What or Who Is The Church?
Definition of Terms:
The building or structure where Christians gather to worship is often called a "Church". A church building may be a structure designed specifically for this purpose or any other designated location, such as a rented hall, office space or an individual's home.
Universal/Catholic/Christian Church, The Bride of Christ
The whole body of the faithful, all of God's elect throughout all time: past, present, and future. Sometimes interchangeably called the "invisible" church, however that term is also tied to a specific distinction as related to the "visible" church.
Visible vs. Invisible Church
Many believe that the Church, as described in the Bible, has a twofold character that can be described as the visible and invisible church.
In this view, the Church invisible consists of all those from every time and place who are vitally united to Christ through regeneration and salvation and who will be eternally united to Jesus Christ in eternal life. The universal, invisible church refers to the "invisible" body of the elect who are known only to God, and contrasts with the "visible church" -- that is, the institutional body on earth which preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments. Every member of the invisible church is considered saved, while the visible church contains some individuals who are saved and others who are unsaved. [see Mt. 7:21-24]
However, these terms are somewhat unhelpful because is draws a false distinction: It forces the comparison of "elect" vs. "elect mixed with non-elect" --groups which cannot be directly compared.
The True (Visible) Church
The True Church is a subset of the Universal/Catholic/Christian Church. It refers to those elect individuals --and only the elect-- who are living and have physical bodies upon the earth at any given time; particularly those that may gather together geographically in the same time and location for worship and fellowship and to practice baptism, partake of communion and exercise discipline, etc. Non-elect may gather at the same time and place, and be disguised as "elect" but they are not truly part of this church.
This is the definition of "church" most commonly used in the bible. For instance, when Paul addressed his letter "unto the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor 1:2), he was directly addressing all Christians ("them that are sanctified") in the whole city, and indirectly including us today, not only those few who met in a specific house or synagogue. Certainly, some non-elect heard and read the letter as well, but that is not who the letter was addressed to.
A localized collection of Christians, usually with formally ratified beliefs and bound together by vows of membership. Typically a congregation meets for formal worship and other Christian activities at a church building. A traditional congregation will have some individuals serving in the offices of pastor, elder, teacher, deacon, etc., elected by the congregation to serve and minister unto the congregation.
The Church Institution, Church Government / Corporate Church / Corporal Church
The practical, visible, authoritative and social structure within a church congregation. Particularly, related to the offices of Pastor, Elder and Deacon. This term does not define a "church" itself, rather it is a description of how members of a congregation are to order and govern themselves.
A formally organized collection of church congregations of similar theological belief and practice. A denomination will typically have it's own set of formally ratified beliefs which the individual congregations must ascribe to.
How does the Bible define the church?
Simply put, a church is a gathering of two or more Christians.
The English word "church" or "churches" occurs 117 times in the KJV translation of the bible. Of those 117 instances, 115 times it is translated from Greek word ekklesia (Strong's Number G1577). The Greek word ekklesia occurs a total of 118 times in the original text. Of the 118 occurrences, 115 times it is translated "church" or "churches" and the remaining 3 times it is translated "assembly". Ekklesia refers to a gathering of people, in this case, a gathering of Christians, which is translated "church".
By this definition, any 2 or more Christians who assemble themselves together would rightly be called an ekklesia and therefore a "church". This is the root definition and how the bible uses the word "church". Note that what the church is (Christians) and what the church does are different things. So far we have only defined who the church are.
An ekklesia may meet at a particular person's home, an ekklesia may refer to all Christians in a particular city, or it may refer to the whole body of Christ (the "invisible" church).
A gathering of Christians and non-Christians may not rightly be called a "church". Christians and non-Christians may indeed gather together, but the non-Christians are not truly part of the church. As God will say "depart from me, I never knew you". Only the Christians are counted for the church, non-Christians are always described as "among you", "you" being the church addressed in the letter.
Ultimately, there is only one Ekklesia, One Body, Bride of Christ, the Holy Temple...
Marks of a True Church
Christians, while on this earth, are instructed to act and behave in a certain manner. While no individual congregation is perfect, the following distinguishing marks are basic to doing God's will and serving the needs of His church. That these things are not repealed by God anywhere in the bible, they are to continue until His return.
Preaching of the Gospel
Administration of the Sacraments
Biblical Principles of Church Unity, Special Committee Report of the Reformed Church in the United States (1999)
Roles of the Church
The bible defines what the church should do and how it should behave.
Guardian and defender of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15)
Camping identifies church documents such as creeds and confessions, intended to summarize what the Bible teaches and to serve as standards by which the church can guard against false doctrine and false teachers, as sinful "high places." He goes so far as to assert that faithful adherence to these documents is a sign that the church has established "idolatrous high places" and that God has judged and rejected the church due to this "sin."
Because churches teach many things that are not true to the Bible, including a plan of salvation that is contrary to the Bible, and the Holy Spirit has abandoned all churches, those still following any church on May 21, 2011 are not saved.... These dear people do not realize at all that they, themselves, are in spiritual nighttime, a condition that guarantees that when Christ comes they, themselves, will be destroyed in the Day of Judgment.
-- "No Man Knows the Day or the Hour?", Harold Camping, www.familyradio.com
Perhaps some churches go too far; but creeds, confessions and the like are only tools intended to help teach what the bible teaches. It is the job of the church to define and defend what Christ has taught:
1 Timothy 3:15
14These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:
1Ti 3:15But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Mercy and service.
The church has been called by God to exercise diaconal or mercy ministries to both believers and unbelievers. (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15; Galatians 6:10; etc. Also, Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:8-13; Ephesians 1:3; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-31; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Eph. 4:1-16)
Corporate worship of God, including the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments
These things are to continue until Christ Comes:
Hebrews 10:25 25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
1 Corinthians 11:26 26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
Revelation 2:25 25But that which ye have [already] hold fast till I come.
One, Universal, Catholic Church
There is only One, Universal, Catholic Church. One Body.
4For as we have many members in one body and all members have not the same office:
5So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14
12For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
14For the body is not one member, but many.
19Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
18Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
The word of Christ is clear: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it..." Harold says that's just referring to the "eternal" church not the institutional or organized church, but that is merely an invented explanation. There is nothing in the text of Matthew 16:18ff that suggests that Christ was just talking about the "eternal" church and not the so-called institutional church, as if scripture taught there were two churches. "There is ONE body, ONE lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism...ONE God and Father..." Eph 4:4ff. Accordingly to the Apostles there is only ONE church not two: the so-called "eternal" church and the so-called "institutional" church. You can't get that from Matthew 16 or Ephesians 4 or any other passage about the church. What Christ said about the church He build does NOT pertain to this imaginary "eternal" church as opposed to this so-called separate and distinct "institutional" church.
Consider: Were the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 given to the "eternal" church or the "institutional" church? The question is non sequitur, they are like two sides of the same coin.
1 Thessalonians 5
Note that in the context of second coming of Christ, the Thessalonian church, which is not in darkness(v.5), was instructed to comfort and edify each other - things which are ordained as one of the roles of the church:
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
2For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
6Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
7For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
8But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
9For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
10Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
11Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
It is also important to highlight that the church (that is, those appointed "to obtain salvation", v.9) knows that "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night". It is unbelievers who say "peace and safety".
When did God stop viewing believers as sheep in need of protection? If they are still considered sheep, where are the shepherds? If you say that Christ is the only shepherd, then God has radically changed His way of dealing with His people.... We understand that Scripture teaches that safety is found in the sheepfold, danger and death are found outside. For example, the Apostle refers to the removal of a member from the church as delivering "such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh."
The pivotal error in Camping's legacy was refusing to submit to his church's authority way back in the 80's and going out alone. Like in the old west, "lone rangers are dead rangers;" you really need a posse to stay safe. The same is true in churches, sometimes you need a brother or sister or elder to straighten you out. Brothers and sisters may fight at home, but they will defend each other to the death if attacked.
"Success does not necessarily determine legitimacy. One needs only consider the success and growth of cults such as the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses to understand this fact." (RCUS Report of The Special Committee To Study Harold Camping's View Of The Church, 2003)
Believers are also part of a corporate body that worships together. The church is not just an organism, but an organization as well. Christ has ordained that it should be governed by officers, and according to certain structure.
Christians do need one another, for their counsel and help. They also need to be there to help other believers in need. By isolating his followers from those who might teach them otherwise they are insulated from anyone who might call them to repent of their actions.
1 John 2:19
19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would [no doubt] have continued with us: but [they went out], that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
By teaching that Jerusalem surrounded by armies meant the corporate church (Jerusalem) was taken over by Satan and so we were commanded to depart out. Camping keeps telling us that we are to let the Bible define our words, but when we do this for the word "Jerusalem", nowhere do we see the Bible defining Jerusalem as the "corporate NEW TESTAMENT church".
However, the Bible DOES define Jerusalem in Galatians 4 as either those condemned by the works of their own hands (represented by Hagar) or Mt. Sinai or he that was born after the flesh and is called "Jerusalem which now is" or Jerusalem is defined in Galatians 4 as he that was born after the Spirit (by the works of Christ) represented by Mount Zion and called "Jerusalem above". We are told to cast out the bondwoman and her son. That is the Gospel call to flee the works of our own hands and flee to Christ. Mr. Camping, the Jerusalem that is surrounded by armies that we are to depart out of are the works of our own hands (including relying on all fleshly works of our own hands such as your calendar). This is consistent with the message of the entire Bible. It is the message that salvation is only to be found in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.