for each other is the real key to unlocking the blessing of God.

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” [Acts 2:1 NKJV]

It is the phrase ‘with one accord’ that I wish to focus on as we end this first session. It comes from a Greek word ‘homothumadon’ which means harmony that leads to action. There they were, all gathered together in the same place, waiting the promised Holy Spirit, not knowing what to expect only knowing they had to wait…and some how they found agreement enough for it to be called harmony. And not only harmony but one that leads to action. Today, what we call church, is famed for division and not harmony. If we want to see signs and wonders and revival we will have to firstly agree.

In Part 2 we will look at how the early church functioned on a day to day basis. In the meantime, be blessed.

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