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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

55 - What is Church?

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

1) Church is used a number of different ways in our society. Most of these are not what the bible calls church. Today we will be exploring the biblical concept of church and contrasting it to these societal norms as well as going deeper into some problems in the Christian faith today and some potential solutions for these.

2) Church – use in the common vernacular

a. Webster – Primarily a noun

i. 1 : a building for public and especially Christian worship

ii. 2 : the clergy or officialdom of a religious body

iii. 3 : often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers: such as

1. a: the whole body of Christians

2. b : DENOMINATION : the Presbyterian church, The Catholic Church, Wesleyans, etc.

3. c : CONGREGATION : they had appointed elders for them in every church

iv. 4 : a public divine worship

v. 5 : the clerical profession : considered the church as a possible career

b. Church - Adjective

i. 1 : of or relating to a church : church government, church people, church music

3) I suggest to you that only one of these meanings is the biblical meaning. That is the meaning of the whole body of Christian believers. So how did we get here:

a. The Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. A literal translation of ekklesia would be “a called-out assembly.”

b. Etymologically speaking, the word church means “house of the Lord.” The modern word church is a direct descendant of the Old English word cirice or circe. The first recorded use of the Old English word is from the thirteenth century, and it could refer to either a body of Christian believers or to the place where they gathered.

c. Going further back than Old English, the word church ultimately traces its origin to a Greek term, kūrikón, which was related to kurios, “lord.” The phrase kūrikón oikía meant “the Lord’s house.” In the Middle Ages, the Greek term for “house of worship” was shortened to kūrkón. And that’s the word that was loaned to West Germanic as kirika and eventually to Old English as cirice.

d. The early Quakers, as a matter of principle, refused to call the buildings where they met “churches,” since the biblical word church referred to people, not a building. The Quakers instead called a building designed for Christian worship a “steeplehouse.” That term is now archaic, as many church buildings no longer have a steeple.

4) If the church is the called out assembly what are they called out of?

a. The church is comprised of those called out of a life of servitude to the king of this world and into a life of servitude to the new King. King Jesus.

b. Bob Dylan (who I believe is, or at least was, a convert to Christianity) famously said, you’re gonna serve somebody. Everyone is in service to a king, whether that is actually a religious system or a philosophical system like wokeism or communism, everyone serves something.

5) The “Local” church

a. In the New Testament we don’t see any churches like what we have today.

b. The new testament refers to the body of Christ as the church

i. Matthew 16:18 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.

1. This is not the Catholic Church

2. Petros is the common word for Rock.

3. Peters declaration two verses prior was “Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

c. One Body

i. Romans 12:4-5 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

ii. 1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

iii. 1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.

iv. 1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

v. 1 Corinthians 3:17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

vi. 1 Corinthians 12:12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.

vii. 1 Corinthians 12:12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

viii. 1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

ix. 1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

x. Ephesians 2:19-22 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

xi. Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call

xii. Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

xiii. Timothy 3:15 If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

xiv. 1 Peter 2:5 You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

6) Headed by Jesus

i. Ephesians 1:22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

ii. Ephesians 5:22-23 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

iii. Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

iv. Hebrews 3:6 But Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

7) Separate Congregations

a. Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

b. 1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,

c. 1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

8) Purpose

a. Object of Jesus’ Love:

i. Ephesians 5:25-26 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.

b. Testimony of His Glory:

i. Ephesians 3:10 So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

ii. Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

c. Exhorting:

i. Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

d. Fellowship & Worship

i. Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

ii. Acts 2:46-47 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

iii. Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

iv. 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

v. Ephesians 5:18-20 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.

vi. 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

e. Teaching

i. Matthew 18:17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

ii. Acts 11:25-26 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

iii. 1 Corinthians 14:19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

iv. Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

v. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

vi. 2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

f. Edification & Ministration

i. Acts 9:31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

ii. Acts 12:5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

iii. Ephesians 4:12 To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

iv. Ephesians 4:16 From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

v. Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

vi. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

vii. James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

viii. Jude 1:20-21 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

g. Evangelism is not a purpose of the church in the Bible

i. Some churches appear to think their main purpose is the evangelism and outreach to the community around them. This is not a purpose of the church according to the New Testament model

9) Governance & Offices

a. Gifts

i. 1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

ii. Ephesians 4:11-13 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

iii. Poimen = Shepherd

b. Deacons

i. John 12:26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

ii. Acts 6:1-6 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

iii. Romans 16:1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea

iv. 1 Timothy 3:9-13 8 Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, 9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. 10 But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. 11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

v. Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

c. Elders

i. Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

ii. Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

iii. Titus 1:5-9 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you--6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.

iv. Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

v. 1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

vi. 1 Timothy 3:2 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

vii. 1 Timothy 5:17-19 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.

viii. 1 Peter 5:2-4 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

ix. 1 Peter 5:14 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

x. Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

xi. James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

10) Format – There is no approved format to church in the Bible. There are exhortations to worship communally, to teach, to fellowship and the practice communion.

11) How did we get here?

a. When the church began to be a formal organization which transformed into Catholicism under the teaching of Augustine, it became a top-down organization much like a modern corporation.

b. When the reformation came, some of the more offensive doctrines were shed but the organizational structure with it’s approvals or disapprovals of doctrinal behaviors and belief sets was not changed.

12) Problems in today’s church

a. Denominationalism

i. Infighting is a bad witness to the world.

b. Many churches are too large

i. Professionalization of the clergy

1. I can’t imagine being given the opportunity to teach and shepherd others and then asking “How much does it pay?”

2. I believe in a supported ministry but even Paul was bi-vocational, making his living as a tentmaker so that no one could accuse him of being in it for the money. See Acts 18:3

3. Paul says he preaches to the Corinthians free of charge, receiving his support from other churches - 2 Corinthians 11:7-9

4. Paul says he has the right to be paid and to gain for his work but have not used that right so as to not hinder the gospel.

5. We’ve abandoned the priesthood of all believers in favor of an expert clergy

a. People want to look to an authority figure who they consider experts instead of to their bibles and the Holy Spirit. My friend Van calls this the person who “wears the priestly robes”

b. We’ve become convinced that the only people who know the bible and the gospel are those with a formal theological education.

c. Once upon a time the Bible was scarce. There were no printing presses. The bible was hand copied and there would often be only one copy in an area. It was literally chained to the pulpit of the church. Copies were in Latin which was not the local vernacular language. Because of this an expert who could at least read Latin was needed.

d. The reformation was largely the result of the printing press and the bible being translated into the vernacular languages so that the masses could access it.

e. The professional clergy is a holdover from this but was never the biblical model.

ii. Pastors who aren’t shepherds because they can’t be.

1. No man can shepherd even 100 families. It’s simply impossible to know that many families with a sufficient level of intimacy.

2. A shepherd would know the sheep and know what’s going on with them, monitoring their health and provided what is needed. A shepherd is one who ensures nutrition, cares for any maladies and keeps the sheep on the path. No one can do this with 100 famlies.

3. Various men would have varying capacities. For one called to be an elder, they should also be called to understand and know their own capacities.

iii. Celebrity pastors

1. Many of these churches become cults of personality.

2. People are invited with a “you gotta hear this guy” invitation. The pastors main gift in this case is oratory, not shepherding. The better the orator, the bigger the crowd and the more impossible it is to be a shepherd.

iv. Creates a lack of community.

1. Any church that is large enough for people to be anonymous or overlooked is too large. Most large churches are not a community, rather they become a collection of cliques.

v. Misuse of the Lord’s resources

1. God has authorized two uses for money in the church.

a. The care and feeding of the poor and widows

i. 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

ii. 1 John 3:17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

iii. James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

b. The spreading of the Gospel

i. 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. 9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.

ii. Phil 4:15-18 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I [g]have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

iii. 1 Corinthians 9:14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

iv. 2 Corinthians 9:7-8 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.

c. Church buildings and pastors’ salaries are not an authorized expense.

i. There were no church buildings until the 4th century when Constantine lifted persecution from the Church. The church thrived anyway and had pastors, elders, and explosive growth.

ii. The previous verse says no one should give “of necessity”. As soon as a commitment is made to lands, buildings or salaries, the “necessity” begins.

iii. George Barna and his group Barna Research have built entire formulas for church growth. For example, there is a formula for what percentage of seating capacity utilized is optimal for growth. If it’s too full, people don’t like being that close to others and if it’s too empty with a room that’s too large, people wonder what’s wrong. There is a right number of parking spaces that should be available to maximize church growth and too few or too many will impede growth. All of this misses the point.

vi. Rock Concert atmosphere.

1. Many professional musicians who are gifted performers who aren’t sold out to Jesus.

2. There is little separation between these worship services and the secular world.

c. The church becomes primarily about it’s own growth

13) Can anything be done about this?

a. I only have one idea. Community based church that abandons denominational distinctions and buildings.

b. There are no denominational distinctions that separate believers in persecuted countries like Qatar and China.

c. Map of your neighborhood or subdivision or your part of town.


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