When many of us hear the word church, we are prone to think only of our own local congregations — or perhaps our denomination or those we know and agree with theologically. But the church is universal. It spans time and space. According to the New Testament, the church of God includes every believer in Christ, over whom Christ is Lord (Colossians 1:18). Paul also says the church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23). It is his fullness. To know and appreciate the church universal is to know and appreciate the one whose fullness it represents. Christ’s majesty is of such a scope that no local congregation in a particular time and place can fully capture and portray it. His majesty, which the church represents, stretches throughout time into eternity.
I believe in . . . the holy catholic church. (Apostles’ Creed)
I live in a part of the world where any gathering, so long as there is a Bible present, is called church. That means “church” is merely a group of people who share a common passion for something related to the Bible. Sadly, what we find in many of these so-called churches is division, jealousy, unforgiveness, bitterness, gossip, personal hatred, and hatred by association (if your friend hates someone, to maintain friendship, you cannot be friends with that person either).
The true church, however, is powerfully and mysteriously united across the boundaries that define and divide the world. Although we are many, we are one body; we are one body in Christ. Although we have many colors, we are one body; we are one body in Christ. Although we have many languages, we are one body; we are one body in Christ. Every believer in Christ, throughout history and in every place, shares an indivisible blood-union through the blood of Christ. Our bonds stretch through time and space, such that we even share fellowship with saints who died and went to be with Jesus thousands of years ago.
Church of God
We find a great definition of the church in 1 Corinthians 1:2:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.
What does Paul mean when he says that the church is of God? I think he simply means that the church is created by God and belongs to God. How did God make the church? How did he form it? In what way does the church belong to God?
Bought With Blood
In Acts 20:28, Paul calls pastors “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Thus, the church is God’s because he bought her with his own blood. God does not redeem us with money, because no amount of wealth in all creation was enough to satisfy God’s anger against us and purchase our peace with him. We “were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18–19).
Most people use the phrase “going to church.” But the church is not a building; it is a people. You are not part of God’s church because you go to a building every Sunday. There are countless unbelievers who visit church buildings on Sundays but are not part of the church. You belong to God and become a part of God’s church only by being purchased and redeemed by God through Jesus’s blood.
Three times in 1 Corinthians 1:2–3, Paul calls Jesus Lord: he is “our Lord Jesus Christ,” “both their Lord and ours,” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, the church, purchased by the blood of Christ, submits to Christ. He governs all they do. The church has only one Lord. All of the church’s leaders must lead in submission to the Lord of the church.