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Theology > Church > Nature of the Church


What is the Church? What is its nature, its essence? Jesus said: “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). What exactly is He building? Or should the question be: Who exactly is He building?

Definitions and descriptions of the Church are decidedly in contrast; among the options are: organization or organic; institutional or spiritual; visible or invisible; place or people; building or congregation; something or some peoples; a structure or a relationship; something concrete or something distinctly mystical. While some interpreters will combine some of these concepts, others will reject the combinations as inappropriate. There is no unanimity.

The First Council of Constantinople (381) affirmed that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”; therefore, the Church is characterized by unity, sanctity, universality, and possesses a historic origin and authority. These points, with proper commentary, may be accepted, but is that all that can be said? Or is this sufficient? It should be pointed out that with these four words, there is no definite Theistic orientation, no Christological emphasis, no soteriological necessity, and no eschatological future.

In the popular mind the word “church” has multiple reference points: refers to a world organization (World Council of Churches); to two of the major divisions of Christianity (Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church); to a denomination or organization (United Methodist Church or the Lutheran Church); to a place people go to worship, an address, a building, the church building; to something the person does—“I go to church”; to a local group of believers (First Baptist Church); to a generic concept, the separation of church and state; to common concepts (Early Church Fathers or Medieval Church); and to Christians in general who are said to belong to or constitute the Church.

But what does the word in the New Testament mean? It is a technical word or a general word with no special meaning apart from it ordinary usage?

Any theological discussion of the nature of the Church must find its content within Scripture, and Scripture must determine the limits and correctness of the discussion. Any other discussion is doomed to the arena of speculation, for only the Scriptures are normative. Therefore, to know the Church, the believer must know the Scriptures.  

Consideration will be given to the following topics:

        Meaning of the Word

        The People of God

        Visible and Invisible

        The Fellowship

        Fellowship of Love

        Basis for Unity

        Illustrations of the Church

        Church and Kingdom

        Israel and the Church

Return to: Church; Next Article: Meaning of the Word 

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