THE CHURCH IN the Bible is not a “Something” separate and apart from the people of God. To be sure, it is more than God’s people. It is God’s people plus Christ. The church is the body and Christ is the head (Ephesians 1:22, 23; Colossians 1:18). It is the citizenry and He is the King (Colossians 1:13; Philippians 3:20). Other figures show the relationship between Christ and the church. We do not want to separate the two. In Scripture they go together.
The line of relationship in the Bible is Christian-Christ-God. Each believer is joined to Christ and Christ is one with God. If Christians are considered collectively it is Church-Christ-God. The entire church is joined to Christ, who is joined to God. In the Bible it is never Christian-Church-Christ-God. The church does not come between the Christian and Christ. Christians ARE the church. The church does not exist as a historical reality apart from the people who compose it.
“Church” stands in our New Testament for a word (ekklesia) which means “assembly.” Yet the church is more than an assembly. It is God’s “Assembly.” When worship is over on Sunday morning and all the people go home, they are no longer “in assembly,” or in that sense “in church” (as in I Corinthians 14:19,23,28,34-35). But according to the New Testament they are still “The Assembly,” even when they are not physically in a group.
Consider an analogy. If a certain number of people called themselves “The Group,” they remain “The Group” even when they are not together. Whenever “The Group” comes together they are “a group” as well as “The Group.” But if they all should die, “The Group” would no longer exist as a historical reality. Of course, God’s “Assembly” is self-perpetuating and does not all die at once.
A word of caution here: In Scripture, one man is not the church. Paul draws a line between a single individual and the church (or group of God’s people) in I Timothy 5:16. There a believer is given a specific responsibility of caring for a widowed relative which the church is forbidden to carry out for him. If too much has sometimes been made of this verse, its point has just as frequently been overlooked.
As the Bible uses the term I am not the “church.” You are not the “church.” Yet if we are in the same province, or town, or even house, we might be spoken of (along with all the other Christians there) as “the church in” that place (Acts 9:31, American Standard Version; Philemon 2; I Corinthians 1:2).
We have seen, then, that the church does not exist historically apart from Christians, for Christians are the church. A single individual is not the church by himself, because “church” is a collective or group word. And while “church” stands for a Greek word meaning literally an “assembly,” God’s “Assembly” exists even when the assembly is over and the people all go home.
It is good to give thought to the way we use words, especially important words. Let us remember that the church is simply God’s people — plus Christ. And let us remember also that one man is not a group. There is nothing profound about it — but maybe every little bit helps.