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The New Testament Church - What is it? - Part 1

Updated on September 23, 2014

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

" He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." - Matthew 16:15-18

In these verses Jesus promises to build His church, But what exactly did He have in mind? Before moving on Let's glean a couple thoughts from these verses.

  • Peter confessed Jesus Christ to be the very Son of God
  • Christ would build His church upon that rock (the fact that He was the Son of God sent to be the Saviour).
  • The gates of hell would not prevail against the church
  • The church would be yet future (". . .I will build. . .")

Jesus Himself initiated the church. Jesus Himself died for His church. Jesus holds the church close to His broken heart. So what exactly is the church? The Apostle Paul gives us a hint. The New Testament church is a living organism. Its head is Christ, and Christ alone. Colossians 1:18 tells us, "And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church; . . ." Paul continues in Ephesians 1:22 and 23, "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."

References to "church" in the NT

101 times
1 time
4 times
11 times
refers to a particular congregation
refers to Israel (Acts 7:38)
the temples at Ephesus
institutional, abstract, generic

The Body of Christ

The term, church is found 117 times in the New Testament..The Bible makes it very clear that the church is the body of Christ. The church (ἐκκλησία - ekklesia), by definition refers to a called out assembly either in a general manner or in a local setting. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible never refers to the church as invisible or universal. We owe these terms to erroneous Roman Catholic teaching.

The word church or churches appears:

  • 25 times in the book of Acts
  • 5 times in the book of Romans
  • 21 times in I Corinthians
  • 9 times in II Corinthians
  • at least once in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy, Philemon, Hebrews, James, III John, and

Can we deny the importance of the doctrine of the church? Christ gave His life for her (Ephesians 5:25).

The Local, Independent Church

These verses do however, refer to a local group of born-again, baptized individuals meeting together for worship as well as service.These were fully functional, organized groups of people, with Christ as their Head, who banded themselves together in various locations to serve and worship the Saviour. They did not follow man-made philosophies or traditions, but rather followed Christ as the head of the body.

Consider the writings of Paul. He wrote his Corinthian epistle to the church at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2). He also wrote to the church of God at Corinth (II Corinthians 1:2). Next were the various churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2) followed by letters to the Ephesian, Philippian, Colossain,and Thessalonian churches. These were all self sufficient assemblies under the leadership of Christ. They answered only to Christ.

John also made it a point to write to individual, local churches. In the book of Revelation he mentioned seven specific churches and delivered seven specific messages to the churches. Each message was applied only to the called out assembly that needed that particular message. It was not a universal message. Otherwise each church would have received the same message. Clearly, each church was treated separately.

Excuses, Excuses

Someone once said, "The ministry would run smoothly, if it wasn't for the people." We as hopelessly sinful people have a way to mess up and complicate things. The church is no different. Problems arise from time to time within the called out assembly just as in any secular meeting or organization. I love the people God gave me, - but I must admit, sometimes I have a hard time figuring them out.

After ministering for quite some time now, I think I have heard all the excuses. Just when I am ready to close the chapter on excuses for missing church, I hear a new one. When the church first opened years ago, we met in a storefront along the main street of town. Right outside our front door was a public sidewalk so there was easy access to our meeting.

I was standing outside on a summer day greeting folks as they came to gather. As i saw one of our ladies approaching I extended my hand to greet her and welcome her. She very abruptly answered with "I can't stay. I'm sick today, and traveled on down the street to another shop. I just shook my head.

After missing an individual one Sunday morning, I called to make sure they were safe and well. She apologized by saying, "Sorry I didn't make it. I had to go to Walmart to buy a can of hair spray."

"It's too cold." "It's too hot." "The seats are too hard." "The toilet paper isn't my brand." Where and when does it end? Whatever happened to Hebrews 10:25? - "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

I understand the context of the verse. I understand it was written to the Jews. I understand the context of moving from the natural into the supernatural. But why would you not want to meet with the family? Why would you not want to meet with the Father? You will do what you want to do - no doubt about it. but the called out assembly was never meant to feature lone rangers.

When do you believe the church began?

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The Beginning of the Church

Something unique and powerful took place on the day of Pentecost 50 days after the resurrection of Christ. The disciples, meeting in the upper room were invaded by the power of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. People have many different ideas as to when the church had its beginning. it is not a point of contention, but I believe it was at this time in history when Jesus started His church.

it was through this small assembly of believers meeting together that were joined as one body with Christ as her head through the Holy Spirit. This was a new ministry of the Holy Spirit. This had never happened before, but God took up His dwelling in the heart of these men and women uniting them together.

it was shortly after this initial visitation that Peter preached his message and 3,000 people came to Christ being added to the assembly. Acts 2:41 and 42 lists several things that this new group of "called out" ones related to - "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Notice the qualifications of the newly formed church.

  • They received his word. That is, they were born again.
  • They were baptized, not for salvation but as evidence of salvation, and identification with their head - Jesus Christ.
  • They were added to the local assembly.
  • They continued to study the apostles' doctrine.
  • They partook of times of fellowship.
  • They met for meals and no doubt to observe the Lord's Table
  • They participated in prayer meetings

We see later in Acts 4:4 that the church increased to over 8,000 as 5,000 more were added. We see further in Acts 6:7 that the church multiplied greatly. That living organism, that called out assembly, though in its infant stage was growing tremendously. We will continue to look at the church as it grows next time. Until then . . .


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    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      The day certainly is approaching. May we all see the urgency of getting the Truth out however, wherever, whenever we can.

      You're right - righteous acts before men may not be righteous before God. He looks on the heart and sees it all, That should be a little scary, but the fear of the Lord has long left "organized religion."

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, and have a great week!

    • PlanksandNails profile image

      PlanksandNails 3 years ago from among the called out ones of the ekklesia of Christ


      I agree.

      I believe you hit a good point about the sincere motives and righteous acts of the true Church. Service for God with wrong motives has led many to disappointment and disillusionment. The deception is that the so called "righteous acts" before men look a lot like sincere ones, but thank God He has given us His Word and a standard to gauge all things.

      Pure motives equate to eternal rewards, ulterior ones equate to carnal ones. Pure motives and what God considers good works only come through the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit; there is no other alternative.

      On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ - Matthew 7:22

      Many don't equate this to their church, but again, the deception is that the so called "righteous acts" before men look a lot like sincere ones.

      I believe that the the last sentence in Hebrews 10:25 you quoted is important. People need to hear the truth with greater urgency as the day is approaching.

      God Bless.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi PandN,

      I certainly agree that the ekklesia can't be universal.

      Is there a difference between the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ?

      I believe so. The church is here and now as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12; 5:23). Again, that body is seen is specific localities, however. Where Paul mentions the body, he is addressing a local church. The Head (Christ) desires to live His life through the church (His body) in the present.

      In Revelation 4 we see the church raptured. It is not mentioned again until Revelation 22:16 and then only as a reflection back to the beginning of Revelation.. Prior to this the last mention is in Revelation 3:22.

      The strange thing about the Bride of Christ is that it isn't even mentioned is Scripture although there are certainly references to it. As of yet the Bride hasn't taken her place, but will be yet future. In Revelation 21:2 ". . . John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."

      A little off topic, but a verse i find interesting is Revelation 19:7 and 8. Those that will be at the marriage supper will first be clothed in Christ's righteousness. and then in the righteousness of the saints. It would appear that even now we are weaving our wedding garments from righteous acts with pure motives. Just something to think about.

      Thanks for stopping by with the question.

    • PlanksandNails profile image

      PlanksandNails 3 years ago from among the called out ones of the ekklesia of Christ


      The NT speaks of the ekklesia. A locality cannot be universal since it would be impossible meet at one place all together.

      Revelation 21:9 speaks of, "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

      Do you believe there is a distinction between the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ?

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      It's that cold time of the year. I'm glad your church opted to have services. It really doesn't take much sometimes to stop people. It's rather sad, but true. Glad you keep pushin'.

    • Tamarajo profile image

      Tamarajo 3 years ago

      January 5 we were anticipating some phenomenal sub zero temps. The debate was on as to whether or not to cancel church considering the governor was cancelling school and government offices the following day. I was in favor of cancelling that is until I heard that there was an outdoor football game in Wisconsin that was anticipated to be heavily attended with a similar temp expectation as ours. I quickly realized that if a football game deserved such dedication so should our God and relationship with fellow believers. Surprisingly it was well attended by those without children. Parents wisely chose to stay home with their young ones.

      Enjoyed your article, explanation, and education of what church is according to the Bible. I liked the table and word stats. These really do come in handy when understanding the importance and context of topics.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Yes, I have done some reading on the blood moons. These are fascinating times we're living in.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Well it is cold and raining cats and dogs Bill, but there is a pretty day in the forecast and I will be ready and waiting with my camera. Have you been hearing or maybe already have knowledge of the blood moon? The last occurrences being in 48/49 when Israel became nation and 67/68 when they took Jerusalem. Now it is expected on Jewish feast days in 2014 & 2015. I love studies like this and seeing God's hand at work! Oh and doesn't it put the time so near?

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      This is no doubt a very wise observation, Jackie - "Today those boys (men) would have already been fired." Tolerance! Tolerance! is all that seems to be preached today. Tolerance for everybody and everything except for Christianity. Is that hypocritical or what?

      I was listening to a message by Paul Washer which said (and I believe it to be true) that in these last days Christians will be persecuted not for their beliefs, but as enemies of the state. I guess I'm getting off track a little here, but unless we stand for the Truth we'll be overrun. It's already headed that way. Enjoy your weekend in the Beautiful South.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I am only pointing out how unlike it should be it is. Who can be open and honest when worrying about peoples toes instead of their souls? Which of course I am not accusing you of, only pointing out part of your message. Even these apostles wrote letters when they heard of wrong doing in the church, no? Today those boys (men) would have already been fired.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Good Morning Jackie,

      As pastors we are told to watch for the souls of the flock. Only problem is as pastors we're imperfect as well. I know personally, I've failed the sheep many times. Still we carry on. Hope you have a great weekend and thanks for adding to the conversation.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      No we sure aren't perfect but that should be where the pastor steps in (if he sees the imperfection) and sets us straight and today that just seems to be a no no. No?

      lol ^+

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi Blossoms,

      Thanks for some very wise observations. As imperfect as the body is, we have a perfect Head. Glad you were able to stop by!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      A useful write on an important topic. The church is the people who make up the 'body of Christ.' We, the people, are not perfect, so the church is imperfect, too, but that does not mean giving up, but persevering in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      You're quite welcome MsDora. I found it interesting that the Bible never once mentions or eludes to "the universal church", yet we hear so much about it. Christ works through His local churches each with their own separate agenda that He alone guides. Thanks for the visit, and have a great rest of the day.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you especially for the explanation of the local versus the universal church. Looking forward to more on the topic. Thank you.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Good Morning Lori,

      Last things first - yes, it's a series, but I'm not sure how many installments.

      I can laugh about the can of hairspray now, but I remember just not getting it. I couldn't believe someone would actually make a can of hairspray their god. They may not have looked at it that way, I'm sure, but anytime we place more importance on something or someone other than God, it becomes our god - true?

      Satan will use anything to destroy, whether it's a can of hairspray or a bulletin board. Thanks for the vote and for stopping by to read.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi Faith,

      People can be strange at times, but then again so can the pastor. I think sometime I'll write a hub on excuses people give for shortchanging God Thanks for the visit, vote, and share.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I voted up and across the board, even funny (the can of hairspray). I hear a lot of people say "Its my only day to sleep in." They forget there is Sunday afternoon naps. "I stayed up too late on the computer." Sadly I have a dear friend who has quit attending because of conflict in the church. She hopes to go back one day when certain circumstances occur. I never expected it to happen.

      This is a great explanation of the church and scripturally sound (I know some will oppose).

      "We as hopelessly sinful people have a way to mess up and complicate things. The church is no different." That is the hardest thing about church. We want people to give us grace for messing up, but we forget to reciprocate sometimes and there's conflict. J Vernon talked about Euodia and Synthche and their little conflict today. If only we had more Paul's to call us to order.

      There were two marvelous women in our church once to went to loggerheads over who got to use a specific bulletin board. Many of us tried to get them to give each other grace and they wouldn't. Sadly, there were several other bulletin boards nearby that would have served just as well. The lady who got the board, ended up not using it.

      Will this be a series or is this one stand alone? Nice job bill.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Interesting thoughts to ponder for sure as the Body of Christ, the Church. I know you have heard just about everything before, and being a pastor is one tough job! People tend to place you up on a pedestal instead of our Lord, and then when you do not live up to being perfect, just as they want (human), they are disappointed.

      People do tend to forget the pastor is not our Lord and when we come to church, it is He we worship.

      Up and more and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper