What constitutes the Church, and what is its purpose?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Church lately: what it is, and what it is for.  I have also had a lot of inquiries from folks about how to identify and find a good church.  So for today’s post I thought it would be beneficial to examine and answer these questions, and point my readers to some resources if you find yourself looking for a church.

What the church is not

Unfortunately, in our post-modern, post-truth society church has been reduced to a positive-thinking moralism club.  Dr. MacArthur in a recent sermon on the church, addressed this very issue: 

Church is not a group of people who need a motivational talk.  Church is not a group of people who come together so they can make connections in life and enrich themselves.  It’s not a place where folks seeking help for their addictions can come.  It’s not a a place where you come to feel a little bit of a bump; maybe feel a little better about yourself.  It is the assembly of those who make this, the greatest of all confessions: Jesus is Lord, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He is the Holy One of God.

What the Church is

When we use the word church, we usually mean one of three things: a building/place, a group of people, or an activity (service/meeting).  Ekklesia is a Greek word meaning assembly, and is found most often in the writings of Paul.  Paul used the term to refer to a specific group of believers in a certain area, for example in 1 Corinthians 1:2 he writes “To the church of God which is at Corinth…” (source: Theopedia).  This is the primary meaning of the word.  The Church (big “C”) is made up of those individuals who have been called to salvation, born again of the Spirit, and placed their faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  

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What Church is for

Church is a gathering of like-minded believers, to receive instruction from the scriptures for their edification.  We go to church, or we “do” church (not a fan of that saying).  If you are part of the Church, then you are commanded to be part of, and attend, a church.  The advent of modern technology and the internet is a marvelous thing, but there seems to be an increasing lone-ranger mindset.  As in, “I don’t actually physically go to a church, I just watch my favorite pastor online, that’s my church.”  Sorry, but if this describes you, then you are in defiance of a scriptural command.  Hebrews 10:25 admonishes us “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.”  Not being a very social person by nature, I empathize with my fellow introverts who dread the public aspect to attending church: eye contact, greeting time, strangers, small talk.  I get it, I truly do.  But God knew He was creating introverts when He inspired the writer of Hebrews, so we obey.  Every believer needs fellowship with the saints, shepherding of a godly pastor, and accountability to local leadership in order to grow in sanctification.

Providentially, Dr. MacArthur of Grace Community Church recently began a sermon series titled Your Responsibility to the Church.  I listened to part 1 and part 2 yesterday, and I highly recommend them for your edification.  One thing Dr. MacArthur said that really stuck with me was that going to church is not about what we get, but about what we can give.  I admit, I am guilty of thinking this way too often.  We live in a day and age when the church at large is swollen with false converts and filled with error.  To those of us who long to walk in truth and honor the Lord, it can be taxing to wade through issues resulting from a lack of biblical discernment like unbiblical curriculum for Bible study groups, and “worship” music manufactured by false religious movements, among other things.  

Find the healthiest, most biblically based church that you can, and go to make difference.  No church is perfect because churches are filled with saved sinners.  I’m not excusing a lack of purity in the church.  False doctrine and unbiblical music are problems.  But your best bet for a local assembly may have some issues.  Perhaps that is why God is leading you to that specific one.  Every believer has spiritual gifts that have been given to them by the willful choice of the Holy Spirit, and therefore have something of value to contribute to the believers in their local church.  A body cannot scratch its nose without a finger, nor can it move without feet.   Go to love, go to learn, and exercise biblical discernment and wisdom.

How do I find a good church?

Ask other solid believers for recommendations.  Barring that, do a google search online and examine the websites of local churches.  When I have searched for myself and friends in the past, I read through their “what we believe” statement to see if their doctrine is in line with what the Bible teaches (this requires that you are in the Word regularly, and know what the Bible teaches…if you aren’t doing this, you will not have a way to discern whether or not a church is solid biblically).  This is usually a good indicator, although it is possible that it all looks good on paper, but in practice it is another thing entirely.  If there is a good statement, go and visit a few times as a Berean, and compare what you hear with what the Bible says.  If they do not have a “what we believe” statement, it would be wise to be leery.  Possibly they just aren’t hip with technology, but usually that is a sign a church is a seeker-sensitive establishment, and not a solid Bible-teaching assembly.  Here are some search engines that can give you a start to finding a solid church:

The Master’s Seminary graduate finder is a way to locate men who have graduated from the Master’s seminary, where Dr. MacArthur is president.  These men have been trained in expository preaching (good).

9Marks church search  This is another search engine from a reliable Christian resource site.  

I hope today’s post has been helpful in identifying what the church is, what it is for, and how you can find a local assembly to join.  Believers are the Church, and church is an important aspect to the health of the individual believer.  Go and be a blessing!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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