What is church? Connotatively, church simply means “a building for public worship especially Christian worship”. Christianity is the religion that is based on the person and teachings of Christ. It could also mean “a particular Christian organization with its own distinctive doctrines”. These definitions, although looks like it is the truth concerning today’s churches; is not the true meaning of the church. The above definition of church as a separate building specifically for worship would have been alien to the early believers, as they met in homes back then. As a matter of fact, whenever a building was mentioned in the New Testament, it was always in relation to the church that met there (Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; and Philemon 1:2).
From the above facts, it can then be inferred that the church is not the physical building. Biblically, the church can simply be defined as a group of people that has received the Holy Spirit. They are people that have come to terms with God’s love for them, received Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior; loving and glorifying God, and teaching others about a saving knowledge embedded in accepting the Lord Jesus Christ. This church we are talking about here, has Christ has its head (Ephesians 1:22-23), and every believer (those that have come to terms with the finished works of Grace through Christ Jesus) as a member of its body (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). The church also is the house of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). It is a place where believers are properly taught the counsel of the Lord for spiritual growth and edification.
Firstly, it must be clearly understood that Jesus Christ is the designer and builder of the church. In Matthew 16:18, he himself said “I will build my church”. The English term “church” is a derivative of the Greek termkuriakos, meaning “of or belonging to the Lord”. It is used to translate the Greek term ekklesia, which occurs one hundred and fifteen times in the New Testament, referring to God’s people of the new covenant. But all through the time that Jesus was on earth, there was no official gathering of people as it were called ‘church’. Although there were numerous occasions where Jesus gathered people together and taught them about the Kingdom of God, all these gatherings were not being referred to as church.
Officially, and according to biblical documentations; the church of God started immediately the Holy Ghost was given by the Father. The Holy Ghost was a promise of the father unto as many people that will believe on the saving grace of His son, Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38-39). The Holy Ghost is the gift of the father to the church, and not to the whole world as in the case of Jesus Christ. Christ had come, and has completed His part of God’s agenda for mankind. He has handed over the baton to the Holy Spirit and so, He is the one in charge now. The city of Jerusalem obviously hosted the first official gatherings of believers referred to as church today. Even, some Old Testament prophecies earlier pointed to Jerusalem as the place where God would establish his house, the church of the living God (Isaiah 2:2-3). Christ Himself also specified Jerusalem as the birthplace for the preaching of repentance (Luke 24:47), and he told his disciples to remain at Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), and Acts 1:8 also corroborated this fact.
It was first at Jerusalem that the Holy Ghost came upon all the apostles, then the gospel was preached, and the scriptures documented that men were baptized after believing in the gospel of our Lord Jesus and were added to the church (Acts 2). So, the first gathering of believers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ with a ministry gift being the leader was at Jerusalem. And from here, the spread of the church began, first into other cities around Jerusalem (Acts 2:47, 5:11), and unto the uttermost part of the heart (Acts 1:8).
Believers must also know that the church of God is one – irrespective of the number of denominations we have in the world today. The church in Lagos state is no different from the church in Ile-Ife, neither is the church in Nigeria different from the one in the United States, although each operating under different names and doctrines. “For 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 (1 Corinthians 12:12)”. This scriptures tells us that although there may exist many churches today, all are one in Christ. There is what is known as the Universal church and the local church. The Universal church is made up of everyone who has received Jesus Christ as their savior. It is composed of every believer from every country of the world since the time of Pentecost documented in the book of Acts chapter two until Christ’s return.
The Universal church as it were, recognizes no denominations, church names or whatsoever. It is only comprised of individual believers joined together in one body, and connected together by the Holy Spirit. The local church as it stands is a subset of the universal church. Each member of the body of Christ must belong to a local church where he or she works for the Lord, glorify God in worship, obey and honor Him, and also encourage one another to do same. It is also known as the assembling of the children of God according to Hebrews 10:25. So, from the above; there is nothing as being born again and not belong to a church. Every believer is expected to join himself or herself to a local church, and doing the work of the father.
Having examined the basis about the origin of the church, it would then be pertinent to briefly look into its purpose. The purpose of the church can be examined under two headings. They are internal purpose and external purpose. Acts 2:42 succinctly explains the internal function of the church as follows: “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (KJV).The task of ensuring that the body of Christ is being taught with sound doctrine has been entrusted to the church. The mission of nurturing believers and teaching them in the ways of the Lord, ensuring their spiritual growth and development has been placed on the church.
This is why God specifically placed ministry gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) in the church, and not somewhere else. Ephesians 4:11-14 clearly tells us the functions of these ministry gifts and what they are being called to accomplish in the body of Christ. They are specifically equipped for the equipping of the believers (saints). This singular reason is the reason why a church is not complete without a ministry gift as the head or its leader. Sound teaching culminates into spiritual maturity which leads to building up of the boy of Christ.
Externally, the purpose of the church is to fulfill the great commission as Jesus commanded it in Matthew 28:18-20. Primarily, it is pertinent for every believer to know that we have been saved so that we can in turn save others too. The Apostle Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God has committed unto us the word of reconciliation. The great commission is the general purpose of God for every believer, ensuring that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is preached unto the ends of the earth. There is no purpose nobler for the church than to introduce others to Christ. One way to do this is for the church to properly represent Christ on earth. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. An ambassador represents his country wherever he is. As an ambassador of Christ, you make it a point of duty that you don’t misrepresent our Lord Jesus.
Finally, irrespective of the church name or the denomination it belong to, how well is the church of today fulfilling God’s mandate on earth? This is a million dollar question that must be answered. Thank you for reading.