There are two important institutions on the face of the earth — the family and the church. One is the family of man; the other is the family of God. One originated in the Garden of Eden as a result of God’s special creation and blessing.
The home is a special institution. It is the essential bond of true Christian society. This other institution came from God’s special creative work through Jesus Christ on the cross. The church is a spiritual family, the dwelling place of God.
There are many ideas about Christ’s church. There is the widespread concept of the “universal, invisible, spiritual church.” There is the idea of Watchman Nee’s “geographical church.”
Another important view of the church is that it is the means for distributing salvation to the world — the church decides who is saved and who is not saved.
Then there is the ancient belief of the “locality of the church.” The Apostle Paul described the church as a “body.” This reveals clearly the church’s concrete nature, visible. Whoever heard of an invisible body. Then, it is also composed of individual parts. It is organized.
This obviously has to do with the question of “what is church?” Is the church an institution? Is it an organization? Is it both? How does this relate to the collection of documents that we call “the New Testament?”
When the church came into being during Jesus’ ministry those many years ago there was no such thing as a “New Testament.” Jesus and His disciples obviously had a “Bible,” the documents we know today as “the Old Testament.”
Jesus’ knew and used the books that would ultimately be collected and arranged in the Old Testament. He quoted the Psalms, the Prophets and many of the other Old Testament books. He read and quoted from the writings of Moses.
There are volumes about Jesus’ life and witness, His quoting and referring to many of these ancient documents contained in the Old Testament. Jesus founded His church and He is still building it. The church is more than just a human institution.
Church must also be considered as an organization. To some extent the church as an organization demands some kind of formal and ordered association. Institutions and organizations are human creations. The church is far more than what human beings can create and sustain institutionally or organizationally.
Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus recognized Simon Peter, his personal confession of faith in the Christ and the revelation that the Father had given to him.
It was this personal confession and faith that Jesus was referring to as being the foundation of His church, not the individual human being Simon Peter. The church is made up of living stones, individuals confessing the reality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The church is not just one person. The church is not just a human institution or organization. The church is a living body, an organic entity, manifesting the presence and power of the Living God through the living individuals who make up its being.
This is how Paul expressed this fact to believers at Rome, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. We have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we being many are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:1,4-5).
Many years ago I wrote in the margin of this passage in Romans these words, “Many living sacrifices make one living body.” The church is a local “living body” bringing together many individuals, gifted and contributing, unselfishly sacrificing.
It is unfortunate that many refuse to make this “living sacrifice” in order to maintain the one living body that honors Jesus Christ. Hence we have so many human creations in churchly institutions and organizations.
Of course, each of these creations think of themselves as “the church of God,” “the church of Christ,” “the assembly of God,” “the Baptist Church,” “the Christian Church.”
There are many who identify the church with buildings and physical locations. The church is not just a physical location or facility. It is a living body made up of individuals who sacrificially join together to bear witness to the living Christ.
It is at this point that other questions should be raised — what is the church for? Why is the church important? What is the purpose of the church?
When you drive around and look at church signs and properties you can determine a great deal by looking at what you see physically and reading the signs.
As you drive around East Texas you will often find in the church yard volleyball nets, playground equipment, fellowship halls, gymnasiums and other kinds of activity buildings. These kinds of items suggest that the church involves more than just spiritual, educational, worship kinds of things.
In all too many cases the church is more “a social club” than it is a living, spiritual body. For many it is not what is believed, but what is enjoyed or experienced. The church is more like a social club, an entertainment center, a friendship experience or a place to perform for those who sing and
play. This certainly isn’t what one finds in the New Testament or what one finds historically in the records of the “primitive church.” So much that we do today has nothing to do with what Jesus started during his ministry, even when we claim that what we are doing is what He would have us do.
There is so much more than can be said and shared about “church.” I would be interested in know what you think about “church” and what it is. Take some time to think about and to respond to this column.
Let me know what you think. You can send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail to Dr. Jerry Hopkins, P.O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671.