The recent global pandemic of COVID-19 or Coronavirus and the need for physical distancing has raised a significant question, “What is the Church?” All of a sudden, the meaning, significance, and purpose of the church has raised some interesting, practical questions.
If we can’t meet at a particular place or gather together at a specific building for social distancing, how can we “do church?” How can we be the church? How do we stay connected as the church? How can we serve the world as the church?
These questions and countless others because of canceled church programs and online services have caused many to reconsider, “what is the church?”
The most basic meaning of the church is “meeting.” According to the Bible, the church (Greek ἐκκλησία, ekklēsia) is the gathered group of followers of Jesus Christ who find their identity and mission from Him as the people of God.
The church is described using several different metaphors throughout the New Testament. The apostles thought of the church as a family and frequently spoke and wrote in familial terms of brothers, sisters, and children (Acts 9:30; 15:13; Rom 12:1; 1 Cor 7:29; Gal 4:12; Heb 3:12; Jas 2:1; 2 Pet 1:10; 1 John 3:13). The church is a household of faith (Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5) demonstrating a strong commitment to Jesus and unity within the family of believers. The early church was also described as a new humanity, as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:16–17). Paul speaks often of the church as “the body of Christ” (Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:11-13; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 12:12-14, 27). The living Christ is so identified with his community that it could be spoken of as “His Body,” that is, the physical expression of his real presence on the Earth through Christians.
The church is made up of all believers in Jesus from all generations since since His ascension into Heaven (Acts 1:9-11) until He returns. It’s made up of redeemed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).
Throughout the New Testament, “the church” designates the universal church, to which all believers in Christ belong (see Acts 9:31; 1 Corinthians 6:4; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). The church, also, refers to the local church described in Paul’s writings as “the church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32) and “the churches of Christ” (Roman 16:16) in specific cities, locations, and even houses.
While the earliest believers in Christ continued to visit the temple complex in Jerusalem regularly, even after Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:3; 5:21,42; 21:26), they centered their faith around Christ and His indwelling Spirit rather than a particular place (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The temple of God no longer was to be seen as a physical temple but was located in Christ and the church. The community of believers is “God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9) and believers in Christ are responsible to be involved in its construction with “materials” that endure (1 Corinthians 3:10–13).
As Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, proclaims the Good News and touches the lives of people with redemption, reconciliation, and restoration (Luke 4:18-19), so the church is empowered by the Spirit to become a community of caring and sharing people (Acts 2:43–47; 4:31–37). As Jesus, the Man of the Spirit, reaches out to the weak, poor, infected, neglected, and rejects of society, so the community of the Spirit is concerned with concrete human needs of food, shelter, and health (Acts 4:34-35; 6:1–6). Like Jesus, individual members of the church are not concerned exclusively about their needs, but the needs of others (Mark 10:43-45). The Christian community scattered and serving others everywhere, is God’s plan, God’s alternative to the brokenness and fragmentation of human society.
So it doesn’t matter where we meet, how we meet, or under what circumstances we meet. We can meet online, we can meet on the phone, we can meet with the appropriate 6′ of physical distancing without limiting our social connection. What matters is Jesus and that we are His by faith to meet the needs of the world help them meet Him – tell them about who He is and what He has done (Acts 1:8).
Perhaps Jesus’ first word about the founding and enduring of the church in Matthew 16:18 is the best word for us today in the midst of the Coronavirus: “I will build my church, and the powers of death will not prevail against it.” The church has left the building, but Christ is still in the world through His people.
Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ, love others, and serve the world for the glory of God with Plano Bible Chapel.