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People or Place?

The word "church" has a number of meanings in popular usage. Some people think of it as a building, ranging from quite modest in size and appearance, to extremely large and ornate, in which people go to worship. Others regard it as the corporate entity that forms one of the hundreds of different denominations in the world today e.g. the Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church etc., or even all of them together. Others think of it as simply everyone who professes to follow Jesus Christ. And others regard it as some combination of the above. What does The Bible have to say about it?

Church Not A Christian Without The Holy Spirit

In the New Testament (see New Testament Fact File), church is the translation of the Greek word pronounced ek-klay-see-ah, meaning a gathering of those called, which is very appropriate because it's impossible to truly be a Christian without the Holy Spirit (see The Holy Spirit In Your Life):

"So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:11-14 RSV)

Not A Building

There is no specific mention in the Bible whereby church meant a building. It was later, in post-apostolic times, that the Greek word pronounced kuriakon came to be used to denote a place, i.e. "The Lord's House," and it is from that word that the English word "church" is believed to have been derived.

The "Churches"

While there are references to different "churches" in the New Testament, this term was used simply to describe the differences in location of groups of Christian people. It is virtually certain that, in the Bible, "church" never meant different denominations, with widely varied doctrines and teachings, such as we have today. Amazingly though, it seems that the seeds of division, and apostasy, had already been sown. In the words of the apostle Paul -

"God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I belong to Paul," [see Paul's Mirror] or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," [see Peter] or "I belong to Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? " (1 Corinthians 1:9-13 RSV)

The Church Cannot Be Destroyed

Perhaps the best clue as to the true meaning of church is that buildings can be destroyed, and corporations can be dissolved, but in referring to His Church, His called out ones, with Himself as The Rock Of Ages, Jesus Christ said, "on this Rock I will build My church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:18-19 RSV)

Fact Finder: Did Jesus Christ found the Christian church on Peter?
See Did Peter Have The Primacy?


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