What is a Church?
When looking into what is a church the first thing you need to understand is that the Local Church is precious to Jesus.
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
Yes Jesus primarily died for the souls of men. But theologically He did for several other things as well. One of them is for the Church. He died so the church could be established, and empowered. Christ loved the church enough to die for it. Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. That is a lot of love.
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jesus loves the Church. It is precious to Him. And He is very interested in the work of and what goes on in His Local Churches.
That brings the question what is a Church?
A Church is local and visible.
A church is a group of called out baptized believers. When Jesus walked the earth He called men out of the world to follow Him. Mat 4:18-22. And He is still doing it today.
When a person is saved and baptized they are then added to a local church.
Act 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
And God is very interested and involved in adding people to a Church.
Act 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
So far pretty basic stuff. This next part is where some people go wrong. They will take a few places where the Bible says church singular and come up with the idea of a universal invisible church. For example the verses that we just used from early in the book of Acts.
However, at that time there was only one Church. The Church at Jerusalem. Let’s look at how the Bible talks about Churches after the Christians spread out to more places than Jerusalem.
Act 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. Plural.
Act 9:31 Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
Churches plural. There was no longer one church. The Church at Jerusalem. Now there is the Church at Antioch, the Church at Ephesus, The Church at Corinth, and so on.
The Bible refers to each one as an individual Local Church. In Revelation He holds each Local Church responsible for their individual faults. That could not be true if the Church was universal.
Another place where people make the mistake of thinking there is a universal invisible Church is in the book of Hebrews. Heb_12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
If you look at the verse before that you will see it is referring to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Which is a time yet to come. When that happens, then we will all be assembled together. A unified single assembly. At that time we will all be a part of the same local Church. It will be local in heaven. But until then all Christians are not in the same universal invisible Church. Until then we are members of a local Church.
Why would some like to believe in an invisible universal Church? For some people it lets them avoid accountability, responsibility, and involvement. It lets them not be concerned with all the suggestions and commands to Christians concerning the Church. The fact that the Church is local does have implications.
The purpose of the Local Church
It is the vehicle to reach the world. The local Church is precious. He died for the Church, He adds to the Church, He empowers the witness and work of His Churches. It should not be very hard to see how much He cares for His work and the Church He commissioned to carry it out.
Mat 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Mat 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Make no mistake. The work that He gave us to do is very important to Jesus.
One of the main purposes of the Church is so Jesus might have preeminence in all things.
Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
If you take out the parenthetical information, you have this.
Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Jesus is to have the preeminence. That is He is to be put first. Above all things. A practical way this is done is in the Church. When you go to worship Him when it is inconvenient, you are giving Him preeminence. When you go and your flesh does not feel like it, you are giving Him first place. When you keep going even though someone looked at you wrong. You are putting Him above the problem. Jesus is being put first. He is getting preeminence. And He is supposed to have it in all things. It says that in all things he might have the preeminence. Might have. That means that just because there is a church, preeminence is not guaranteed. The people have a choice to give Him preeminence or not. When you are hurting, or depressed you have the choice to give Him preeminence.
How about when you have sickness. I am talking long term serious illness. You have a choice to give Him preeminence or not. The church gives you a practical way to do that. When you keep going, keep worshiping, keep doing what you are supposed to in the Church, you are in a very visible, practical way, giving Jesus first place.
To bring glory to God
Eph 3:21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
When the work goes forward, God is glorified. When lives are changed, God is glorified. When Sin is forsaken, when hearts are healed, when forgiveness is given, when love is shown between us, God is glorified. The Church is a vital part of God’s plan
The Local Church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth.
1Ti 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
If the Church does not stand for the truth, who will? The Church is to stand against error, and wickedness. It is to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Even when that truth is contrary to the culture in which we live.
To edify believers
2Co_12:19 Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.
Eph_4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
To edify is to build up. That would include building up knowledge. It would include building up your faith. I believe it would also include building people up into more useful servants to the Lord.
Heb_10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
The members of the Church are to encourage others to walk the walk. To exercise love and to do; not just hear it. This is one of the purposes of the Local assembly.
To provide fellowship
Act 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Rom_12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. That is much easier to obey if you have people you know and see every week in a local Church.
I believe one of the reasons that God established the institution of the Local Church is because He is all-knowing, and He knew that we need it. Some will reject God’s plan of the Local Church and instead of supporting it, they will go the TV Preacher route. Good luck getting him to visit you in the hospital. Or shedding a tear for you when you are hurting, or rejoicing with you when you have a spiritual victory. We need close fellowship and support of other believers.
Mat 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Mat 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
These are by no means all the purposes of the Local Church. Just a quick summary of some of the top ones.
The Church is very important. This is why we are told not to forsake it.
Heb 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
God knows that we need the help, the edifying, and the support of a local Church. We need the Church for a practical way to serve Him, to bring Him glory, and give Him the preeminence. So for our own good, as well as for the good of others, he commands us in His Word to not forsake the assembly.