The word church is an interesting word, because it means more than one thing when people say or hear it. Some people think of a building. Some people think of a local gathering. Some think of a group gathering in a home. Some people think of a structure of authority spanning the globe. Some understand it to mean all believers everywhere. Some think of an underground movement of believers worshipping secretly, out of sight of the oppressive government. Some think of a place they were forced to go as children. Some think of a social organization, a good place to go with good people to do good deeds.
But what do we actually see God say about the church? I think we can learn three important truths about the church in the greeting that Paul sends to the church in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 1:2 – To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
What do we learn about the church in this verse? First, it is the church of God. God is over the church. The church belongs to the Lord. He is the one who created the church, and the very existence of the church is for his honor. That removes so many false pictures of the church. We cannot be a social club, a political expedient, or a man-centered gathering of do-gooders who come to make themselves feel better as they shape the world into their own image.
The church is a local gathering of believers. If this were not the case, then the greeting that Paul gave, “To the church of God that is in Corinth,” would not have made any sense. The church is a gathering of geographically connected believers who come together for the purposes of the worship of God and obedience to his word.
Consider the potential failure in our Christian lives if we miss the concept of the local church. There are some believers who never connect to a local body. They bounce around from gathering to gathering, enjoying the novelty of different groups of people and styles of worship from Sunday to Sunday. Such people miss the fact that God has designed church life to be experienced in connected units, groups that gather in different places and demonstrate commitment to the Lord by their commitment to one another. A person who does not connect to a local church simply cannot experience the Christian life the way that the Lord intends.
But also notice that the church is a global body. Paul says at the end of this verse that the church consists of people, “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” `, church is also the proper word for all saints of God everywhere. Every single saved person on earth today and throughout all of human history is part of the church universal. Thus, all Christians must grasp that we are connected to a mass of people from every nation and every people group that exists.
Again, consider the problems that come if we miss this truth. If we miss that the church is a global body, we will assume that every Christian group should function exactly as our local body functions. We should assume that Christians sing the songs we sing, sit in the same kind of seats we sit in, and experience the same kind of lives that we lead. But the truth is, the church global is far bigger than any of our cultures. Some churches meet outdoors. Some meet in hiding. Some meet in homes. Some meet in glorious buildings. Some sing without instruments. Some have drums and nothing more. Some have full bands. Some have orchestras. Some have a piano or maybe even an organ. We fail to think well of the church if we do not see that the church is far bigger, far greater, far more diverse than our local gathering. We are a part of a greater whole, the people of God saved by Jesus for the honor of the Lord.
When you think church, what do you think? If you only think local, you miss the beautiful mosaic that God is putting together of different clusters of people all over the world. If you only think global, however, you are failing to connect to a local body so as to rightly live out the commands that God has given for us to love and grow together with one another. May we all learn to connect to the church local and global to God’s glory.