1. Significance and Original Characters
What is the true meaning of church? The Bible mentions church with many names such as ‘Body of Christ’, ‘Bride of Christ’, ‘House of God’, ‘Sanctuary of God’, ‘People of Christ’, and so on.
We can see that the Bible has two general meanings of church. One refers to the gathering of believers like the church in Corinth; it is each church established in different areas. The other one refers to all the believers who believe in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” It tells us that church refers to all the believers here.
Therefore, church is not just an organization but is the body of Christ consisting of the believers who accepted Jesus Christ, were baptized with one Holy Spirit, and drink the same Holy Spirit. Regardless of the name of the church or the organization, church consists of believers, and thus all the people who are born again by accepting Jesus Christ are parts of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13-14).
The church was initially called ‘ekksesia’ for the first 300 years since the ascension of Jesus Christ. It was later changed to Curiacos, and this word later changed into church, which is an English word. But the church in the Bible is a translation of the word ekklesia, which means ‘called out’. It actually used to be Greeks’ general meeting for discussions. So, when it was used for church of Christ, it means the group of people who were called out.
Likewise, ‘ekklesia’ refers to a gathering or meeting of people, not a specific building or something like that. Thus, it refers to gathering or meeting of those who have become sanctified in Jesus Christ and are called out as saints. People of Israel were called out from Egypt, but because they did not unite with Jesus Christ, they cannot become a part of the body of Christ.
Therefore, church is a gathering of holy saints who are called by God and have accepted Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the foundation and the only head of church. The church is the body of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Also, the church, for which the Lord paid the price with His blood, is the bride of the Lord (Ephesians 5:32), and all the believers form, uniting with the Christ, the parts of the church that is the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:30). The church is one body since all the believers serve the Lord, praise and worship God, and seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness. It is a holy organization since it is the gathering of people who have become sanctified in Christ Jesus and are called saints.
2. History and Duty
Church can generally be divided into one that has form and one that is formless. Namely, ekklesia, which is a gathering of those who are called by God, is a formless church, and the building of the church is one with a form.
The Tabernacle is a model of today’s church with a form. Stephen, a deacon in the early church, referred to the congregation of the Jews in the wilderness as ‘church in the wilderness’ (Acts 7:38) using the meaning of the formless church.
Because the people of Israel who came out of Egypt were in the wilderness, they could not have the Temple and their houses in a fixed building. So, God let them have a movable temple, and it is the Tabernacle. God told the people to bring their offerings to make this Tabernacle (Exodus 25:2), and with they brought more than enough freewill offering, so that Moses had to stop them (Exodus 36:3-7). The Tabernacle was built as God told them (Exodus chapter 25-27), and God let the Levites perform the duty of priests to serve God and keep the Tabernacle.
This Tabernacle became the symbol of God being with them, and a model of church that began to be formed in New Testament times. The formless church, which is the gathering of ekklesia, the people who are called out, is the essence of the church, but the building where they gather, hear God’s Word, and have fellowship is also important.
Therefore, the proper kind of church in God’s sight is the combination of the formless church and the building. Therefore, unless we are under communist rule that persecutes Christianity or under other circumstances in which we cannot set up a church, it is not right to deny the meaning of having a church building and to have worship service in homes or other places than a church building.
Today’s church was formed by the ministry of Jesus Christ. Matthew 16:18 says, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Here, Peter actually is a Greek word ‘petros’ which means small rock, and the ‘rock’ in this verse is a big rock that stands for Jesus Christ. Therefore, this verse means, “You are a small rock, and I will build a church on Jesus Christ, the truth.” The church was established after Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven to God’s throne.
The church in the New Testament times began to be formed after the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples on the Pentecost, which was 50 days after Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven. Jesus’ disciples received the Holy Spirit, and they began to testify to the resurrection of Jesus. Many people heard the message, repented, and were baptized. They receive the Holy Spirit as a gift and gathered in sanctuaries. This is the beginning of today’s church and it is referred to as ‘early church’.
The duty of church is well described in Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”
Therefore, the purpose of church is to worship God, spread the gospel, raise holy Christians, serve the neighbors, and have fellowship of the believers. It has the duty of preaching God’s Word, teaching the truth, and conducting the Holy Communion (Matthew 26:26-28).