The Church (Revised again)
“The Church” is the world-wide gathering of individuals who acknowledge that Jesus is “LORD”, God in human flesh, repent of their sins as they accept by faith God’s forgiving grace through the sacrifice of Jesus upon a Cross, and who commit themselves to live in a personal relationship of obedience and service with their risen Savior, Jesus, in an effort to glorify God, the one almighty creator of the universe.
“The Church” is not to be completely identified with any particular denomination, historic religious movement, or living group of people. “The Church” is Jesus’ “body” in the world (see Colossians 1:18, 24), and Jesus is the “head” of this organism (see Colossians 1:18, 2:19).
No gathering of individual believers anywhere in the world, even if they are identified as “Christians”, can be identified as “the Church”, because no such gathering would be completely pure and free from demonic heresies and accepted personal sins that negate the Lordship of Jesus and his authority as “head” of “the Church”.
Relationship of “the Church” to church buildings
Since “the Church” is a gathering of individuals, it should not be identified with any particular building or buildings anywhere in the world. “the Church” is not a facility for worship, learning the Christian faith, fellowship among believers, social services to a neighborhood or community, or even ministries of evangelism to non-believers.
It should be obvious from decades of viewing the evangelistic ministries of Billy Graham and the study of church history that real ministries of worship and evangelistic preaching of God’s word can be conducted in all kinds of stadiums, athletic fields, halls, coliseums and even in ordinary houses. Many groups of Christian believers start their congregations by meeting in schools or other public halls. The Willow Creek Community Church of Barrington, Illinois was started by Bill Hybels in a movie theater. I personally began my preaching ministry in a neighborhood Christian center that conducted its ministries out of a house. No temple, cathedral, or religious facility as big as or as beautiful as it might be can contain “the Church” of Jesus Christ!
“A church” is a gathering of Christians in a local facility in which they can congregate to praise God and to serve him as an organized body of believers in the Lordship of Jesus. They gather regularly at various times to conduct services of worship and to develop and to implement other services of education and training and mutual encouragement in Christian living, stewardship of their personal and corporate physical resources, evangelistic appeals to non-believers, and particular practical programs to meet various personal needs of their “neighbors”. These gatherings are usually open to the public, and visitors may join them to share in their friendly fellowship, helpful teachings, encouraging counsel, and the benefits of their various practical programs of social services. There are usually no fees or charges that “visitors” must pay to such “a church” for any of these “services”, because they are provided by the freely given financial donations of individual “members” of such local bodies of believers and their committed friends. The local facility in which such “a church” gathers will be designed, constructed, equipped, and funded in accord with the particular detailed features of the various services for which God has called the local body of believers to congregate. Such a facility may be a relatively small and simple structure with different rooms for different functions of service for a relatively small congregation of local “members” and a few expected “visitors” or it might be a rather large extensive facility with many rooms and expensive special equipment that enables the “members” to serve an audience that is much bigger and more dispersed than just would be available from the local neighborhood or community of the congregation. Such “a church” may be part of an established denomination of similarly believing Christians or it may be independent in its basic relationships with other Christian congregations. It will probably have its own constitution that states the rules under which it is organized and by which it conducts its various services. Normally such “a church” will be administered by a board that governs all of its operations, including the employment of its pastor and paid staff. Various committees will usually be appointed by the members to implement and manage the services of such “a church” in accord with the congregation’s constitution. Since such committees are usually given to talking about their particular services without much direct action in implementing them, it would probably be more practically effective to have each of these services designed and implemented and regularly managed by a team of individuals who are personally committed to doing his or her best to make sure that the objectives of the serving team are accomplished in cooperative efforts with the staff and enlisted volunteer workers from the membership of the congregation. No gathering of such “a church” will ever be pure enough or effective enough in its services to be considered to be recognized by God and the Lord Jesus as “the Church”.
Value of going to a church building
Nothing of eternal value can be gained just by going to a building that has been labeled “a church”, even if most of the people there call themselves “Christians”. If Jesus is not the “head” of that congregation or gathering of people, if they are not seeking to serve him and bring glory to God through the Holy Spirit then it is not a place where one could easily expect to receive a blessing from God. God can deliver his blessings anywhere, in any circumstances, but they will only be received in a personal relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, which is most dynamically present in “the Church”.
Sharing in the fellowship and work of a congregation by attending its services and programs in a church building can be beneficial if they bring you into a relationship with God. Worshiping with other individuals who are singing praises to God and giving their attention to the preaching of His Word week after week can generate and strengthen one’s relationship with God. Such worship can even enable a person to hear God’s call to accept his grace in his Son, Jesus, in order to receive God’s forgiveness and transforming power.
Participating in small groups, Sunday School classes, and other gatherings for the study of the Bible can help a person grow in his/her understanding of God’s word and its application in one’s life. Serving with others in various ministries through a congregation’s boards, committees, and teams can bring glory to God and strengthen one’s personal faith by enabling him/her to effectively use his/her personal gifts.
Sharing in genuine loving fellowship and friendships week-by-week with others can be very helpful and encouraging as one seeks to the cope with the trials and tribulations of life. It is not easy to be a part of “the Church”, the “body of Christ”, by one’s self. Even when Paul was in prison for his faith in Jesus, he was in contact with various believing friends, assistants, and congregations from whom he received gifts to help meet his personal needs and words of encouragement in his days of stress and discomfort. (see Philippians 1:3, 7; 2:17, 22, 25–27; 4:10, 14–16)
Joining a church
As you attend various churches and get acquainted with different congregations of believers, you may be invited to “join” “a church”. This usually involves making a personal and public decision to identify yourself as a committed believer in Jesus and a dedicated member of the particular congregation. Different congregations and denominations have different procedures and rules for doing this, but they all result in getting your name on the membership list of “a church”.
If you choose to do this, it is best to follow the congregation’s established rules and procedures. It some cases it may be very easy and quick, and it other cases it may be more difficult and time consuming. In any case it is well to understand that having your name on the membership list of “a church” does not entitle you to get into heaven. It is not the same as living in a vital personal relationship with Jesus who is the “head” of “the Church”, which is his “body” in the world.
Participating in the life of “the Church”
God’s blessing of eternal life and his forgiveness of your sins only come if you are a part of Jesus’ “body”, “the Church”. As you participate in the life of this “body”, experience direct connections with other “members” of this “body”, receive the transforming and energizing power of God’s Spirit flowing through you, and do your work to enable the “body” to serve and to glorify God you will receive many of God’s good blessings. In such a dangerous, chaotic, and confused world as ours, there is no better place, relationship to be, than in “the Church”!
The relationship of Church and State
It is not a necessary part of Christian doctrine or the practice of Church rituals to make the Church a part of the State, the established form of civil government in any location. Although this has been done and is being done in some parts of the world, it often doesn’t work very well. Sincere Christian believers are seldom converted and made into children of God through the application of State laws. Most Christians do not seek to use State laws to force their faith upon anyone else. Some laws of the Bible regarding morality and personal behavior are generally recognized as being basically good for all citizens everywhere, but these are commonly adopted and applied in accord with civic practices and not in accord with the practice of any religious faith. There may be ongoing discussions regarding some of these laws from time to time in any society, for example in regard to the practice of same-sex marriages and abortions, but nevertheless the principle that Christians do not seek to force their faith upon others by civil law still stands.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution includes these words that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,....” The term “religion” is not defined in this statement or in the Constitution, and the term “Church” is not used as a reference to its “establishment”. Although this Amendment has been discussed and interpreted as a statement that establishes the “separation of church and state” this phrase is not a part of the Amendment. This phrase and its application in public life and civic matters has been extensively debated in our social and religious institutions, and it has been interpreted by various courts throughout the United States. Such discussions and court cases are a constant reminder of the complex challenge of this matter. It should be clear from a simple reading of the Amendment that it is intended to enable citizens of the United States to be free to practice their personal religions without any interferring laws of the State. This Amendment does not set up a dividing wall of influence between the Church and the State. The members of various religious congregations, including those in the Church, should still be free to practice the rituals of their faiths and to speak to each other and their civic representatives as they choose to do so as long as what they are saying and doing respects the rights of others for public order and safety.
The ministries of religious people generally benefit the common good of all the citizens of any nation, as long as they are not abusive to human beings or violently forced upon others. And the civil laws of the State also generally benefit the common good of all of its citizens when it allows for the free expression of religion among them. This does not mean that all religions are equally valid before God, but only that the practice of religion has some practical benefits for a society of people and the civic authorities would do well to allow for it. Christian members of “the Church” need not seek to establish the benefits of their faith by civic laws. The benefits of Christian faith and “the Church” are probably most attractive when they are free from civic laws of the State and even religious laws!
If you would like to belong to “the Church” and live “in Jesus” where you can receive the transforming and energizing power of the Holy Spirit, a guide for doing this is available in this statement on this website: “The Plan of Salvation”. If you want a more complete description of the process of “salvation” and “redemption”, read this statement: “God’s work of redemption” on this website.