Welcome to the Church!
The new family around you is a family like none other you have ever been part of. It is a family that stretches around the world, spans the generations, bridges cultures and nations, goes back through time – and is going to last for ever! That family is the Church. If you are reading this booklet, it is probably because you have recently become part of that family. And on behalf of that family, we want to say, Welcome!
But a big family is not what most people think of when they hear the word Church, is it?
In fact, what was the first thing you used to think of when somebody said the word Church to you?
For most people their answer would be something like –
- A religious building – dark and forbidding, cold and draughty, with a big spire and graveyard.
- A denomination – perhaps the Methodists, or Baptists, or Church of England, that your family may have had some links with in the past. You may even have called it “my church”, but without frequenting it very often.
- A bunch of hypocrites telling other people how to run their lives when they can’t even run their own, and meddling in things that aren’t their business.
All of these couldn’t be further from the truth about what the Church really is! And our aim in this study is to help you see this.
We want to do that by looking at two main thoughts: first, what the Church is, and second, what the Church does.
What the Church most definitely isn’t is a building. In fact, for almost three centuries, churches had no buildings at all. They met wherever they could – in people’s homes, in hired rooms – even in the catacombs (burial chambers) in Rome!
Why do you think buildings did not seem so important to them? What was it that really mattered to them?
So, if church isn’t a building, what is it? Well, it is such a wonderful thing that the Bible actually uses a lot of different pictures to try to help us understand. Let’s look at some of the main ones.
The church is a family
God is a family man! From the very beginning he has wanted to build a big family who could know him and enjoy him as their perfect father. Even when the first human beings disobeyed him and turned away from his plan for their lives (Genesis 3 v1-24), God did not abandon the human race, but set into operation a rescue plan to build his family once again.
The first person God chose to start building this family was a man called Abram who lived around 4,000 years ago.
Genesis 12 v1-5; 15 v1-6
What two main things did God promise to Abram in these two passages?
What was the key that opened the door for Abram to become part of that family himself? (See 15 v6)
Think: Do I know for certain that I have taken hold of that same key for myself?
Ever since the time of Abram (whose name God later changed to Abraham, meaning father of many – Genesis 17 v5), God has been at work, extending his big family as more and more people have turned to believe in him.
Look at the following passages from the New Testament and note down the phrases from each that see us as part of this big family of God:
Matthew 6 v9
Galatians 6 v10
Ephesians 3 v14-15
Hebrews 2 v10-11
God is a perfect father, and he is working to bring about a perfect family. Through your faith in Jesus, you too have now become a part of it! That family is the Church.
Perhaps this is a good point for us to pause and to actually look at what the word church means.
Church translates the Greek word (the New Testament was first written in Greek) ekklesia – which literally means called-out ones. It was used in everyday language for any political or religious group which came together for a common purpose. But it was taken over by the early Christians because, to them, it really described who and what they were. For them, the Church was no mere club of like-minded people; rather, it was a family of called-out ones –
- called out of the life that we used to live
- called for a relationship with God
- called to a future hope and inheritance
- called together to be God’s own people, his family.
While our faith must be a personal experience, it cannot be a private experience. If you have come to faith in Jesus, then you have come to birth in his family. You have been called out of the life you used to live to become part of a family of other called-out ones. It is absolutely impossible to be a true Christian, yet not to be part of the Christian family. (See Acts 2 v41-42, and note how coming to faith in Jesus – expressed in baptism – was immediately followed by becoming actively involved in the life of the Church.)
On a scale of 1-5 (where 1 = not really, and 5 = very much) how would you rate your response to the following?
- Am I sure that God has not left me to live this new Christian life on my own?
- Am I sure that God has put me into his big family to help and encourage me?
- Am I sure that God himself is my perfect heavenly Father?
- Am I excited about being part of this family that God has brought me into?
We do not go to Church; we are the Church! Church is God’s family and Jesus has made me a part of it.
© Oxfordshire Community Churches 1999