It is my conviction that the church is the most important institution in the world. This conviction has helped me serve it wholeheartedly for over 30 years through varied seasons. Yet after more than 30 years, I still often feel that I have not done enough for the church of God.
But why is the church so important or significant that it would demand the unwavering service and commitment of the followers of Christ?
The short answer is that it is the Body of Christ, it is the family of God, it is the kingdom of God on earth, it is the bride of Christ. The church is not a social phenomenon. It is not a man’s idea or a good idea. It is much more than a human institution. It is a divine movement.
Ultimately the true significance of the church lies in its relationship with the Triune God. Born out of the death and resurrection of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, it is the body through which God currently works in the world.
The NT Greek word for the church is “ekklesia” which means “assembly.” In essence, it is the gathering of God’s people called out to do God’s will on earth.
That the church constitutes the people of God has important implications. Firstly, there is a mutual belonging between God and his people. God’s people belong to him and God, in turn, belongs to his people. Secondly, God’s people belong together. It is only when believers are together that they constitute the church.
This ‘belonging to God and to each other’ means God expects his people to assemble to worship him and to pray together. Furthermore, Jesus expects his people to observe his commandment to partake the Lord’s Supper together (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). God also expects his people to fellowship with each other. He expects them to obey his many commandments to serve one another, to encourage one another, and to love one another.
The most extended image of the church in the Bible is that it is the body of Christ. The body is to be connected by genuine fellowship and care. The church in the Book of Acts even shared material possessions with one another (Acts 4:32-36)!
This image does not only emphasise the close connectivity of the church but also reveals the church as the focal point of Christ’s activity on earth. As the body of Christ, the church is the continuation of Christ’s presence and the extension of his ministry.
While the church is a divine creation, it is made of imperfect human beings. It will not reach perfect sanctification or glorification until the Lord’s return. Nonetheless, its significance and importance as the assembly of God’s people called out to worship God and extend Christ’s work on earth cannot be overstated. God takes pride in his church. He provides for it and protects it. Therefore, nothing — no power on earth or in hell — can overcome the church of God (Matthew 16:18).
While the church gathers and serves God on earth today, in the future the church will gather and serve God in heaven.
Jesus will return for his church and the wedding of Christ and His bride will take place at the end of the age. Until that time arrives, all true followers of Christ ought to cherish and love the church as God does. God expects us to fully embrace our identity as his church on earth and to wholeheartedly serve him as his gathered people.
- Erickson, Millard J. Introducing Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1997).