What is the Church?
What do you think of when you hear the word “church”? Does it conjure up images of beautiful buildings with pews and stained glass? Do you think of a set of doctrines? Does it make you think about a voting bloc in the next election?
What is the church? Before we talk about what a local church is, what it should look like, and what it should do, we need to know what the universal church is.
The universal church isn’t chiefly…
- An institution
- An association of individuals
- A system of doctrine
None of these are the center of the church. What is?
At the center of “church” is a covenant relationship with God. From the beginning the Lord has always been a covenant God. Before creation God existed as Father, Son, and Spirit in a covenant bond of love. In creating the world God fashioned humanity specially in his image to enjoy a unique covenant relationship with him. And throughout human history that covenant – in every age of redemptive history – is the foundation of the church.
The universal church is the covenant people of God. It is the community of the redeemed. We fellowship with each other and with the Lord who made us his own.
And that sometimes manifests in forms like the things we considered before:
- Does the church sometimes look like an institution? Yes, because in every administration of his covenants the Lord has established orderly forms of worship and leadership.
- Does the church sometimes look like a gathering of individuals? Yes, because the church is the community of the covenant people. You can’t have a community without a gathering.
- Does the church sometimes look like a guardian of sound doctrine? Yes, because a covenant bond is a relationship, and to have a real relationship with the Lord we must know him truly.
At Shoreline we affirm that all doctrine is a) practical and b) pushes us to worship. So how does this truth about the universal church affect us?
If the church is truly the community of the redeemed that gives us so much help. The church becomes a place where we don’t have to hide our faults because everyone has already humbled themselves before the Lord. The church becomes a place where we can expect to give and receive unselfish love because everyone there has experienced the lavish, overflowing love of God in Christ. The church becomes a place where we can bring our burdens, find community, build one another up, find hope, learn to live from God’s word, and so many more practical things. Why? Because God has poured out his redemptive love on his people and real love expresses itself practically.
If the church is truly the covenant people of God we explode with worship. He saved us from the just penalty of our sin. He saved us from the power of the enemy of our souls. He saved us into fellowship with his saints and into communion with himself. That is serious fuel for praise. As a sign of the covenant he indwells us and gives us visible covenant signs (baptism and the Lord’s table) to strengthen us in this life. The church isn’t left alone in this world – we experience ongoing fellowship with the God who redeemed us, given us an eternal hope, and made us family.
What is the church? The covenant people of God. In that truth we find help for today, hope for tomorrow, and kindling for the fire of worship.