When people typically think of church, they think about a building, pastor, pulpit, church members, and a weekly meeting. Sadly, this is what the definition of a church has become. Even Merriam-Webster defines the word church as “a building for public and especially Christian worship.” This definition, though a commonly used one, is sadly not biblical.
Church – What Is It?
In the New Testament, the original Greek word for church is ekklésia. It means those who are “called out of the world to God.” To the Greeks it meant an assembly of people.*
There are two primary metaphors used in the New Testament to describe the church.
These are 1) the Body of Christ and 2) the Family of God. When the church functions as a body and a family, it begins to look like what the Bible describes as a church.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
The church is made up of people contribution different gifts.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV
In many “churches” only a few special people use their gifts. A highly trained and exceptionally gifted person speaks, professional musicians perform, lighting specialists do their thing…this is what “the church” has become. Many people attend and are entertained, but have no opportunity to use or develop their spiritual gifts. Often, there is little or no discipleship.
The body doesn’t function well in these settings unless there is a major emphasis on home groups in addition to these large gatherings. I’d contend that those home groups are actually where “church” happens if they exist.
In house churches, it is more natural for everyone’s disciples’ gifts to develop. Even in house churches, however, we need to be intentional about giving everyone a chance to participate in order for the body to function effectively.
THE FAMILY OF GOD
The other common metaphor of the church is that of a family. Often in the New Testament, we hear believers refer to one another as brother or sister. Paul addresses Timothy as his son in the faith (1 Tim. 1:2). Peter speaks of the importance of love in the family of believers – in the churches.
“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 1 Pet. 2:17 NIV
When people come to Christ, they enter into a new family- the family of God. Our churches need to be a place where a sense of family is felt. Family relationships are different from other types of relationships. The level of loyalty and commitment to one another is much greater in a family than in a workplace for example. In my house, written on my wall, I have the saying “Family is forever“.
How can we cultivate a feeling of family in the church? This is hard to do when the church is only a meeting that takes place every week. Relationships in the church must go deeper than this. This means meeting more than just on Sunday mornings, it means being a part of each others’ lives. It means serving one another, being there for each other in times of difficulty, giving to each other.
The churches in the book of Acts had this high level of relational commitment. In locations with intense persecution, this often happens more than in other places. It need not take persecution though to make us realize the importance of deeper relationships.
As mentioned before, in house churches this comes more naturally than in building churches. Yet, as with the first point about functioning as a body, being a family requires an intentional effort. What can we do to help develop a sense of “family” in our church? How can we help people to know each other better and serve one another more?
If our churches look like bodies and families, we are getting closer to functioning – in the biblical sense – as a church.
In What Makes A Church A Church – Part 2, we will look at some of the necessary functions of the church as described in the New Testament.