What Is the Church?
Jesus established the Church "to prepare God's people
for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up"
(Ephesians 4:12). We are to know and be sure of what we believe, and be
mature in it (Ephesians 4:13). Our continual temporal
responsibility is to "grow up" in the faith (Ephesians 4:15), and
"build up" each other (Ephesians 4:16). We are built up
through the equipping and the encouragement of our fellow
The whole purpose of church members meeting together is to give
encouragement to each other (Hebrews 10:25). It is the
encouragement of others that gives us our hope (Romans 15:4).
We are encouraged through the comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:18) and
consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3-5, 12, 17) of our fellow
believers. Edification comes when we "make every effort to do
what leads to peace and mutual edification" (Romans 14:19).
Everything the church does should be for the building up of Christians
(1 Corinthians 12:19), and not their tearing down (1 Corinthians
13:10). If a church causes discouragement, something is wrong.
The church is to equip its members "in every good thing" (Hebrews
13:21), "so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged" (1
Corinthians 14:31). Through this exhortation and teaching (1 Timothy
4:13), we stimulate one another to love and good deeds. If
the church is not teaching, it is not doing its job! It must
equip believers with the truth, and avoid any type of flattery,
theatrics, or greedy attempt to grow the church for the wrong reasons
(1 Thessalonians 2:5-7).
The ultimate teaching authority in the church is the pastor/teacher
(Ephesians 4:11). In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7, we see
that the pastor must be a respected man, above reproach; a good
teacher, disciplinarian, and household manager; and, a prudent man,
strong in the faith with a mastery over the material details of life
such as money and alcohol. His primary responsibility is
teaching (1 Timothy 5:7), and he is to teach willingly, not grudgingly.
He is to teach and gently guide the believers (2 Timothy 2:25), like a
shepherd does his sheep (Ezekiel 34). For his service to the
church, the pastor is worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17) and
receiving his living from the church (1 Corinthians 9:14) through the
sharing of the church members (Galatians 6:6). The church
members should love, appreciate, and esteem those who labor and teach
them and exercise authority over them (1 Thessalonians
5:12-15). However, since the congregation freely chooses
their pastor, the church members have ultimate authority over him, and
they should rebuke and/or remove him if he continually fails in his
role of leading the church in teaching and encouragement (1 Timothy
Pastors must be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2). They must not
be like those Paul described in Romans 2:1, who pass judgment on
others, when they themselves are guilty of the same wrongdoings. As an
example, pastors and TV evangelists who preach against adultery, then
fall into it themselves, are actually condemning themselves (Romans
2:1). However, we must realize that pastors are people
too. They cannot be expected to perform supernaturally any
more than the rest of us. They don't think deeper thoughts,
they are not capable of more divinely-appointed
knowledge, and they don't have some higher privilege of access to
The Father than others. We should not think of pastors as being
the "neck" of the body of Christ, where Christ is the head, and
pastors should not view themselves this way. A man with
excessive ego, personal ambition, or a need for reassurance that he is
important to the church, is not qualified to be a pastor. His
highest priorities should not be committee meetings, national
conferences, and denominational recognition.
When the church meets together, the services are to be conducted in an
orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40). The members should be
of the same mind, of one accord, and of one voice (Romans 15:5-6), and
they should agree with that same mind, and avoid divisions and quarrels
(1 Corinthians 1:10-11). They should be comforted and
like-minded, and live their lives in peace and love (2 Corinthians
The Lord's Supper
Of secondary importance are the church ordinances (or symbolic
ceremonies), the Lord's Supper (or Last Supper), and water
baptism. The Lord's Supper is simply a symbol and a ritual
symbolizing the actual death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus
Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Paul mentions sharing the
cup and bread, and in 1 Corinthians 11:20-29, he further describes how
the first century church did this. Nowhere does the Bible
tell Christians that they should practice the Lord's Supper, but it has
become a tradition with most Christian groups by following the example
of these early Christians. The emphasis, however, should
be on one's self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:28) rather than on the
Water baptism is simply a ritual symbolizing the actual baptism of the
Holy Spirit, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Acts 10:47 indicates that all believers are candidates for baptism.
Again however, in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, Paul discounts the importance
of water baptism by noting that he was grateful that he did not baptize
very many people, and he was not even sure how many he did baptize.
Peter also reminds us that water baptism is only a symbol, by telling
us in 1 Peter 3:21 that water only removes dirt from the flesh, and it
has no saving power. Great care must be taken to examine any
scriptures concerning baptism, because the scriptures refer to seven
different baptisms. These are the baptism of: Moses; John the Baptist;
Jesus; the cross; fire; the Holy Spirit; and, water. If the baptism of the
Holy Spirit is confused with water baptism, great distortions of
scripture may erupt.
The Local Church
In short, the church is a group of believers who come together for
encouragement, edification, and teaching. Unity and order are
a part of the church environment, but arguments and disruptions are
not. Believers are each a part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:11-31),
and Jesus Christ is the head (Ephesians 5:23). Perhaps we
would do better to more closely follow the example of the first-century
local church as described in Colossians 4:16, by spending more time
simply reading God's word in our church services. This is
what Paul recommended, and it is how the first churches functioned for
hundreds of years. Churches are to encourage believers
through Bible study, equipping, and edification.
Unfortunately, there are many misnomers about what a church should
be. The church is not a social organization where people go
in order to be seen, to make contacts, to round out their children's
education, or to get pumped up as though they were filling their tanks
at some sort of emotional filling station.
Neither is the local church a place to present superficial or
hypocritical challenges, scare-tactics, or food-for-thought. The church
is a place to learn the Bible, but it has been estimated that few
attendees can name even one of the first four books of the Bible, or
identify Biblical terms such as Calvary.
Churches should not measure themselves by "growth" just because the
first church "grew" in the book of Acts. Churches should not
over-emphasize goals and statistics of membership growths or budgets
for buildings and programs. Most financial problems in most churches
would be solved if those churches simply abandoned all of their
activities in which God is not leading them and supplying their
Church members should not be measured by how much they smile, visit,
proselyte, handshake, emote, hustle, attend committee meetings,
conferences, banquets, and family nights, or by how much other "doing"
they can accomplish. Church is not the place for devices,
formulas, steps, commitment cards, or invitations with emotional appeal
to the guilt and pride of the old sin natures of the members.
Christians should feel comfortable in their Christianity, instead of
Churches are certainly no place for malice, attacking one's
integrity, or recognition of accomplishments, especially
under the guise of doing God's work. Success is not
measured by buildings, membership, attendance, organs, chimes,
flowers, or banquets. It is sad when we can accurately
estimate the size of memberships and budgets of churches by looking at
the front door of the church building. Perhaps an appropriate
term for these deceivers would be "pseudo-evangelicals."
Churches should be mission-oriented. They should not consider
the souls of their potential members to be more important than
the souls of people who will never attend their particular
church. We should especially support foreign missions where
people are more open to the gospel than in our own country. Yet,
frequently, churches spend five or ten times the amount of money on
church buildings compared to what they spend on missions.
Our churches should be groups of believers under the authority of
pastor/teachers, who equip and encourage each other. However,
the church is not an organization trying to "make the world a better,"
or a means of approaching God through groups. Our
relationship with God is still a personal one, but we need regular
encouragement and edification from fellow believers. We must
understand the true purpose of the church, and learn to use it as a
tool instead of as a crutch.
Owen Weber 2008