What is the Church? (30 Questions)

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What is the church?

This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.

The church is the joyful company of all those who have been redeemed and brought into right relationship with God. Jesus declared that he was going to build a new community known as the church. Jesus did not use the more common expression of a “congregation” or a “synagogue” to describe his new community, but the word “church.” The word in the Greek is the word for being called to a public assembly. It simultaneously reminds us that we have been called out of a life of sin into a new community, and also that this community is a public assembly designed for men, women, and children alike who have been baptized and brought into this new redeemed life. It is not, like the earlier word, limited to Jews, but is now open to the whole human race, Jew and Gentile. It is a community of prayer, of teaching, of training, of discipline, and it is the place where we dwell in the presence of God and commune with him at the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. We are not merely saved as individuals but we are saved as a people.

As explored earlier, precisely because sin is fundamentally a broken relationship, it is important that we are brought into new, redeemed relationships so that we can demonstrate to the world what it means to be made right before God. The church is designed to be a little outpost of heaven in the midst of a lost world.

Another phrase used to describe the church is the “Body of Christ.” This expression emphasizes the organic nature of the gathered people of God. The church is not the building where we meet for worship and prayer. The church is the gathering of God’s people, each discovering their gifts and the ways we together manifest the presence of Christ in the world. Paul’s description of the “body” reminds us that we each have a purpose in the functioning of the whole, and we each have gifts which work together in service to one another and the world. It is in the church that we discover the community God intended for us, and are empowered for the global mission of the gospel to all peoples and to every corner of the earth.

What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God refers to the reign and rule of God. It is the Kingdom which is breaking into the world and which gives birth to the church. The church is the living witness of the rule and reign of God. In the church we are to see manifest in dozens of ways how God’s rule and reign impact daily life, families, society, and the world. In other words, the church is designed to be the tangible expression of the rule and reign of God.

Scripture Reading

Matthew 16:13–19
Acts 9:31
Romans 12:4–8
1 Corinthians 12:12–31
Ephesians 2:19–20
Hebrews 12:22–23 

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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