What is the church?

What is the church?  The church can be understood in two ways: the visible and the invisible. The visible church is comprised of all who claim the name of Christian and who gather together for worship and participation of the sacraments: the Lord's Supper and Baptism. The members of the visible church claim the name of Christian (excluding the cults like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.). But, the visible church contains both believers and non-believers. In other words, there are people in the visible church who are not really saved.

The members of the invisible church are the actual body of believers. They are the ones who are truly regenerate and have trusted, by faith, in the true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The true Christian is indwelt by the Lord Jesus (John 14:23) through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Christian church is figuratively said to be the body of Christ.

  • Rom. 12:5, "So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."
  • Eph. 4:12, "For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."

The word "church" comes from the Greek "ekklesia" which means "gathering" or "assembly." Therefore, the church is the gathering of the believers who come together to participate in fellowship with one another as they worship God and hear from His Word, the Bible. The church as a whole has been equipped with people possessing different spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:5-8). The purpose of the gifts is

Eph. 4:12-13, "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

The Christian Church was founded by Jesus

The Christian church was founded by Jesus and He is its Head and Savior (Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:23). Being in the church, the Christian is subject to the Lordship of Jesus (Eph. 5:24) through the administration of the Word of God.  but, the true church is mainly the body of believers, not just an ecclesiastical structure. Nevertheless, the New Testament tells us how the formal church is to operate.

It states that there are to be elders who govern in the church. These elders are appointed by the laying on of hands (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). They are to be able to teach sound doctrine and refute error (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:2). There are to be deacons, and worship, and the preaching of the word of God.  Pretty simple.

The purpose of the church is to both glorify God and to inform the world about the work of Christ as Redeemer.

The Greek word for church is used in different ways


The following table is the summation all 114 occurrences of the word "church" (ἐκκλησία) as is found in the New Testament Greek. However, you might notice that the numbers add up to 151, not 114. This is because in some contexts the word 'church' can fit into more than one category. This also applies to the percentages.  They don't add up to 100% for the same reason. In fact, they add up to 133%.

  1. Body of Christ, possible 41 occurrences, or 36%.
  2. Gathering of people, possible 3 occurrences, or 3%.
  3. Local Churches, possible 72 occurrences, or 63%.
  4. People of God, possible 12 occurrences, or 11%.
  5. Ecclesiastical Body, possible 23 occurrences, or 20%.

This is important because some group subjects as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church .both claim to be the "true church."  They assert that their authority is traced back to Jesus. They frequently ask if we are in the true church. But as you can see, how God uses the word is different than how they do. Mainly, the church is the body of believers, not just an earthly organization.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.