In speaking of the church, the Bible does not always use the word in the same way. It never uses the word to refer to the building in which a congregation meets, but it does use the word to refer both to the local congregations (I Cor. 1:2, Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, etc.) and to the whole body of those who are chosen and saved (Eph. 1:21).
This distinction between the church as the body of Christ and the church as the local congregation is referred to differently. Sometimes the church as local congregation is called the church institute or the visible church, because it has a visible, institutional form in the world. Likewise, the body of the redeemed is sometimes called the church organism or the invisible church because it is alive in Christ (organism) and because that body is spiritual and invisible (we cannot mark its boundaries).
The distinction is also very important. The church as body includes only God's elect and redeemed people (I Pet. 2:9), while the local congregations always contain hypocrites (Rev. 2:14-15, 3:17-18). The church as body includes those who have already died and those who have not yet been born (they too are chosen). The church as congregation includes only those who are on earth at a particular time in history.
So, too, there are many congregations (Rev. 2 & 3), but there is every only ONE body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12). That body cannot be harmed or destroyed by its enemies (Matt. 16:18), but particular congregations can be and often are (I Cor. 1:11, Rev. 3:1, 16). A local congregation can even lose its place "among the candlesticks" as a church of Christ (Rev. 2:5). The distinction between the church in these two senses needs to be remembered, therefore, lest we become confused.
This distinction is important also in connection with church membership. While we have an obligation to join ourselves to the visible church, that is, to a local congregation (Heb. 10:25), it is God who joins us to the body of Christ by election and the blood of calvary (Col. 1:12-14).
Nevertheless, we must remember that while these two uses of the word church can be distinguished, they do overlap. It is a part of the body of Christ that is found in the local congregations, and only because a part of His body is there can the local congregation even be called the church.
What we are saying is that the CHURCH in the truest sense of the word is the company and body of those who are saved only, but that church is found in the world in the local congregations where not everyone is saved. Nevertheless those congregations are rightly called "church" in Scripture and in our own speech because the redeemed are there, just as the nation of Israel was called that because of the presence of the true Israel. (Rom. 2:28, 29, 9:6, Gal. 3:29).
Let us, then, learn Scripture's teaching concerning the church and we will also learn to love and honor the church both as the Body of Christ and in its institutional form.
- Volume: 5
- Issue: 23
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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