Courtney Jacob

What Does it Mean to Be the Church?

Listen to a group of people talk about “church” for any length of time and you’ll quickly discover that we use the word church in a variety of ways. It’s much like the word love...I don’t love pizza as much as I love God or my husband, and yet I regularly use the word love for both. The way we use the word church is much the same. When I tell my young boys, “We’re going to church,” I tend to mean the church building. In contrast, when I say “It’s time for church,” I usually mean it’s time for the worship service. 

Why the focus on semantics? Because it can be confusing, and because understanding what exactly it means when we say God’s people ARE the Church is important to our identity. What implications does that label have on our daily lives? What does God expect of me...of us? How are we to behave? What are we to do? In our Groundwork series, “What Does it Mean to Be the Church?” we’ll seek out answers to these questions by exploring five images the Apostle Paul uses in scripture to describe the Church. 

The Church and Our Identity

As humans, our identity is important to us, we have an innate desire to understand who we are. When we identify ourselves as the Church, the people of God, we want to have confidence in what that means. Looking at a dictionary definition of church is enough to reveal that it is a religious concept. Common definitions refer to a building where Christians gather or to the worldwide body of Christians, but those definitions do not even scratch the surface of what it means to be the Church.  

Just as I’ve found myself recently trying to be more specific with my children, so that they better understand what we’re doing and what behavior is expected of them when we go to our church building each particular time (maybe for a worship service or a MOPS meeting or a youth group fundraiser), the Apostle Paul used multiple images throughout his letters to help the first Christians better understand who they were as believers in Jesus Christ and what it meant for them to be the Church. And those scriptural lessons continue to teach and inform Christians like you and me today.

The Benefit of Multiple Images

Throughout his letters, Paul describes the Church as a bride, a body, a family, a house, and a living temple. Each of these images helps us better understand and unpack the complexity of our identity. 

Imagine studying a flower. If you only ever studied the flower in a photograph, your knowledge of it would be limited by what you saw in the picture. But if you encountered the flower in a field, you could walk around it, look at it from above, touch it. Your insights about the flower and your understanding of its parts and purpose would increase. Your appreciation for it, and likely for its creator, would grow too.  

By studying Paul’s images and descriptions of the Church, we continue to gain wisdom about our purpose, our role, how we should behave, and what our relationship is to each other and to God. We begin to see the manifold beauty of God’s people and grow in appreciation for what it means for us to be his Church. 

I invite you to discover the multi-dimensional beauty of God’s people through our Groundwork series, “What Does it Mean to Be the Church?”:

...and together we’ll grow in understanding and appreciation for who we are and what that means for us as God’s people, so that together we can live into our identity as the Church. 

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