An article by Ken Simmons . . .
what is “The Church?” . . .
At the risk of being called pedantic (and yes, I’ve had that label pinned on me more than once) first let me tell you what it is not. It is not a building at the corner of Fifth and Whatever. And although I am not a Catholic, nor am I a Protestant (I’m not “protesting” anything) our Catholic brethren come fairly close to understanding the meaning of “the church.” It is the body of believers world-wide. Nothing more -- and certainly nothing less.
Recently I have been communicating with many brothers and sisters in several countries in Africa and I have enjoyed encouraging them in the faith. They seem to be inspired by some of my teachings. We may never meet together in a building but they are definitely part of “the church.”
it was a long, long drive . . .
It’s been more than forty years since I drove nearly 2,000 miles from Lakeland, Florida all the way around the Gulf of Mexico to the Mexican border, and then I traveled extensively throughout Mexico finally ending up in the lovely coastal city of Vera Cruz which lies on the east coast of Mexico facing the Gulf of Mexico. That was a long, long drive. My former wife and I, along with two of our children, stayed with a Christian woman and her two children. They spoke no English, and my Spanish was very limited. I spent most of my time in bed since a bad case of Montezuma’s Revenge (amoebic dysentery) had gotten the better of me, and the constant trips to el baño (the bathroom) meant I had to walk out of the house barefoot and in pajamas, through a patio and into another building, in the rain. It rained almost every night so my trips to el baño meant I was soaked much of the time.
the "church" had no building . . .
One night I was feeling well enough to get out for a while so we drove to downtown Vera Cruz and met together with some thirty or forty believers. They had managed to hang large sheets of corrugated aluminum between two buildings, and with a few dozen folding chairs they rejoiced and sang praises to God. Since my Spanish was limited to getting directions, or finding out how much something cost, I didn’t understand much of what they said but they were all my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I was “meeting with the church in Vera Cruz.” In that case “the church” was definitely not a building because in that case the church . . . had no building!
Many Christians have seen, or at least heard news reports, about church buildings being burned and destroyed. Some of these cases were the result of accidents and others the result of people who harbor a hatred for Christianity. But you’ve also likely heard it said that “church was burned to the ground.”
Jesus told Peter: “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). Was Jesus wrong when he made that claim? Didn’t that “church” burn to the ground? The answer is, “No, it didn’t. A building designed for believers to gather and worship together burned to the ground.”
The church is a living, breathing entity and it is not man made. It is “. . . a more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands . . .” (Hebrews 9:11)
The Apostle Paul said, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God lives within you?" (I Corinthians 6:19)
In the Book of Acts we learn that "God that made the world and all things in it, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, and that He does not dwell in temples made with hands;" (Acts 17:24).
"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (2 Corinthians 5:1)
living stones . . .
And, the true church is not made with wood, bricks and mortar but is made with some rather unique building materials called living stones. “. . . you also, like living stones, are built into a spiritual house . . . you are God’s building.” (See I Corinthians 3:9).”
“But Christ, being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands . . .” (Hebrews 9:11)
So now that we know what the church is not, i.e., something you can “go to,” or something you can build using materials from Lowe’s or Home Depot that can be burnt to the ground, let’s take a look at what it truly is.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” (I Corinthians 3:16-17)
"this is a nice sheep shed" . . .
“ . . . in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22)
“ . . . for you are the temple of the living God, as God has said, I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
I once heard a wise teacher, who was visiting a congregation in Florida, say, “This a nice sheep-shed! It is truly beautiful.” The building to which he referred was built for Jesus’ sheep to come in out of the rain, the snow, or the wind and the heat. After all we shouldn’t be ashamed to be called His sheep since He’s our shepherd. He went on to explain that “It’s a building – a really nice building, but just a building. It won’t last forever and some day it will become dilapidated and will have to be torn down, but the church that Jesus is building will never be torn down.”
more of what "the church" is not . . .
Most modern Christians are unaware that there is no record in the New Testament where followers of Jesus ever built a church building.
Now some of you may be learning for the first time that the church is not something we can "go to" because the believers are the church, and that church is built of living stones, i.e., the body of believers. And, we are also learning that the titles we sometimes put on these buildings are not pleasing to God. It's the First Church of This, or the Second Church of That. Everyone is convinced that their truth is the only truth. The Apostle Paul warned us against such divisions (see I Corinthians 3:4-9)
It is for reasons such as this that I wince a little when I hear believers say “Let’s go to church,” (here I go again, being pedantic). It is not something you can “go to,” you’re either part of it or you aren’t. It is definitely appropriate to say “I went to meet with the church” or “I went to the church gathering” but most Christians find that too awkward and cumbersome.
So if you find yourself saying “I’m going to church” don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s not a sin. Let’s just keep the matter in perspective since you now know the answer to the question “What Is the Church?”
(OK, now you can go ahead and look up the word “pedantic.”)
If you would like to schedule Ken Simmons to speak to your church group or organization he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.