What is the Church?

By James Rochford

Ecclesiology is the study of the church. This comes from the Greek word ekklesia (pronounced eck-lay-SEE-uh). In ancient times, this term was used to describe town gatherings (see this usage in Acts 19:32). A town herald would “call out” that there was going to be a town meeting. This was an assembly, gathering, or ekklesia (ek meaning “from” and kaleo meaning “to call”).

The English word “church” does not come from ekklesia, but from the word kuriakon, which means “dedicated to the Lord.” This word was commonly used to refer to a holy place or temple. By the time of Jerome’s translation of the NT from Greek to Latin, it was customary to use a derivative of kuriakon to translate ekklesia. Our word church probably comes from the German word kirke, which was their translation of kuriakon, so it would be normal to understand the word church as a building. Erickson writes, “The word church and cognate terms in other languages (e.g., Kirche) are derived from the Greek word κυριακός (kuriakos), “belonging to the Lord.”[1]

Covenantal versus Dispensational Views

Covenantalists and Dispensationalists disagree on how to define the Church. Covenantalists are usually lumpers (melding God’s plans throughout salvation history), while Dispensationalists are usually splitters (seeing distinctions between God’s decisions). When it comes to the church, Covenantalists see the Church existing in the Old Testament—even as far back as Adam and Eve. For instance, Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof writes,

In the patriarchal period the families of believers constituted the religious congregations; the Church was best represented in the pious households, where the fathers served as priests. There was no regular cultus, though Gen. 4:26 seems to imply a public calling upon the name of the Lord.[2]

Here Berkhof claims that the Church existed in the family unit, and there were even worship services at this time, because Genesis 4:26 implies such (“men began calling upon the name of the LORD”). Berkhof writes,

After the exodus the people of Israel were not only organized into a nation, but were also constituted the Church of God. They were enriched with institutions in which not only family devotion or tribal faith but the religion of the nation could find expression. The Church did not yet obtain an independent organization, but had its institutional existence in the national life of Israel. The particular form which it assumed was that of a Church-State… the whole nation constituted the Church; and the Church was limited to the one nation of Israel, though foreigners could enter it by being incorporated into the nation.[3]

Reformed thinkers deny that there is a major change from the old covenant to the new—from Israel to the Church:

The New Testament Church is essentially one with the Church of the old dispensation. As far as their essential nature is concerned, they both consist of true believers and true believers only. And in their external organization both represent a mixture of good and evil.[4]

They do acknowledge that the “national life” of Israel was abandoned, and “national boundaries of the Church were swept away.”[5] But Berkhof argues, “On this point we cannot agree with those Premillenarians who, under the influence of a divisive dispensationalism, claim that the Church is exclusively a New Testament institution, which did not come in to existence until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and will be removed from the earth before the beginning of the millennium.”[6]

Which view is true? Did the Church exist in the old covenant, or did it begin at Pentecost?

ARGUMENT #1: Jesus referred to the church existing in his day

Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof writes, “Jesus… said that He would found the Church in the future, Matthew 16:18, but also recognized it as an already existing institution, Matthew 18:17.”[7]

However, we must note that Jesus was speaking in the future tense—not the present. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build My church” (Mt. 16:18). Moreover, in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus is speaking about the future church, because just a few verses later, he says, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt. 18:20). Of course, people gathered together in Jesus’ name until only after Pentecost.

ARGUMENT #2: Paul believed that Israel and the Church were a unity

Louis Berkhof writes, “And Paul clearly testifies to the spiritual unity of Israel and the Church of God in the Old Testament in Rom. 11:17-21, and in Eph. 1:11-16.”[8]

We would agree that there were believers in the old covenant. But Paul also claimed that there were many differences as well.

ARGUMENT #3: The Church replaces the Temple

Berkhof writes, “They like to define the church as ‘The body of Christ,’ which is a characteristically New Testament name, and seem to forget that it is also called ‘the temple of God’ and ‘Jerusalem,’ which are very decidedly names with an Old Testament flavor, df. 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22.”[9] Of course, these passages do claim that believers are the new Temple:

(1 Cor. 3:16-17) Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

(2 Cor. 6:16a) Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.

(Eph. 2:21) In whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.

(Gal. 4:26) But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

(Heb. 12:22) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels.

And yet, these passages teach that the Temple prefigured or foreshadowed what would come in the future. They do not teach that the Church existed in the past. Paul is reinventing these images for NT times—not the other way around. The nation of Israel is never called the Body of Christ in the OT. Moreover, baptism into Christ (or identification with Christ) is never mentioned for OT saints.

ARGUMENT #4: The word ekklesia is used in the Septuagint (LXX) to refer to Israel.

The Hebrew word for “assembly” is qahal (pronounced kuh-HALE), which the LXX translators rendered with the Greek word ekklesia. Berkhof writes “We should not close our eyes to the fact that the name ‘Church’ (Heb. qahal, rendered ekklesia in the Septuagint) is applied to Israel in the Old Testament repeatedly, Josh. 8:35; Ezra 2:65; Joel 2:16.”[10] (c.f. Ezek. 32:23; Ex. 12:6; 2 Chron. 31:18). Berkhof notes that Stephen even uses the word ekklesia to refer to Israel. He writes, “Stephen speaks of “the Church in the wilderness [Acts 7:38].”[11] And yet, this isn’t compelling evidence for the Church existing in the OT.

For one, the book of Acts even refers to secular gatherings with the term ekklesia. Erickson writes, “In the secular sense of the word, then, ἐκκλησία refers simply to a gathering or assembly of persons, a meaning that is still to be found in Acts 19:32, 39, 41.”[12]Luke writes, “Some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly [Greek ekklesia] was in confusion” (Acts 19:32). It isn’t the word church that is important; it is the theology of the church that’s important. It doesn’t matter if the same word is being used; the real question is how the word is being used. For instance, the term “believer” could be used to refer to a believer in Zeus, or a believer in Yahweh. The same term can be used, but we mustn’t equivocate with the same words.

Moreover, the translators of the Septuagint rendered qahal as ekklesia—not God. God called the assembly the qahal. Since the LXX was the most common translation of the day, the NT authors most often cited this translation.

Definition of the Church

While we generally adhere to Dispensational theology, we feel that even Dispensationalists misunderstand the definition of the Church. For instance, Dispensationalist Charles Ryrie writes,

Is a church simply a gathering of two or three believers in the name of Christ? How much or how little organization is required? Is baptism necessary for church membership? Unfortunately the New Testament does not provide a definition of a local church, but it does describe the normal features of a functioning local assembly. And it is from these regular characteristics of local churches that we can formulate at least a descriptive definition. Taking together the features of local churches we see in the New Testament, we might propose the following definition: A local church is an assembly of professing believers in Christ who have been baptized and who are organized to do God’s will. Notice: (1) There must be a profession of faith—not just anyone can belong to a church. (2) The New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized church members. (3) Churches were always organized as soon as possible (Acts 14:23)—an informal, unorganized fellowship of believers does not constitute a church. (4) There is purpose—doing God’s will which is expressed in many ways (like observing the ordinances, being open and available for ministry to all age groups in all parts of the world, etc.). If this be a reasonably good working definition of the local church, then two or three gathered for fellowship is not a local church since such assemblies are generally not organized nor anxious to minister to all age groups even in their own neighborhoods.[13]

While we greatly respect the work of Charles Ryrie, there are many problems with defining the church in this way:

First, Ryrie defines the church with an EXTERNAL DEFINITION. He confuses the invisible church with the visible church. People actively involved in a “church organization” could still not be regenerate, while people outside of a “church organization” could be regenerate. This is why Paul writes, “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). That is “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:23 NIV). False believers existed within the Christian fellowship (2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:10; Acts 20:29:30; Mt. 7:15-16). Thus, the visible church might be different from the invisible church. Jesus taught that the “wheat” and the “tares” would grow side by side (Mt. 13:24-30). Moreover, even one of Jesus’ twelve disciples was not a true believer. We should, therefore, be careful to give external definitions of what the church is, when false believers could be present.

Second, he confuses what a church IS with what a church DOES. Imagine if we defined a Christian by what they do, rather than by what they are. Onlookers might be tempted to believe that a Christian is someone who reads their Bible, prays daily, and loves people. While all of these things are important, this doesn’t properly define what a Christian is. A Christian is someone who has accepted the forgiveness of Christ and has been sealing with the Holy Spirit.

Third, Ryrie confuses the church’s BEING with the church’s WELL BEING. Leadership is important to the church, as is organization. But that is not the issue in defining the Church.

What is the Church?

Ryrie is correct in that the Bible never gives an explicit definition of the Church. Like other doctrines (e.g. the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, etc.), our definition of the Church needs to be arrived at inductively”

1. The Church is Christ’s Body

Paul tells us, “[Jesus] is also head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18; cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23). This means that the Body of Christ is one and the same with the Church. The members of the church are those whom Christ has purchased with his death. Paul writes, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

2. We become a part of the Body through spiritual baptism

Water baptism is being immersed into water, but spiritual baptism is being immersed directly into Christ. Thus the way that we enter into the Body of Christ (i.e. the Church) is through conversion—not any organization. Paul writes, “We were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).

3. We are baptized at the moment of conversion

There is no formal process for becoming a part of the Church, according to the NT. Paul writes that this event happens spiritually (and immediately) at conversion. Paul writes, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession” (Eph. 1:13-14).

4. Spiritual baptism began at Pentecost

This spiritual baptism didn’t occur in the old covenant in Israel. In fact, it didn’t occur until Pentecost. When Jesus was still on Earth, he said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ 39But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn. 7:38-39). Notice that Jesus believed that the Holy Spirit would indwell people in the future—not the present or the past.

In the Upper Room discourse, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you20 In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you… 23 If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (Jn. 14:16-17, 20, 23). According to Jesus, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit had not occurred yet (cf. Jn. 16:7).

Likewise, the book of Acts explains that the Holy Spirit didn’t descend until Pentecost. Jesus told his disciples, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). This occurred at Pentecost, ten days later (Acts 2:1-4). Erickson aptly notes, “The fact that Luke never uses ἐκκλησία in his Gospel but employs it twenty-four times in Acts is also significant.”[14]

5. Anyone who has had spiritual baptism is part of the Church

This is sometimes called the mystical union of believers—whereby we are placed into the Body of Christ. Paul writes,

(Rom. 12:4-5) For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

(1 Cor. 12:12, 18, 27) For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

(1 Cor. 6:15) Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!

(1 Cor. 12:26) And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

(1 Cor. 12:21) And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

The point in all of these passages is that anyone who has experienced this baptism is automatically a member of the body of Christ. Paul probably received this concept of the Body of Christ when he met Christ on the road to Damascus. There, Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Of course, Paul had never met Jesus himself. So he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” And yet, Jesus responded, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

When Paul was struck blind for three days, we wonder if he was asking himself, “Why didn’t Jesus say, ‘Why are you persecuting my followers?’ or ‘Why are you persecuting the Christians?’” But instead, Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:5) This showed Paul that Jesus identified directly with his people.

What is the Size of the Church?

The Church can be defined as the entire Body of Christ, or as small as two or three gathering together. The NT defines the Church in a multitude of ways:


(Col. 1:18) He is also head of the body, the church.


(Acts 9:31) So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace.

The Church is the GROUP IN A CITY

(1 Cor. 1:2) To the church of God which is at Corinth.

The Church is a HOUSE CHURCH

(Rom. 16:5) Greet the church that is in their house.


(Mt. 18:20) For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

Why is this important?

Depending on our definition of the Church, we will quarry our information and instructions about the Church from different portions of Scripture. Covenantalists believe that the church began in the OT. Therefore, they feel the freedom to use material from the OT in building the church. Dispensationalists believe that the church began at Pentecost. Therefore, they restrict their biblical material to:

1. Jesus’ explicit teaching on the church (e.g., Mt. 16:18; 18:17; 28:18-20).

2. The book of Acts.

3. The epistles.

4. Revelation 1-3.

If we mine our information and instruction on how to run the Church from the OT, our understanding of the mission, practices, and definition of the Church will greatly differ.

The Old Testament Bondage of the Church

Because Covenantal churches use Scripture from the OT to inform their ecclesiology, there is an inherent tendency to incorporate old covenant structures into church life. Consider the following examples.

1. Tabernacle and Temple

In the old covenant, the tabernacle was a prophetic picture of God’s intent to dwell among his people. The symbolic events conducted in the tabernacle explained why God could not indwell his people (because of their sins) and how he would one day overcome this problem (by making atonement for their sins through his chosen substitute). The tabernacle and temple were the dwelling place of God, and people had to go to them and have intermediaries go to God on their behalf. However, the new covenant replaced this practice. That is, believers now have direct access to God—no longer needing to use the tabernacle or temple:

(1 Cor. 6:17) The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

(Heb. 8:13) When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

(Heb. 10:19) Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus.

(Heb. 4:16) Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In the new covenant, God dwells in every Christian individually and in the church corporately. The church is the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-5), and individual believers are also called the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19). Thus, it is no longer proper to regard any building as the place where God dwells in a special way.

Many negative consequences follow from holding on to the old covenant teaching of the tabernacle: (1) Believers view the Church as a building, rather than the people. (2) Believers view the sanctuary as a place where God dwells, which communicates that God is unable to dwell within us. (3) This leads to a false dichotomy between sacred and secular space, where believers act one way in the sanctuary and quite another in real life.

2. Priesthood

The high priest was a type of Christ (Heb. 3:1; 4:14). He alone was permitted to enter into God’s presence with a sacrifice for the people’s sins. The other priests were a type of modern Christians, who could draw near to God to intercede for the people. The rest of the people were essentially passive participants in the service of God.

However, this clergy-laity distinction which was valid in the old covenant period is now invalid. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all believers have equal access to God and equal privilege to communicate the knowledge of God to others (Heb. 10:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:9).

Many negative consequences follow from holding on to the old covenant teaching of a specialized priesthood: (1) Believers do not feel the confidence to serve God, unless they are “ordained.” (2) In some churches, they reenact the sacrifice of Christ on the altar—even though this was completed. (3) Priestly vestments—like robes or collars—are derived from the old covenant priesthood, rather than the NT.

3. Sabbath and Festival Calendar

God gave the Israelites a full calendar of “holy” days. The Sabbath and the prescribed festivals were largely prophetic pictures of the salvation which Jesus would accomplish (Col. 2:16-17).

(Col. 2:16-17) Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

(Heb. 4) Hebrews states that the Sabbath rest was a picture of the rest we can find in Christ.

According to the NT, every day is holy in the sense that salvation has occurred once and for all. The NT does not command us to meet on Sundays or any other day of the week. While there are some examples of Christians meeting on Sundays in the early church, these are descriptions—not prescriptions. That is, while we have examples of Sunday meetings, we do not have imperatives or commands for this anywhere in the NT. Moreover, we even have examples of Bible studies occurring on Saturdays, during the Jewish Sabbath (Acts 13:13-14; 16:13; 17:2). We do find an example of Paul breaking bread and teaching on a Sunday in Troas (Acts 20:7), but this was actually a nighttime meeting (“He prolonged his message until midnight.”). This wouldn’t fit with the traditional paradigm (meeting until midnight?). Therefore, these NT examples should not be binding to us. In fact, other NT examples demonstrate that we should meet “daily” (Acts 2:46 NIV).

In addition, the NT explicitly teaches that no days are specifically holy. Paul writes, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). In other words, these are negotiable issues—not morally objective ones. Elsewhere, Paul explicitly writes, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to… a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16). Paul even admonishes the legalism of the Galatians, because they were observing “days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:10). Jesus himself taught that he was “Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:28; c.f. Lk. 6:5).

If Christians continue to observe holy days and ritual days, this can have a negative effect. For instance, many Christians and non-Christians believe that God only cares if they show up to Church on Christmas or Easter. This reinforces an impersonal relationship with God.

4. Worship Services

The old covenant worship of God was highly ritualistic. This was because it was designed to be an elaborate predictive picture of the work of Christ, and all innovation or spontaneity was forbidden because this could suggest works (Heb. 8:5). The content and order of this ritual observance was highly regulated because it taught that we must come to God in the way he prescribed—by faith in his Substitute.[15]

Now that these pictures have been fulfilled, they are obsolete (Heb. 8:13). Not only does the New Testament not describe or command a worship service for the church; there is also a positive reinterpretation of this whole concept. Rituals have been drastically reduced from hundreds to two (e.g. baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Moreover, Paul instructs that we can observe the Lord’s Supper as often as we wish (1 Cor. 14:26).

If we stay under old covenant worship, we reinforce the notion that God is impersonal. It is all too easy to continue to observe rituals—even when the reality of the relationship is not there. This is why we have so many ritualistic churches today where the members do not know God personally. Moreover, if the original point of the rituals was to teach us to come to God on his terms, then we are breaking that by going back under ritualism.

5. Infant Circumcision

Infant circumcision was a ritual given by God to Abraham and his physical descendants (Gen. 17:9-14). Circumcision was to be the sign that Israel was God’s people. It was also a symbol of their need to be liberated from the bondage of their sin-natures (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4). God predicted that when Messiah came, he would “circumcise your heart… to love the Lord your God” (Deut. 30:6).

Today, the symbolism of physical circumcision has fulfilled in the death of Christ through which he disarmed the authority of our sin natures (Col. 2:11). In spite of the fact that all clear examples of baptism in the New Testament are adult believers, and that baptism only makes sense for one who has made an independent decision to believe, many churches see infant baptism as the church’s counterpart to infant circumcision (see “Baptismal Regeneration”).

6. Outreach Strategy

God’s strategy for reaching Gentiles in the Old Testament period was centripetal. As the Israelites stayed in the land and followed the Law, God granted them national security and material prosperity. Foreigners would notice this, and some would thus adopt YHWH as their God (Deut. 28:7ff—especially verse 10; 1 Kings 10:1-12). The main reason for this “stay in the land” strategy was that the Holy Spirit was not operative in the same way he is today, so the Israelites needed to be a separate culture to prevent complete apostasy.

Today, however, God’s outreach strategy has changed to centrifugal (“go into all the world”—see Mt. 28:18; Acts 1:8). God’s people are no longer to be a distinct culture, but rather are commanded to identify culturally with those whom they seek to reach (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Whereas material blessing was at times a legitimate national indication of Israel’s obedience to God (although see Deut. 8:11-14; 31:20; Prov. 30:8, 9; Neh. 9:25.26; Hos. 13:6), this is not the case in the church (see 1 Cor. 4:9-16; Rev. 3:14-19).

Churches today erroneously still adopt this old covenant view of “fortress theology.” They try and keep their members away from the sinful ways of the world, and try to keep themselves pure in isolated Christian communities. Many churches also have developed their own sub-culture which effectively isolates them from non-Christians.

7. Relationship of Church and State

The nation of Israel was both a spiritual and national entity. The government of Israel was originally a theocracy, eventually replaced by a theocratic-chosen king. God needed a nation where he could preserve the witness he was accumulating about himself. It was entirely in order for God to call on the government of ancient Israel to operate the nation in a just and godly way. Compliance with the law of God was not optional, but a matter of enforceable law.

In the New Testament, the church is not expected to function as a nation state. On the contrary, the program is clearly different as witnessed by the call to submit to, and obey the Roman government—one of the most godless and brutal governments in history (Rom. 13:1). The New Testament is devoid of any call to take over society or to run society God’s way. Unfortunately, many Bible interpreters continue to read the Covenantal promises and warnings addressed to Israel, as though they apply to the Church or to the United States. Our particular culture has suffered massively from this, because (1) people believe that they are Christians because they live in the United States and (2) this theocratic view misrepresents Christianity to the watching world.

Critique of formalism

Not only is the formalism and ritualism of the old covenant unbiblical for new covenant Christians, but we should also see the problems inherent in such a view:

Formalism is a sub-personal practice. Repeating the same prayers over and over might seem like it makes sense with God, but would we ever treat another personal being this way? Imagine sitting down for dinner with your spouse and saying, “This dinner is really good” five hundred times in a row! How long would it take before she filed for divorce? Extreme examples of this are the Buddhist prayer wheels or repeated prayers, which Jesus claims is praying like the Gentiles (Mt. 6:7).

Formalism is easier than actual relating. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could fix the problems in your life by just repeating something 50 times? For instance, your wife is angry and you say, “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” Then after 50 recitations, she lights up and says, “Okay, we’re good!” It’s easier to recite prayers by rote, rather than communicating to God. Sometimes, you can recite these prayers without even thinking about God at all. By repeating prayers incessantly (Mt. 6:7), we can very easily not know what we’re saying.

Formalism communicates that God would enjoy mechanistic or repetitious relating. What would God get out of us repeating the same prayer 50 times in a row, or moving to a “holy place”? This gives us a sadistic picture of God, when he would take pleasure from such things. Believers often say, “I feel close to God through formalism.” But even if this is the case, what does God want? Perhaps a husband feels close to his wife, when he’s drinking beer and watching football all night—but what does the wife feel? What really matters is how God has prescribed us to relate to him.


The subject of ecclesiology is not esoteric or meaningless to study. In fact, as we can see, this is at the heart of practical theology. These errors have led millions of people to believe that they were true Christians, when they weren’t. This subject certainly isn’t meaningless to them! Moreover, our ecclesiology can create many unnecessary barriers for non-Christians or disgruntled Christians. Many run away from the church because they don’t like the formalism. They project this formalism on to God—even though he is not this way.

Unless sound ecclesiology is taught and explained often, many believers raised on a formalistic paradigm will never out of it, and they will push for practices or views in the Church. This needs to be resisted in favor of the biblical teaching on what the Church really is and can be.

Further Reading

McCallum, Dennis. Members of One Another: How to Build a Biblical Ethos into Your Church. S.l.: New Paradigm, 2010.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House. 1994. Part Six: “The Doctrine of the Church.”

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1998. Part Eleven: “The Church.”


[1] Erickson, Millard. Christian theology. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1998. 1041.

[2] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[3] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[4] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[5] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[6] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[7] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[8] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[9] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[10] Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[11] See also Hebrews 2:12 for a similar OT citation. Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology pages 570-571.

[12] Erickson, Millard. Christian theology. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1998. 1041.

[13] Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine, chapter called “What Is the Church?,” p.140ff.

[14] Erickson, Millard. Christian theology. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1998. 1058.

[15] For a good book, see DeHann, M.R. The Tabernacle and Haldeman, I.M. The Tabernacle Priesthood and Offerings.