I love the local church with all of my heart and always will. However, this wasn’t always the case. Before I was a Christian, church was one of the last places on earth that I wanted to be. Like many people, I thought church was boring, dry, stuffy, and irrelevant to my life. In a book entitled They like Jesus but Not the Church, author Dan Kimball addresses some people’s negative views toward the church. Sadly, the book is right about many people’s attitudes toward the church.
In an article entitled “The Church—Why Bother?,” Christianity Today Senior Writer Tim Stafford says, “A living, breathing congregation is the only place to live in a healthy relationship to God. That is because it is the only place on earth where Jesus has chosen to dwell.” The church is God’s plan for spiritual growth, there is no backup plan. Therefore, it is more important than ever before to rediscover the great and beautiful gift of the church.
The Church Is the Body of Christ
A common misconception that many people have about the church is that it is a building or an organization. This wasn’t always the case. Slowly over time, people’s concept of church shifted from being the people who gather together in the name of Jesus to simply being a building that sits empty six days a week and is used on Sunday mornings.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Nowhere in the New Testament does the word church refer to a building. In fact, there were no church buildings until three hundred years after the time of Christ, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
We need to rethink being the church in biblical terms. A closer look reveals that the Old and New Testaments are based on an organic worldview that uses various organic metaphors, such as sowing and reaping (John 4:37, 2 Cor. 9:6), planting and watering (1 Cor. 3:6), growing (1 Pt. 2:2, 2 Pt. 3:18), and bearing fruit (Mt. 7:17-20, John 15:1-16, Gal. 5:22), to describe spiritual growth. We must get back to an organic understanding of what it means to be the church because, as with all living organisms, the church is a living and breathing thing.
One of the best ways to understand the nature of the church is by using the Biblical metaphor of the church as the body of Christ. The church is the body of Christ, and Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. The apostle Paul talks about the whole body as a distinct metaphor for Christ’s church, where every member and part has an important role to play in the whole (1 Cor. 12:12-27, Eph. 4).
Just as the physical body has to have an organic structure to hold it together while allowing it to grow and develop, the body of Christ has an organic structure where each part does its part. If one member of the body is out of place or is not working, the rest of the body suffers as a result.
The Church is a Family
Another Biblical metaphor for the church is a spiritual family. The Bible uses terms such as sister, brother, mother, father, bride, and husband to refer to the relational nature of the Christian faith. As believers, we are spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. I have a good friend named Brad who always calls me his “brother from another mother.” What he really means is we are brothers in Christ despite being from different parents and living in different states.
The Church is “Catholic”
The Apostle’s Creed says that the church is catholic. You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, you’re not Catholic are you?” The word catholic actually does not specifically refer to the Catholic Church of Rome.
Instead the word catholic simply means universal and refers to the universal nature of the church. Paul reminds us, “There is one body, one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-5). This means there is only one true church, and it is made up of all true believers in Jesus Christ.
The universal nature of the church is a beautiful mystery and a profound truth of the Christian faith. Think about it for a minute. The church is universally made up of all true believers from every time, place, and part of the world. The church transcends our geographical and linguistic boundaries. Our God is a global God. Pastor and writer John Stott reminds us, “We need to become global Christians with a global vision because we have a global God.”
The Christian faith spans around the world and is made up of millions of men and women who live in hundreds of countries and who speak thousands of different languages. We are deeply connected to other believers from around the world. You and I may never meet or travel to see these believers, but we are still a part of the same great family and body of Christ. I have brothers and sisters who live in Africa, China, and Russia. You do too.
The Church is Local
Every believer should be a part of a local church because the church universal is also made up of local congregations of believers who gather together in the name of Jesus Christ to worship, grow, and live out the message of faith together. Dating as far back as the time of the New Testament, there were different local churches throughout Middle Eastern cities such as Ephesus, Galatia, Corinth, and Philippi. Many of these early churches were small in size and meet in homes due to widespread persecution.
Today, there are many different kinds and expressions of the local church. For instance, some churches have buildings while others meet in homes. Some churches meet in bowling alleys, funeral homes, YMCA’s, and schools; some even meet outdoors. Some churches are Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian, or nondenominational. Some churches are traditional, some are contemporary. Some are home fellowships. The list goes on and on.
A commonality is that each local congregation of believers is gathered in a local expression of being the church wherever they are. The church in Africa looks different than the church in Texas because each one is called to be the church in its unique context and culture.
One of the best experiences of my life was spending a summer travelling across the countryside of Peru. I was able to visit and worship with dozens of different churches throughout the country. Some of them were in cities. Others were in jungles. And some others were in the Andes Mountains. Each of the churches was a little different. However, they all had one thing in common: they worshiped Jesus Christ. Take a moment and think about some of the things that make your local church unique.
Dr. Winfield Bevins serves as the Director of Asbury Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative. He has a passion for equipping others to spread the gospel in their own context. As a seasoned practitioner, he has used his experience to train leaders from diverse backgrounds on three different continents. He is the author of several books, including Plant: A Sower’s Guide to Church Planting. You can find out more about him at his website winfieldbevins.com.