Church Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Church

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The church is the holy, catholic, and apostolic gathering of people whom God has called out from the world to form a worshipping community of love and service dedicated to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

In Scripture

On this rock I will build my church "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

The church grows "Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers" (Acts 9:31).

Prayers of the church "While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him" (Acts 12:5).

Gentiles welcomed into the church "When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).

A gathering of those in Christ Jesus "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2).

Glory in the church "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20 - 21).

Christ the head of the church "He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything" (Col. 1:18).

Grace and peace "John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne" (Rev. 1:4).

Points to Ponder

Called Out Throughout the New Testament the church is the assembly of God's people who have been called out by grace from the world and set apart as followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek word ekklesia, which means "called out" or "called from," is the only word for "church" in the Bible. It is used extensively in the New Testament, beginning in the book of Acts, but occurs in the gospels only four times, in Matthew 16 and 18, where the word is an anachronism: No formal "church" yet existed during the time of Jesus' ministry. Starting in Acts, "church" can refer to the overall body of Christ on earth — all believers in all places — but also to any individual congregation (the church at Corinth, for instance). Although the church is finally one, the plural form of "churches" is also used in the New Testament to refer to what today we might call various congregations. Some biblical scholars claim that the idea of a special people called out and set aside by God can be traced all the way back to ancient Israel and to the assembly of the people for times of worship at the tabernacle or, later, in the temple. This Israelite assembly would be seen, then, as the foreshadowing of the body of Christ that would become the church.

New Testament Images and Characteristics In the New Testament there are multiple images for the church: body of Christ, bride of Christ, beloved of Christ, a holy priesthood, God's building, or God's chosen people. Like ancient Israel, the church is to be distinguished by its holiness and by keeping its distance from the works of sin, evil, and corruption that characterize much of wider society. Within the church, the apostles call for unity again and again, for this unity is to mirror the unity among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to shine as a beacon of agape, the self-sacrificial love that Christ has for his people and that brothers and sisters in Christ are to have for one another.

Activities and Marks of the Church The church is the place where God's Word is proclaimed, where baptism and the Lord's Supper are celebrated, where alms are collected for the poor, where believers discipline and challenge one another in case sin threatens the holiness of the church, and where Christ is to be all in all. Theologians throughout history have distinguished the church visible (what you can see in any given congregation on a Sunday morning but which may include people who are not true believers) and the church invisible (the true church of all those — living and dead — who have truly been granted the gift of saving faith). In the Reformation era, the three marks of the true church were said to be pure preaching of the Word, faithful exercise of the (two) sacraments, and the practice of discipline for the wayward.

Church and Kingdom The church is part of the kingdom of God but, strictly speaking, is not the equivalent of the kingdom. The kingdom is the larger reality of God's realm and rule of the cosmos, and when in the new creation the church no longer needs to exist, the kingdom will be all in all.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.