Search for the True Church
Jesus told Peter, "I will build my church" (Mtt 16:18). Soon after he died and arose from the dead, he did exactly that —He built his church, and he has been building it ever since.
The church is people Jesus built his church not of wood and stone, but of people. Peter was one of them, a part of the church's "foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph 2:20). Peter, like the other apostles, became a part of the church's one foundation. But he did this only by preaching the truth about Jesus Christ, "the chief corner stone" (Eph 2:20) so that all who follow that truth may be a part of the church too. The church is not a hierarchy of bishops and priests. All who make Christ the foundation of their lives, and obey him in faith, become stones in the temple of God. All those people are the church of Christ. (Eph 2:19-21, 1Pe 2:4-8).
The church is what Jesus built. Jesus did not say to Peter, "I will build your church". He said, "I will build my church". It is not "the church of Saint Peter". It is the church of Christ. Jesus is the true rock, and the church has "no other foundation" and no other founder. (1Co 3:11). Many denominations exist, all built and founded by someone other than Jesus. The church is not one of these. The church existed before any of these denominations. It did not arise out of them, and they did not arise out of it. They are separate "buildings" which the Lord did not build.
The church is the bride Jesus purchased with his blood. Only the church that Jesus built was "purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28), and is the "bride" he loves (Eph 5:25). Christ doesn't have a harem. He doesn't have several different brides. He did not purchase any denomination with his blood, nor take any denomination as his bride.
The church is what we are baptized into. The church, as S.J.Stone wrote, is Christ's "new creation by water and the word" (Eph 5:26). When a person is baptized in Christ's name, what church is that person baptized into? One of the denominations? No, one is baptized into Christ and into the church of Christ. "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1Co 12:12-13).
The church is not like ice cream. Some people talk about "the church of your choice". They think of the church like ice cream that comes in various forms and flavours. You can choose any flavour you like. You can give it up when you are tired of it and feel like trying another sort of ice cream. But when it comes to choosing a church, what shall we choose? We can either "be tossed about by every wind of doctrine", or "build on the rock" of Christ's truth in love (Eph 4:14-15, Mtt 7:24). This applies not only to individual life, but to the collective life of the church. There is really only one church for a Christian to choose, and only one church for any church to be: the church that Jesus loved and died for.
How the word “church” is used. People use the word “church” to mean too many things. The following are common usages of the word “church”: a chapel or meeting house; a gathering held in the chapel for worship; the flock that habitually gathers there; the denomination they belong to; the world-wide body of saints. The Bible uses the word “church” in three of these ways, but the other two are modern usages.
In Scripture, "church" never means "denomination". The Bible confines itself to three of those meanings (B,C,E). It certainly never uses the word "church" to mean a sect, denomination, schism or ism. The Bible thus simplifies the ideas wrapped up in the word "church" and it is wise for us to untangle ourselves from the confusion of other uses. Referring to the chapel as the church is relatively harmless since it is only a metonym. However it is just as easy to call it a chapel or a "church house" as many do. Referring to a denomination, sect, schism, or ism as a "church" is misleading and confusing and is certainly not speaking as the Bible speaks.
Observe how the meaning has been distorted. If you had asked Christians in Bible times, "Which church do you belong to?" they would have answered with place names, not with the name of a denomination. Today, when you ask that question, you nearly always get the name of a denomination. Do a survey and see. That just shows you how much things have changed. There were plenty of "isms" even then, but the early Christians never spoke of the "ism" they followed as their "church". A similar kind of distortion has happened to the word "faith" and people speak of different "faiths" referring to different isms, when clearly "there is one faith" (Eph 4:5).
The Greek word for "church". The word "church" is commonly used to translate the Greek word ekklesia except in a couple of cases where ekklesia refers to a non-Christian assembly. The ek~ means "out" or "from" and the ~klesia comes from kaleo to call. So ekklesia simply means the "called out" people —called out of darkness into God's light. That light is the Lord Jesus Christ (1Pe 2:9 Jhn 1:4). There is nothing in this word to suggest a denomination.
The main point The main point that I have been hammering in discussing the meaning of the word church is that it does not mean "denomination". In our next lesson I'd like to look at another point of confusion and distortion in thinking and talking about "the church" today. This has to do with the church transcendant, not viewed as a number of local congregations but as one great body composed of all God's children everywhere.