the weblog of Alan Knox

The church is God’s people gathered together. Really.

Posted by on Apr 15, 2013 in definition | 4 comments

What do you think about when you hear the word “church” (or “ekklesia” if you prefer the Greek term, or “iglesia” if you prefer Spanish, or “eglise” if yo prefer French, etc.)? What picture comes to mind? What fills your imagination?

Many, many Christians – probably most – would immediately respond that the church is the people. Of course, when we talk about “church,” we not just talking about any people; we’re talking about God’s people. And, again, most would agree.

But, many would also put limitations, boundaries, or conditions on which “people of God” they can refer to as “church.” And, that’s a problem.

Because, you see, even if we SAY that we believe that the church is the people of God, in practice we actually live as if other things (besides the people) work to define who constitutes church.

What kinds of things do people allow to define who among God’s people actually constitutes “church” for them? Well, for some, it’s location. For others, it’s time. For others, it’s event or activities. For some, it’s organization or leadership or hierarchy. For still other, it’s certain particular doctrines.

If these things are allowed to define church, then what happens when the people are in a different location? They’re not the church. What if they get together at different times? Then it’s not the church. What if they gather for different activities? They’re not the church. What if the organization or leadership is not present or disappears? Then the church is gone too.

Then, for others, it’s only “church” when a certain group of the people of God get together. If it’s others among God’s people who get together, then they don’t consider that church. (It’s a slightly different take on the organization aspect mentioned above.)

We must be honest with ourselves. If things like location, place, activities, or organization modify our understand of who is or who is not “church,” then we are not truly identifying the church with the people of God.

The problem is, the church really is the people of God. It’s that simple. When we are with our brothers and sisters in Christ (in any place, at any time, for any activity, with any or no organization), we are the church.

When we don’t recognize ourselves as the church, we’re likely to miss what God is intending to do through us to build up others or through others to build us up. When we don’t recognize ourselves as the church, we will also miss the fact that we are family and should treat each other as family.

So, the church really is the people of God. We must not allow anything else to qualify (or “disqualify”) that definition.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-15-2013

    Alan, another thought provoking post!

    Your statement, “If things like location, place, activities, or organization modify our understand of who is or who is not “church,” then we are not truly identifying the church with the people of God,” is pivotal, to which I must ask, “How or where to we gain OUR understanding of “church?”

    And if you would allow me to respond to my own question, “God has not left it up to us to gain an understanding on our own, apart from His description in the New Testament.” In other words, the church is not what we make it – it is what God makes it. He (the Lord Jesus) is the Owner, Originator, Architect, Designer, Builder, and He chooses the Material with which to build it – its composition. He chose the ‘birthday’ of the Church, and He will choose the day when He will take her to be His bride.

    What we see in Christendom today (at least 99% of it), is not His church. It is man’s idea of what church should be – far removed from God’s idea of what it actually is.

    We need to distinguish which church are we talking about. The Church (universal) has no location, no meeting place, no formal government except the Lord Jesus alone, is invisible and indivisible and composed of saints, those who have passed off this scene and those that truly belong to Him who have been left on earth as His testimony.

    The local church has definite locations (eg. the church at Corinth, etc.) where the people meet together for various activities, has elders and deacons constituting its local form of government who are answerable to the Lord as Head, can be persecuted, is composed of saints and sinners alike (not all who attend a local church are saved), has to deal with sin (leaven), etc.

    So I suppose first of all, we need to clarify which “church” we are discussing.

    By the way, I believe the picture of the local church we get from the New Testament is clear. It is we who have brought into the “church” all sorts of extraneous ideas and concepts, and the evidence of that is all around us.


  2. 4-16-2013

    Church is often understood as a verb. We can be in the same family, but we don’t “do” family, and family exists whether we get together or not.

    We can “do” church. We can also get together and not “do” church, even with those we consider “our church” (noun), like when we get together for a picnic, or even when we get together for a bible study or for a meal.

    Can we use the terms “family” and “church” interchangeably? Family relationships always exist, whether we are together or apart, whether we meet with or without the family elders.

    Are we church in the same ways we are family?

  3. 4-16-2013

    One definition of ecclesia/church that is used among a certain group is a local assembly of baptized (meaning baptized by immersion after a profession of faith) believers. That definition is generally prefaced by the description of a True New Testament Church.

    There are various problems with that definition that revolve around two issues – namely baptism and local assembly. For example, they take exception to the description of a “universal” church.

    A distinction needs to be made about the concept of assembly. In Hebrews 10:25 we read about “the assembling of ourselves together” but that only refers to a local assembly – a matter of personal choice and preference. And it is important to note that the Church, which is the Body of Christ, is not ever assembled on the earth until sometime after the 70th week. The only time that the Church, which is the Body of Christ, is ever assembled is at the Rapture, when Christ assembles us all, “them also which sleep in Jesus” and those “which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord”, in the air.

    This certain group is very active in the U.S. Your final comment, “So, the church really is the people of God. We must not allow anything else to qualify (or “disqualify”) that definition” is a powerful statement. To define ecclesia/church beyond the the literal definition of the called out ones, distorts many other issues. In fact, it violates “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” which is an extremely serious issue in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus is dishonored by divisions in His Body.

    I’ve just discovered your blog and am exploring it with great interest and growing enthusiasm. Keep up the good work.

  4. 4-18-2013


    Yes, we must allow Jesus to build his church whenever we are around our brothers and sisters in Christ – any brothers and sisters in Christ in any location at any time.


    Well, we are a family with all who are in Christ, and when we gather we are “church.” So, in some ways the terms are interchangeable.


    I’ve asked people about definitions of church similar to the one you mentioned. Most agree that other groups who do not match that description are in fact church. Which means, of course, that the definition is invalid. Usually, I’m told that the definition represents “healthy” churches… Of course, that’s not what’s spelled out in the documents…