What Is the Church?

The concept of the church encompasses a profound spiritual and communal reality deeply rooted in the biblical narrative. The church is not merely a building or an institution; it is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This community continues the mission of the people of God from the Old Testament, called out from the world to worship, fellowship, learn, serve, and proclaim the gospel globally. The church derives its authority from Christ, who is the incarnate Word, and from the Scriptures, the written Word. As God’s family, adopted as His children, the church lives based on the new covenant. It is the body of Christ, with Christ as the Head, and the bride for whom Christ died to sanctify and cleanse. At His return, Christ will present the church to Himself, a glorious church, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).



The Biblical Foundations of the Church

1. The Rock as the Foundation

The imagery of the rock as a foundation for God's people is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Moses, by striking the rock to provide water for Israel, symbolized the Rock, Christ, as the foundation and sustainer of His people (Numbers 20:7-12). Moses later described God as the Rock, whose work is perfect and just (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). King David also referred to God as his rock and salvation (Psalm 62:7). Isaiah prophesied the coming Messiah as a precious cornerstone and sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16). The New Testament continues this imagery, with Peter calling Christ the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God (1 Peter 2:4), and Paul affirming that no other foundation can be laid than Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

2. Jesus Establishes the Church

Jesus explicitly used the rock metaphor when He said, "On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Here, Jesus declared Himself as the foundation of the Christian church, a foundation against which nothing can prevail. His own body, the Rock, was to be sacrificed for the sins of the world, providing healing waters to all nations (cf. Ezekiel 47:1-12; John 7:37-38; Revelation 22:1-5).



The Meaning of "Church" in the Bible

The word "church" translates from the Greek ekklesia, meaning "a calling out." This term was used for any assembly summoned by calling people to meet. In the Septuagint, ekklesia translated the Hebrew qahal, meaning "gathering" or "assembly" (Deuteronomy 9:10; 18:16). In the New Testament, "church" refers to (1) believers assembled for worship in a specific place (1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:19, 28), (2) believers in a locality (1 Corinthians 16:1; Galatians 1:2), (3) a group meeting in a home (Colossians 4:15), (4) congregations in a geographic area (Acts 9:31), (5) the whole body of believers globally (Matthew 16:18), and (6) the entire faithful creation in heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:20-22).

The Nature of the Church

1. Old Testament Roots

The church in the Old Testament was an organized congregation of God's people, beginning with God-fearing families in the lineage of Adam, Noah, and Abraham, functioning as guardians of God's truth. This household of God became a nation with Israel's mission being an extension of Abraham's—to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). The nation of Israel was called out to call other nations into God's covenant (Isaiah 56:7). However, Israel often failed in this mission due to idolatry and self-centeredness. At the cross, the mission of Israel ended, and with Christ's resurrection, the mission of the Christian church began, proclaiming salvation through Christ's blood.

2. New Testament Church

The New Testament church, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus, fulfills the mission Israel failed. Paul uses the metaphor of grafting branches to describe how Gentiles are grafted into the spiritual heritage of Israel (Romans 11:17-25). Unlike the Old Testament nation, the apostolic church became a universal, missionary organization (Matthew 28:19).



Metaphors Describing the Church

1. The Church as a Body

Paul describes the church as a body, emphasizing unity and interdependence among its members. Christ is the head, and believers are members of His body, each with unique gifts for the church’s mission (Ephesians 4:11-16).

2. The Church as a Temple

The church is described as God's building or temple, with Christ as the cornerstone (1 Corinthians 3:9-16). This temple grows as new believers, "living stones," are added (1 Peter 2:4-6). The temple metaphor underscores the holiness and unity of the church.

3. The Church as a Bride

The church is portrayed as the bride of Christ, whom He loves and sanctifies (Ephesians 5:25-27). This metaphor highlights the intimate and sacrificial relationship between Christ and His church.

4. The Church as Jerusalem Above

The church is seen as the "Jerusalem above," representing the heavenly and spiritual reality of the community of believers (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22-23).

5. The Church as a Family

The church is a family, with members adopted through faith in Christ and united by the new birth (Galatians 3:26-4:7). This familial metaphor emphasizes love, respect, and mutual support among believers.

6. The Church as the Pillar and Foundation of Truth

The church upholds and protects the truth, testing new teachings by Scripture (1 Timothy 3:15; Isaiah 8:20).

7. The Church as an Army

The church is depicted as an army engaged in spiritual warfare, equipped with the armor of God to stand against evil (Ephesians 6:12-13). Despite internal and external challenges, the church remains steadfast, anticipating Christ's return and final victory (Revelation 12:12, 17; Daniel 12:1).


The church, as depicted in the Bible, is a vibrant, multifaceted community rooted in Christ. It is a divine institution with deep spiritual significance, encompassing unity, holiness, love, truth, and mission. As the body, temple, bride, family, and army of Christ, the church continues its mission to glorify God and lead people to salvation in Jesus Christ.


Sulad Jhun Cardeinte writes from Thailand. His email address acardeinte@aiias.edu


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  • #1

    Mathew Simiyu (Wednesday, 26 June 2024 22:25)

    A community of believers sharing the same goal, and looking to Jesus the head, for directions and satisfaction of all needs.