There are many beautiful church buildings today. But do you know that for the first 300 years since the church was formed, there were no church buildings? So buildings cannot be what church is about.
It’s a bit like marriage. You say: “What’s marriage about? Well, it’s a ring, a marriage certificate.” Yes, but those are the trappings. That’s not the essence of what marriage is about.
At the heart of it is something much more profound, and at the heart of the church is something beautiful and glorious.
In the New Testament there are over 100 images and metaphors about the church. In this article, we’ll look at five that represent the essence of church.
1. WE NEED ONE ANOTHER’S FRIENDSHIP
“…Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15b)
That’s what Jesus says to us: I call you my friends. And we’re called not just to friendship with Jesus but friendship with one another in the church.
There’s something amazing about this friendship. The word that was used in the New Testament to describe friendship is koinonia, meaning “fellowship”.
Koinonia was used to describe the marriage relationship, and it’s a depth of relationship that cuts across all age, ethnicity, background, culture and personality types.
This level of connection is different from being a Facebook friend; it goes much deeper.
Someone once said this: ‘There are two things you can’t do alone. You can’t get married alone, and you can’t be a Christian alone.
The writer of Hebrews says this: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
Because our faith will never survive on our own – it will dwindle.
2. WE BELONG IN THIS FAMILY
We are the family of God. The church is not an organisation that you join; it’s a family where you belong.
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’ – in other words, you are a child of God: God is your Father – ‘and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” (1 John 5:1)
You can’t say you love God but you don’t like his children. God is your Father, and that makes you brothers and sisters.
God’s intention was to bring the whole human race together as a family united around Christ. And becoming a member is not by birth but by rebirth.
Jesus talked about being born of water and the Spirit. Jesus was baptised, and he commanded his disciples to baptise.
Becoming a Christian involves three things.
- Something God does: God gives you the Holy Spirit.
- Something you do: Repent and believe.
- Something the church does: Baptise.
Baptism is the mark of being a member of the church. And it symbolises washing, being cleansed – the water is cleansing, like we were cleansed through the blood of Jesus on the cross.
It also symbolises the Holy Spirit. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:38 NASB)
And then it also symbolises dying and rising with Christ.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
3. IT’S GOD’S HOME
In the Old Testament, the physical temple was God’s home. That’s the place of his presence. That’s why people loved it so much. In the New Testament, it’s not a physical building – it’s a building made up of people.
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21–22)
Jesus said: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the middle, in the midst.’
In other words, when the church comes together like this, the whole Trinity’s there – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The church is God’s home.
There’s something amazing about going to church – coming home – to be refreshed, revived, reinvigorated, re-energised. And that’s what the early church did: they came together for those things.
And when they came together, what they did was they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching – the equivalent for us would be hearing the Bible expounded; to the fellowship – to this friendship that is so encouraging; to the breaking of bread to communion; to prayer – praying for one another.
And church is designed to be a place where people come, and are not judged but loved, accepted and welcomed home.
4. THAT’S HOW THE WORLD WILL SEE JESUS
Jesus never wrote a book; he formed a community. He started with a small group, and that small group grew rapidly.
The church – which consists of all who profess the name of Christ – has been growing for the last 2,000 years since his disciples first received the Great Commission.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
The body of Christ cannot be divided. The church may be multifaceted but it needs to be united.
No one has the whole truth. It’s only together that we get a better view of the One who is the truth: Jesus is the truth.
Unity and truth go hand in hand.
Jesus prayed “that we may be one” – we may be united – “in order that the world will believe” (John 17:20-21).
A divided world demands a united church who will set an example of unity that is both powerful and beautiful. What unites us as Christians is infinitely greater than what divides us.
In a united church, everyone has a part to play: everyone praying, everyone giving, everyone serving.
The church is Jesus. It’s his body to the world.
5. THE CHURCH IS LOVE
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:25,32)
In a way, marriage is like a picture of something even more amazing and beautiful and profound: the relationship between Christ and the church.
Marriage is a great analogy. If you just have marriage and no love, it’s kind of dead and dry. And if you just have love but without marriage, it’s a bit unstable. But if you bring together the love that two people have for each other and the institution of marriage, then it is so powerful.
And it’s the same with the church.
We express our love for God in our worship and by what we do in our service. And he church should be famous for our love – a love that is radical, inclusive, unconditional, of people of different backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, lifestyles, perspectives.
The church is not a museum that displays these “perfect people”. It’s more like a hospital that welcomes the broken, the hurt, the wounded and helps them to find healing.
This unconditional love breaks down barriers. It puts people back on their feet. It restores and heals.
Being a Christian means belonging to the church. You don’t go to church – you are the church.
You are friends of Jesus. You are God’s family. Church is home. Church is Jesus. And church is love.
Jesus died for you. You are a child of God. You have the Holy Spirit living within you. You have the most powerful message in the world.
You can’t do it on your own.
This article was adapted from the Alpha Transcripts and has been republished with permission. If you have more questions and would like to further explore the basics of the Christian faith, find out more about Alpha or use the map below to connect with an Alpha group near you.
- What does church mean to you?
- Which of these five images of church do you resonate with the most?
- Which of these do you struggle with the most?