What Is The Church?

Lesson 10, Introduction

Introduction

“…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”— Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18)

What are the roots, the history, of the Church? What sets apart people whom God calls His own? How does God use the Church to achieve His purposes? What does the Church do for you, and what should its members do for the Church? How can you be part of what God is doing through His Church?

Jesus Christ established His Church and gave it a mission. The Scriptures indicate He intended it to be a warm and loving fellowship of His faithful disciples, a source of strength and purpose for them.

Yet most people see the Church as playing little or no role in their everyday lives. To many even the concept seems antiquated. The very word churchcarries, for some, a distasteful connotation.

For others church conjures up images of quaint country buildings with steeples and crosses, or maybe massive medieval cathedrals in the heart of Europe. When they think church, they think of a place for worship services.

An excellent example is the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. It represents, for many, the essence of the meaning of church . Begun in 1163, its construction continued through several lifetimes until 1345. Its 115-foot soaring interior, flying buttresses and great rose windows obviously were all designed for otherworldly purposes.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that the cathedral “is situated on a spot that Parisians have always reserved to the practice of religious rites” and “was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, which were themselves predated by a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter” (Internet edition, “Paris,” “Notre-Dame de Paris”).

This is not an unusual practice. Throughout history people have ascribed religious significance to places and buildings where they, and often their ancestors, felt closer to God or to the god or gods they worshiped. Church buildings, cathedrals, temples, altars and shrines have long been the focal point of worship.

Like the faith it represents, the cathedral of Notre-Dame it has suffered through the centuries. Britannica explains: “After being damaged during the French Revolution, the church was sold at auction to a building-materials merchant. Napoleon came to power in time to annul the sale, and he ordered that the edifice be redecorated for his coronation as emperor in 1804” (“Notre-Dame de Paris”).

The ravages of time and disbelief have not been so kind to many other great European cathedrals. Shrinking church attendance throughout most of Europe has, in recent times, raised the question as to what to do with enormous church edifices that are no longer used enough to justify the high costs of their maintenance.

Is a church building that is no longer used for church services still a church? An even more important question: What does the Bible mean when it talks about the Church?

10-church-interior.jpg

For many people church conjures up images of quaint country buildings with steeples and crosses, or maybe massive medieval cathedrals in the heart of Europe. 

When the New Testament talks about the Church, it speaks of an assembly of people.

In the Bible the word church is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia , meaning “a calling out.” It never refers to a building or meeting place, but always to people, the ones “called out” of the world’s society by God calling them into His service. The Church of the Bible is not a cold, stone building, but a group of warm and loving people specially chosen by God.

In the Scriptures church can refer to the group of believers in a particular location, such as a city or region, or to the entire body of believers God has called.

So a building with no worshipers cannot really be a church in the biblical sense. The New Testament Church is a group of people called out of this world’s society by God, even if they meet in a rented hall or on a grassy hillside. For example, the apostle Paul greeted the church—the congregation of people—that met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila in Rome (Romans 16:3-5).

What are the roots, the history, of the Church? What sets apart people whom God calls His own? How does God use the Church to achieve His purposes? What does the Church do for us, and what should its members do for the Church? How can we be part of what God is doing through His Church?

When Jesus said, “… I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), He was saying the Church—His chosen people—would not die out. It would be alive-a warm and caring body of believers striving to serve God, do His work and support each other. Today, with so many conflicting doctrines and practices, how can we recognize the Church Jesus built?

In this lesson let’s learn what the Bible teaches about God’s Church and what it means for us.

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