What is the Church?
Daily Reading: (Matthew 16:18):
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
We know that Jesus is not talking about “church” in the sense of a physical building yet we might think of the church as a place that we go to. So, if we know that the church is not a building than what is a church that Jesus is talking about where the gates of hell will not prevail against it? The answer comes from the definition of church in the verse itself.
“Church” (ekklēsia) is a called out assembly of Christians gathered for worship. When you break down the etymology of the word- “ekklesia” comes from two Greek words: ek “out” or “from” and klesia comes from kaleo “to call”. So ekklesia simply means the “called out [people].
What is the church? It is you and me gathered together worshipping God. We are a gathering of people called out of darkness into God’s light.
Can I worship on a zoom call? Absolutely. Can we be the church inside of a nursing home? Of course. Can I be the church that thinks outside the box? Can I gather virtually in my pjs and my socks? Can I be the church on a boat? Or out in the countryside next to goats? Can I be a church that meets in a house? Does it count if I attend one Sunday without my spouse? The answer is yes to all of those questions.
Paul paints a clear picture that we are the church in his letter to the church (assembled believers) at Corinth.
“For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17b).
The Greek word for temple that Paul used (naos) was used of the temple at Jerusalem, but not only that, it was only of the sacred sanctuary itself, consisting of the Holy place and the Holy of Holies. God’s Temple is the most holiest place where only the High Priest could enter once a year to atone for the sins of the people. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle/temple by the veil, a huge, heavy drape made of fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn and embroidered with gold cherubim.
There existed a barrier between man and God. The holiness of God could not be accessed by anyone but the High priest, and then only once a year. When Jesus died, an amazing thing happened and at that very moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51a). It was a supernatural event done by the power of God to make a very specific point: because of the death of Christ on the cross, man was no longer separated from God.
The Old Testament temple system was made obsolete as the New Covenant was ratified. No longer would we have to depend on priests to perform once-a-year sacrifices on our behalf. Christ’s body was “torn” on the cross, just as the veil was torn in the temple, and now we have access to God through Jesus: “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20). The once-for-all-time sacrifice of Christ did away with the necessity of yearly sacrifices, which could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:11). Those sacrifices were merely a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice to come, that of the holy Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29). The Holy of Holies, the very presence of God, is now open to all who come to Christ in faith. Where, before, there was an imposing barrier guarded by cherubim, God has opened a way by the shed blood of His Son.
So now where God would only dwell in the most holy place, Jesus has made that place you. You are the most holy saints because you are in Christ and now as the Temple the Spirit of God dwells within us. “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17b).
What is the church? We are! As God’s Holy Temple, Christ becomes real to others through our lives. We are able to love because we first received Jesus’ love, we are the light because we have the light. The church is not something outside of you, but you are in fact, a member of the Body of Christ, God’s Holy Temple, Christ living in you.