by Mike Hovland
1 What/Who is the Church?
The Greek word translated ‘church’ is ἐκκλησία. It means ‘assembly,’ or ‘gathering.’ It is formed from two root works ἐκ and καλέω. ἐκ means ‘out’ and καλέω means ‘to call.’ A gathering consists of those people who were called out to assemble. The Lord Jesus and the New Testament writers took this word and used it to refer the gathering of believers who were called into fellowship with God. The
ἐκκλησία is made up of those who are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The New Testament speaks of ‘the called’ and by that it means those who are called into salvation. Those who are called are also justified (Romans 8:30). Calling is a divine action that grants life, and faith, and repentance. These called people are then gathered together in what Scripture calls the church. They are the gathering, the church.
In Ephesians 2, those who have been made alive with Christ have been saved by grace. They have been united together with Christ and they have been united to everyone else who is in Christ. This union of saved people is called ‘one new man’ and ‘one body.’ So, the church is the body of Christ. It is the union of born-again believers who are spiritually united in Christ. In Ephesians 5 this body is called the bride of Christ.
This assembly includes all those genuine believers who have trusted in Christ whether on earth or in heaven. This is the universal church: there is one body. There is one bride. But this universal church exists on earth in local assemblies. There is one church that meets all over the world in many individual local churches.
2 Why is the Church essential?
The church is essential because it is God’s purpose for this age. Jesus Christ is building his church. He said in Matthew 16:18 “ . . . I will build my church and the gates of hades will not overpower it.” The church is God’s plan. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are working together to build the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is God’s plan to save sinners. It is God’s plan to conform them into the image of Christ. It is God’s plan to reveal his glory. The church is the means by which God will glorify himself in this world. God works through the church to build the church. Through the church the gospel goes forth and sinners are converted and added to the church. Through the church’s ministry believers are ministered to and built up and they grow to be more like Christ.
The church is not man’s idea. The church is God on display working through human weakness, accomplishing his eternal purpose. If you don’t have the church, you are missing out on God’s purpose.
The church is more than a meeting on Sunday with singing, preaching, and the ordinances. The church
will do all of those things but more is happening, or at least more is supposed to be happening. In the gathering the Spirit of God is working through each one of us as we all use our gifts and abilities in each other’s lives. Through the body as a whole Christ is on display and as we behold Christ in one another we are transformed into his likeness. This is why the church is essential.
3 What role does the Church have in upholding the truth?
First Timothy 3:15 calls the church, “the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” The church’s mission is to proclaim the truth to the world in evangelism and to the church in edification. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations and part of that involves teaching those disciples obedience to Christ. We preach Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life. The church is the one institution on earth that has the truth. We have been converted by the word of truth. We have been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Eph 4:24). God’s truth has transformed us and is transforming us, and now our mission is to bring that truth to the world. No one else has the truth. The world has some truth but it doesn’t know the one true God. The world is blinded to the truth and our task is to open their eyes through the proclamation of the gospel.
The task of missions is to bring truth to the world. But that is also the mission of the church. You can’t separate the church and missions. The church’s task is to plant self-sustaining churches that plant churches. The Great Commission is to be done by the church by planting churches in every nation. The church is the vehicle for the propagation of the truth and the church guards the truth against false teachers and teachings.
4 When did the Church begin?
There is some debate amongst scholars on when the church began. It seems clear to me that the church began on the day of pentecost. Jesus spoke of the church as a future thing in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” He was not building his church yet, although he was making disciples. He promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who baptizes us into the church. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” The Holy Spirit immerses us into the body of Christ, into the church. Since the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, it seems that that is the best day to say the church began. From that day on, as you go through the book of Acts, more and more believers are ‘added to the church’.
5 Can a person be a Christian and not attend Church?
To be a Christian is to be part of the church. You cannot be a Christian without belonging to the universal church. But can somebody be a Christian and not attend church? That question is difficult. We don’t want to add something to the gospel. We can’t say, “You need to trust in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and go to church to be saved.” But at the same time, we recognize that trusting in Christ is a work of God’s grace in our lives that transforms us. When we trust Christ and believe the gospel certain things change. My desires change. I turn from sin to Christ. I now hate sin and love God. And loving God means loving God’s people. Being united to Christ means the Spirit of Christ lives in me.
The Spirit in me produces love for God and love for Christ and if I love God and Christ, I will love the people of God and the bride of Christ. If I love God, I will live for him and give up my life for Jesus’ sake. I will use my talents, and gifts, and resources to serve God by serving his people—and those people are in the church.
One of the tests that someone is truly in the faith is to see whether they love the people of God. The fellowship of the saints is a delight for the true believer. The fellowship of the saints is also one of the ways that we grow in the other assurance producing graces. I don’t think we can say that a Christian will always attend church, but God will move the Christian in that direction as they mature in Christ. The Holy Spirit will move the true believe into the fellowship of a local church.
6 Are politics to be discussed in the Church?
We don’t see the writers of the New Testament talking much about politics, about who to vote for, or about the various leaders in the provinces of the Roman empire. Of course, they didn’t have the same opportunities to vote for their leadership as we do now. I think the thing that is helpful for us to remember is that the solution the world needs isn’t political. Government will not be righteous until Christ returns and the government is upon his shoulder. The problem with every government is that it is composed of sinful men and women. Sin is what makes government corrupt and until the sin issue is dealt with, corruption will continue to exist. Human government will not solve spiritual issues.
Government cannot solve the world’s ultimate problem. The government is not the pillar and support of the truth. The government is not God’s chosen means to bring the gospel to the world, that’s the church’s role. Still, the government has a role to play in the world. The government’s role is to reward good behavior and punish wickedness. The government’s role is to restrain sin in the world by bearing the sword (by punishing evil).
The church is called to instruct the government in this very thing. As God’s representatives in the world we are to inform the government of their God given mandate. We see this in the New Testament. Peter and Paul both talk about the role of government. They teach the church what the government’s role is. The church is also to instruct its members in what we might call worldview issues. God’s word teaches us how to think about the world and often, a pastor-teacher does well to instruct the church on how to think biblically about current events. This kind of worldview teaching will often touch on the same topics that we might think of as political issues.
7 What is the Church’s relationship to other earthly institutions?
The church is separate from every other earthly institution.
8 Who is the head of the Church?
No one else is given the authority to direct or command the church other that her head—the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Head of the Church. He is her Lord. Her master. He leads his bride through his word and through the elders of each local church.
9 Who are your Church heroes?
When you think about the heroes of the faith, one of the things you will notice is that most of them were pastors and preachers serving the local church. There are a few itinerant preachers who stood out, but for most of church history, those who stood out and made a lasting impact were pastors who served their local churches. My heroes are pastors who preached the word of God to their people.
Those who dug deep into the word of God. Men who studied to show themselves approved, having no
need to be ashamed. Men who knew God and trusted God. Those who stood against error and who endured suffering for Jesus’ sake. I love the early church fathers who withstood the tyrannical governments of their day and gave a defense of the gospel in the face of persecution: Ignatius, and Irenaeus, and Chrysostom (they called him ‘the golden tongue’ who preached verse by verse through the books of the New Testament. I love the pre-reformers who brought the gospel to their nations, who translated the word of God for the people, and proclaimed to them the message of salvation. I think of men like Jan Huss, John Wycliff, and Peter Waldo. I love the reformers who did much the same. They recovered the gospel and defended it against Rome. They preached the word to their congregations, translated it into the common language of the people, and shone the light of God’s truth to a world in darkness. I love puritans who continued in the same vein. They meditated on the word and dug deep in their understanding of it until it transformed their lives. They reflected on the word until it transformed their lives and then they communicated it clearly so that it would change others’ lives.
These were all men of the church. Their love for Christ made them love his bride—the church and they gave up their lives for Jesus’ sake by serving the church according to their gifts.