Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 11, 1962
NUMBER 35, PAGE 4,13b

What Is "The Church"?


"The church doesn't save you;" "one doesn't have to be a member of a church to be saved;" "if a man does right, God will save him regardless of whether he ever belonged to a church or not;" "since the church is made up of individuals, whatever the individual member does the church is doing." These are common sayings, frequently on the lips of both church members and non-church members; all showing a basic misunderstanding of "the church." Because of this misunderstanding many false ideas are held both by most non-Christians and by a few who are actually members of the body of Christ.

Dictionary Definitions Versus Bible Definitions

It is virtually impossible for a person to comprehend Bible teaching if he relies solely on the "dictionary definition" of words. One must realize that there are many, many words which are defined by the dictionary according to present usage; but which are used in a far different sense on the pages of the inspired record. A few examples will set this forth clearly:

Bishop. "A clergyman of the highest order, usually the head of a diocese or the administrative superior of a district." This is the definition as given by the dictionary. This is the commonly accepted and understood meaning of the word. But if one reads the New Testament, and applies that definition of "bishop" every time he finds the word there, he will sadly miss the meaning of the inspired writers. The Biblical meaning of the term carries a far different concept. The "bishop" in New Testament significance is nothing more than a single officer, in the midst of others of equal rank and authority, in a single congregation.

Baptize. "To dip or immerse in water, or to pour or sprinkle water upon, as a religious rite." That is the dictionary definition. Anybody who knows the current usage of the word "baptize" knows that the dictionary properly defines it. But anybody who is conversant with the Bible usage of the word realizes that it never means "to pour or sprinkle water upon" as used by the Bible writers. It always meant to dip or immerse.

Saint. "One recognized or acknowledged as having achieved sanctification; especially, such a one who is canonized by the church." Again we have the dictionary definition. And, as in the former instances, it does not accurately represent the Biblical usage at all. Being a "saint" in the Biblical sense, is synonymous with being born again, regenerated, baptized into Christ, added to the family of God. All children of God are "saints" in New Testament parlance, and being "canonized by the church" has nothing at all to do with it.

Pastor. "A spiritual overseer; specifically, the minister or priest in charge of a church or parish." This dictionary definition accurately sets forth the popular understanding and usage of the word "pastor." Anyone familiar with the New Testament, however, knows that this is NOT the New Testament usage.

We might go on with a long list of similar misconceptions (such as "priest," "easter," "sanctify," "sabbath," etc., but probably no single word is more grossly misunderstood and misused than the word "church."

What Is "The Church"?

Nearly everybody in the denominational world (and an increasing number of Christians) thinks of "the church" according to the dictionary definition of the word: "A body of Christian believers having the same creed, rites, etc.; a denomination; as, the Presbyterian church." Such people all believe that there are a great number of saved people, God's children, regenerated and "born-again" believers in Christ who belong to no church! They are in the "great family of God," but are "unchurched" members of that family. It is the constant aim of these who are members of some "church" to gain the great body of the "unchurched" children of God to "join some church," and thus ally themselves with "organized Christianity."

When man declares that "one can be saved without belonging to a church," that is what he has in mind. Now, it will greatly help that person, and all others so deceived, if we can show from the New Testament that the word "church" is used to include ALL the saved! It is not that "saved people" join the church; but rather that "the church is the body of saved — all the saved." There are no saved people out of the church. The church is the "body of Christ" (Eph. 1:22-23; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Roman 12:4-5), and it is impossible for one to be "in Christ" and at the same time not be "a member of the church."

The church is the "family of God." Just as one cannot be a "child" in the family without belonging to the family, so is it also impossible for one to be a "child" in the family of God without being a part of the household of God — the church. (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 2:18-19)

The church is the "kingdom of God." If a responsible being is not in "the kingdom of God," then he IS in "the kingdom of Satan." There is no other ground he can occupy; there is no other relationship he can sustain. It is impossible to be "in the kingdom" and "out of the church," for the terms are used interchangeably to denote one and the same body. (Matt. 16:18-19; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12) There are no "citizens of the kingdom of God" who are not members of "the church of the living God."

All these things being so, the erroneous statements with which we began this article are clearly the results of a misunderstanding of words — a use of Biblical words according to modern (not Biblical) usage. And the difficulty can be removed, and the truth clearly set forth when we are willing to follow the Bible usage of such words and phrases.