What is the “True Church?”
Is it defined by our big cathedrals with stained glass windows and mass choirs?
Is it defined by our fancy stage-shows with rock bands, lights, and illustrated sermons?
Is it defined by the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who huddle together in secret meetings of 4 or 5 people for worship, fellowship, discipleship, and communion (if they get caught, they would be imprisoned, tortured, or even killed).
The true Church has no specific method or program that we can look at and say, “That’s it!”–but it does have some very important scriptural qualities that are consistent throughout.
If you read through the book of Acts, you will find the word “Church” used rather often–and it always spoke of the people more than a system or religion. Here are a few examples:
- Acts 5:11–“Great fear seized the church.” A religion can’t experience fear–people do.
- Acts 8:1–The Church was persecuted and scattered. You don’t persecute buildings, methods, religion, or programs–you persecute people. And if you scatter a building or oganization, it falls apart–but when the Church was scattered, it only served to spread the Gospel further!
- Acts 9:31–“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.” These are qualities of people–not programs.
- Acts 12:5–The church prayed. Only people can do this–not a building or program.
Then we find out in Colossians 4:15 that someone (a woman at that) had church in her house!
So what is the “True Church?”
1 Corinthians 11:18 presents a beautiful clue as to what the “True Church” really is (even though this verse is talking about something else in context). It says right there in the middle: “…when you come together as a church…” In other words, Christians are Christians; but we become “the Church” when we come together!
The New Testament is full of instances where “The Church” is shown to be “The Body of Christ.” And we’re told over and over again that we are all different parts with many different roles. Even Jesus pointed out that He is present when we come together:
Matthew 18:20–For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (NIV).
Yes Jesus is within every individual Christian through the Holy Spirit, but He is only in the midst of us when we come together!
God does not call us to be individuals who invent our own personal brand of spirituality and wave the banner of “Just Jesus and me–I don’t need anyone else.” Such people are not only missing out on the love and fellowship that come from the true church, but they are also cutting themselves off from the full measure of Christian authority. Jesus didn’t say that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against a single Christian–He said that they will not prevail against the Church!
There’s more to be said about authority in the Church (which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets–Ephesians 2:20) and the fact that it’s possible (and good) to organize and mobilize the Church (see Paul’s letters to Timothy); but we’ll save these for another time. For now, simply remember this:
We need each other! Let’s come together and BE the church!