What IS a church?
Is the church a building where we sing and pray and hear the Word of God read and explained? Some older, especially rural, churches stand guard in front of an old cemetery. That prompts the question, is the church some piece of architecture that stands watch like a silent sentinel over our deal loved ones? Is it a place to go for good dinners, stimulating discussions, fellowship? Is it a meeting place for people who have basically the same beliefs, purposes and goals?
The New Testament does not give us a dictionary definition of “church.” There is no place in Scripture where we will find the phrase, “A church is….” Yet, the authors of the New Testament were very careful in their choice of words, and the Greek word they chose to use for “church” is self-defining.
The Greek word translated “church” in our English Bible is ekklesia. The literal meaning of the word can be seen when it is broken into its component parts—ek which means “out,” and klesia which means “called.”
The church—ekklesia—the “called out ones”
Those who are followers of Jesus Christ, who claim to be Christians, are the “called out ones” of God, separated from the rest of the world because they are different. Paul pointed this out in 2 Corinthians 6. Their value systems, their standards of ethics, goals, ways of thinking and speaking and acting should be different than those who do not claim to believe in Jesus. They are the “called out ones.”
Peter tells us in his first letter that the Christian Church is God’s own special purchased people—those who have been separated from the world of non-believers. But if the Christian Church is composed of “called out ones”—then from what are they called out? Equally important, to what are they called?
Called out of sin
The church of Jesus Christ is the people who have been called out of sin—out of wrong actions, thoughts and attitudes to righteousness (or right living). Paul contrasts the good with the evil, the righteous with the holy.
He tells us to not be teamed with those who do not love the Lord, for what do the people of God have in common with the people of sin? How can light live with darkness? And what harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a Christian be a partner with one who doesn’t believe? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? (2 Corinthians 6:15-17 The Living Bible)
Called out of self-centeredness
The Church is those who have been called out of self-centeredness into service. Jesus’ emphasis, throughout His teaching, was on caring for the needs of others. The parable of the Good Samaritan pointed out the necessity of caring for those in need. In his teaching about the judgment day, Jesus emphasized that God’s rewards would ultimately go to those who had fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned. He also taught that while the greatest commandment was to love God, the second commandment followed close on its heels—love your neighbor as yourself. Put another way, as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”
Called out of confusion
God’s people are called out of confusion to peace. The more hectic the world becomes, the more we human beings search for peace. The more frantic the pace in the everyday world, the more desperately humanity needs peace, calmness, tranquility. Jesus told his followers, Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. (John 14:27) .
The Apostle Paul called it the peace of God, which passes all understanding, that will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) This peace is not an absence of conflict but rather a calmness and confidence in the face of conflict. God’s people are not always free from trouble, but they do have freedom from terror. We are not called out of our problems, but we are called to persevere and persist with His peace and presence.
Called out of worry
We, the “called out ones” of God, are called out of worry to faith. In the last half of the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus’ theme is a simple one—DO NOT BE ANXIOUS. In other words, “don’t worry, God is in control.” He pointed to the birds and the lilies, teaching those listening to His Sermon on the Mount that God takes care of both the birds and the flowers. His final statement in the sixth chapter of Matthew is a focal point of the Christian faith.
Called out of weakness
The followers of Jesus are called from weakness to strength, from failure to success. When Jesus was crucified, his followers were totally defeated. They had no power or joy and felt completely destroyed. After the resurrection and the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, they received power and confidence and boldness. Jesus had promised them they would receive power and they did! (Acts 1:8) Nothing could stop them from sharing the glorious news of their faith. They feared nothing and no one.
The same power comes to all of the “called out ones” of God today. Shy individuals become filled with self-confidence. The bashful become bold. The timid are transformed when they become one of God’s “called out ones.”
What is the Church?
The Church of God is the ekklesia—the “called out ones”. It is not a building, but a belief; not a place, but a people; not a fraternity, but a faith.
The Church is not a building that can be seen and touched. It is wherever two or three of the “called out ones” gather and the Spirit of Christ is present—in a building like this, a kitchen over coffee, a restaurant or bowling alley, a shopping center or grocery store, under a tree or in a rowboat! The Church is wherever you and I—the “called out ones”—are!