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When is the church not "The Church"?

by Alan Allegra  
5/23/2017 / Church Life


Like much of modern vocabulary, “religious” terminology is undergoing constant change. Simple yet foundational words are gathering new meanings to suit society at large. This is particularly detrimental to biblical faith, which is dedicated to truth in a realm that is both simple and inscrutable.

Common words like, “worship,” “faith,” “marriage,” and “spiritual” are being hijacked and redefined to dilute their power and significance.

Let’s focus on a word that is foundational to Christianity: the word, “church.” Interestingly, it was not a “religious” word for thousands of years. It comes from a word that simply means, “assembly.” It has taken on a Christian connotation that is generally misused.

To scrape away the barnacles of corruption, let’s look at what the word, “church,” does not mean.

  • It does not mean a building. A structure used for Christian assembly can be called a church building, but the church is the group of people in the meeting. One can go to “church” wherever the group is assembled, be it a park, forest, cave, prison, cathedral, or living room (Romans 16:5).
  • The church is not Israel. Israel is, always was, and always will be, a separate physical nation, never replaced, never to be destroyed. To say otherwise is to engage in antisemitism. Although the misinterpreted Bible verses are too many to deal with here, mistranslations like the KJV “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) helped set the stage.
  • Church is not merely a social club; it is a family, a training camp, a hospital, a collection of body parts, a safe room, all rolled into one. It is the only assembly created and sanctioned by Jesus Christ, the foundation and chief cornerstone, composed of living stones, unlike a physical building (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20).
  • It is not an entertainment venue, a place to go for good feelings and escape from reality, and sensory experience. It does not live for amusement; quite the opposite, the church meeting’s purpose is to engage the mind — not slip the brain into neutral — and feed it sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).
  • The church is not a means of salvation; it is a place where the offer of salvation can be expected, but attendance does not tip the scales in favor of heaven. In fact, salvation only involves scales in that our sins are on one side, weighing us down with guilt, while through Christ, God puts his holy thumb on the other side with forgiveness to fully counter the sins.
  • The church is not the equivalent of the place of worship, although worship should take place in the assembly. It is too easy to believe only the church “stuff” is worship and the rest of your life is not.
  • Church is not a hobby to indulge in when there is time, just another event to add to the calendar when you’re not too busy. Church attendance is vital to the Christian life (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
  • Churches do not have time clocks so the “bosses” can keep track of your attendance. Many churches believe you must attend “every time the doors are open,” or else you lose brownie points.
  • It is not nature. Creation points to God: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1), but meeting with trees and chipmunks does not fulfill the function of a church.

What is the church? It is so simple: It is an assembly of born-again Christians, meeting together under the care and direction of male elders / pastors / bishops, to prepare the believers for godly living in an ungodly society, using the Bible as sole authority. That is the bottom line, “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Alan is Content Coordinator for Lifestyles Over 50 (Thrive Media) and contributor to the Allentown, PA, Morning Call. He is also an adult Sunday school teacher and Bible study leader. Passionate about reviving theology and church methodology, and being a senior citizen!

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