Following a discussion with a learned friend recently, it became painfully apparent that my personal definition of “Church” was quite different from his. He challenged me to explore this further, particularly to look at the New Testament to see Biblical evidence of Church. This document is an analysis of this research, which will hopefully point me towards a Biblical definition that is also culturally relevant and contextual for today.
Personal opinions matter
Since this exploration started with a difference of opinion, I thought it would be worth asking a few more people for their opinions too, to gather as broad a range as possible. The answers were not intended to be scientific or cleverly thought out, and most people I asked were not given much chance to craft their responses, and that was quite deliberate; what I wanted was people’s gut feel, their immediate impression, a summary of what was most important to them.
Those with theological training (perhaps unsurprisingly) gave the most Biblically-centred answers. A common point of reference was Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”. To them, this is Church.
Interestingly, those with a less leadership-oriented perspective came up with very different definitions, centred more around community, family, people, personal experience, and spirituality. Some highlighted the importance of the mix of believers and unbelievers, showing the importance of mission and being outward focused. One person quoted Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. Another had a more timeless understanding of Church, including all believers throughout time and throughout the world, highlighting the nature of the breadth of corporate worship.
As for me, I had my own opinion too. I instinctively defined Church as the following:
The Church is the body of believers acting as a community within the community to worship and encounter Jesus.
However, as confident as I was of this definition when I first met with my learned friend, I recognised the importance of looking to the Bible first, and using God’s Word to inform my definition, rather than just finding Bible passages that backed up my opinion.