What do you think of when you hear the word "church"? Do you think of a grand cathedral with awe-inspiring architecture? Do you picture a quaint white country structure with a bell in the steeple?

Or does "church" for you mean something that a group of Christians do when they get together? Phrases like "Church is at ten" or "We had church under a tree" come to mind. For some of us, that's what we think of when we say "church."

Maybe you tend to hear "church" with a capital C, imagining a large bureaucratic organization with a central headquarters and representatives in countries around the world.

Or do you think about a group of people? The Bible never uses the word "church" to refer to a building or an activity; it's always talking about a gathering of Christians. "The church in Ephesus" (Revelation 2:1). The church that meets in your home (Philemon 2). Those are the sorts of phrases we read in the Bible.

Whereas "church" is something of a contrived word for us, it wasn't that way in Bible times. It was a common word to refer to a gathering. In the New Testament book of Acts, we find the same word being used to describe a gathering of citizens in Ephesus. The Greek word for church, "ekklesia," merely means assembly. It comes from two words meaning "called" and "out," with the thought of people called out for a purpose.

So, in its truest sense, "church" merely refers to a group of people. That's why the Bible often adds a descriptive, like "church of God" (Acts 20:28), "churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16), or "church of the firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23). These phrases aren't used as names; they are merely descriptions of who the assembly belongs to.

In the end, the church is the group of people that belong to God. Other meanings may cloud our understanding, but we need to see that that's what the church is. That's why we can't talk about loving God and not loving the church, or being a Christian but not being a member of the church. Those things make no sense. God called his people to be together, to be a part of something larger than themselves: the church.

What is a church?
If you're not part of a gathering of Christians, I'd like to help you find a place to belong. Contact me at tarcher@heraldoftruth.org or fill out the contact form at www.hopeforlife.org and mark that you'd like help finding a church.

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