There is a lot of misunderstanding about the word church because people have used it outside the biblical context. Sometimes people talk of the Church as if it were a building, a good thing for the community, or a group of quasi-religious people who have come together to talk about God. But the biblical word for church means none of these things. The Greek word used in the Bible is ecclesia and it means “called-out ones.” The Bible calls the Church “the Body of Christ,” “the Bride of Christ,” and “the Family of God.” These terms would define the Church not just as an organization but also as an organism. That organism works out its presence, I believe, in the institution of the Church. But there is an important difference between the organism and the organization.
So you became a member of the Church when you received Christ as your Lord and Savior. The question is not whether or not you’re a member; the question is whether or not you’re going to fulfill your obligation as a member. You became a part of your fleshly family when you were first born. You became a part of your spiritual family (i.e., the Church) when you were born the second time. In both cases, you can walk away and reject your family, but you can’t in either case cease to be a part of the family—albeit a bad part.
[The Church] was not formed as a separation between good and bad people, to give reason for religious people to meet, or even to perform service to the world.
What difference does the Church make? What is your place in the Church, the Body of Christ? We can’t understand what we’re doing here unless we first know who we are. So what exactly is the church? We have to start there.
First, the Church is a family brought close to God at a great price.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews, after speaking of the sacrifice offered in former times with the blood of animals, writes, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). We have been brought near to God through Christ’s blood shed on the cross. Paul put it this way: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Those who are in the Church know that it is made up of men, women and children who together were brought to God at the price of the cross. Now, because of that cross, they can experience together his love, acceptance and power.
Second, the Church is a family brought together at that same price.
The Church is unique because of its beginning. It was not formed as a separation between good and bad people, to give reason for religious people to meet, or even to perform service to the world. It was formed because Jesus died on a cross to form it. To all people everywhere who have believed in Christ and what he has done on the cross, God gave the power to come into the family (John 1:12).
Third, the Church is a family with a fantastic heritage.
Paul said, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets…” (Ephesians 2:19-20). There is no other organization on the face of the earth with the heritage of the Church. When Paul wrote those words to the churches in Asia, he was writing to men and women of low estate—slaves, vassals and common people.
The Church, the Body of Christ, is a family with a great heritage brought to God and together at the price of a cross. But it is more than that. It is a family whose head is Jesus Christ. Paul wrote,
“For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:23). The Church is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship. Christ is the absolute Head. The Church’s responsibility is not to meet together and decide what to do, or even to look at the problems in the world and decide which ones are to be ministered unto by the Church. The Church comes together to discern what Jesus wants to do and to do it.
Christ is the Head of our family. The family is his responsibility. We hear a lot today about the demise of the Church. That will never happen. Why? Because the Church belongs to Christ and he doesn’t stand behind dying concerns.
So what difference does the Church make? Why does the Church matter?
1. As a Christian, you are incomplete without other Christians.
The Bible says: “For the body does not consist of one member but of many…If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:14, 19-21, 26-27).
The forces of the world are angry, consuming and strong. If you ever expect to stand for a minute, you must stand with others. Without your brothers and sisters in Christ you will not last. When you are ridiculed you will cave in if you don’t have someone who understands. When the world’s arrows strike you, you will die if you don’t have anyone to bind up your wounds. When you are afraid because of the forces set against you, you will not make it if you don’t have brothers and sisters to stand with you.
When you are afraid because of the forces set against you, you will not make it if you don’t have brothers and sisters to stand with you.
2. It is only within fellowship that a Christian experiences the fullness of God.
The Apostle Paul talked about the Church as a unified fellowship where “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). Jesus said that when two or three gathered together in his Name, he would be there (Matthew 18:20).
3. The Church serves as a corrective to your faith.
The Church says to its individual members, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you…” (1 John 1:1, 3). History teaches that when organizations move outside the institution of the Church (which contains and utilizes the Body of Christ), those organizations, more often than not, become one-sided or heretical. The Church contains much wisdom, experience and knowledge. Only the very foolish will spurn it.
4. The Church is the instrument by which Christ accomplishes his purposes in the world.
The Christian needs other Christians if Christ’s work is to be done. In witnessing, serving, helping, preaching, loving, caring, changing, inspiring, feeding, clothing and healing, there is so much to do that only a fool would even attempt to begin without others. The Church must act as a body. God’s gifts (1 Corinthians 12) were not all poured out on one Christian. They were distributed among many. We need the God-given gifts of others.
So what difference does the Church make? A lot. Unified, we are complete, connected, corrected and causal in impacting our world for Christ. The Church matters.