the weblog of Alan Knox

Defining the Church – Implications

Posted by on Sep 13, 2006 in definition | 14 comments

After discussing my defintion with several friends, and after considering Lew’s comment, I’ve updated my working definition. This may happen several times. I will leave each definition in place, but date each update. Also, in the comments section, I will explain why I updated the definition.

Over the last few days, I have examined several passages of Scripture, attempting to define the church (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). Again, my desire is to develop a basic, biblical definition of the church, not to describe the church nor the various activities of the church. Furthermore, I recognize that there are healthy church, unhealthy churches, and everything in between (if that is possible); however, I am seeking the basic, biblical definition of the church, not what makes a church healthy or unhealthy.

This is my working definition so far:

[Updated 09/15/2006]————————-
The church is believers and followers of Jesus Christ, gathered out of the world by Jesus Christ (through His Spirit) for the purpose of revealing His character, living according to His commands, and representing Him in the world (all through His Spirit).

As Jesus (through His Spirit) gathers together those who believe and follow Him (through His Spirit), those believers will reveal His character, live according to His commands, and represent Him in the world (all through His Spirit).

I recognize that I am fallible. I often make mistakes. So, keeping in mind my desire to find a basic, biblical definition of the church, I am asking others to respond to the following questions (and other questions that you may feel are applicable). Please include scriptural justifications.

1. Is this a basic, biblical definition of the church?

2. Is there something in this definition that can be removed while maintaining a basic, biblical definition of the church?

3. Is there anything that should be added to this definition in order to approach a basic, biblical definition of the church?

4. What are the implications of this definition for the church?

Thank you for participating!



  1. Defining the Church 1 – Matthew 16:15-19
  2. Defining the Church 2 – Matthew 18:15-20
  3. Defining the Church 3 – John’s Farewell Discourse
  4. Defining the Church 4 – Acts 1-2
  5. Defining the Church – Implications


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-14-2006


    Your definition scares me a little bit. Not because it is wrong, but because it sounds too good, so good that I do not think it deals properly with the unhealthy churches (i.e. Corinthians).

    We see in 1 Corinthians, divisions, strife, greed, sexual immorality, all things that we might see as someone who is not following Him, not revealing His character, not living according to His commands, and not representing Him in the world. Yet, Paul tells them they will be “confirmed in the end” and be “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Even their divisiveness suggests that they were gathering together for the wrong reasons – some for Apollos, some for Paul, some for Cephas, and others for Christ.

    Yet still they are the “church of God” who has called “on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Now, I know this is just your working definition and you do not want to deal with healthy vs. unhealthy (yet) but I think your definition might be excluding the unhealthy.

    Thanks for the great research, I look forward to reading more!


  2. 9-15-2006

    Thank you for your comments, both here and in person.

    To all others who talked to me about this definition: Thank you as well!

    I have been considering all the suggestions and recommendations. Several suggested that my definition was not “definitional.” That was intentionaly, but perhaps not well thought out.

    I have updated my definition, rearranging some of the parts, better explaining (hopefully) what I mean by “gathered”, and indicating purpose (purpose in being, not in doing – sorry Mr. Warren).

    Hopefully, this update is a better and easier to understand definition. If not, I am certainly open to modifying it again.

    Please continue commenting and suggesting, either online in comments, or in person.


  3. 9-16-2006


    I think that definition works much better.


  4. 9-16-2006


    Sorry I don’t really have the time right now to think through all the implications of a definition of church, and give a half-way thorough list of recommendations. I just wanted to throw out the suggestion that your definition does not seem to address the debate over whether the church is local/universal, visible/invisible, or both, which seems to be a key point of contention for many, and on which many other points hinge.

  5. 9-16-2006

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that the “local/universal, visible/invisible” distinctions are key points of contention for many. These distinctions are part of the reaons that I began to investigate the church.

  6. 9-17-2006


    I was reading a the bible knowledge commentary last night (2 Thes. 1:1, Pg. 714) when I stumbled on this almost accidental definition:

    A church is an assembly of individuals who are in Crist by faith in His atoning death and are therefore the children of God.

    I was also thinking about the word “church.” Much like I commented on Nathan Finn’s blog regarding the word “baptism.” Maybe it is time to forsake the word church altogether and just call it the assembly/meeting/gathering/etc. (of God/Jesus/Christ/etc).

    Even now I find myself in a pickle trying to use the word church the way the NT uses it. I always catch myself trying to rephrase my words (as you know).

    What do you think? Futility?


  7. 9-18-2006


    I know you asked Alan, but I will throw in my 2-cents worth in the meantime. I think when you say “a church” as opposed to “the church,” you are already beginning from your own premises instead of letting the Bible speak for itself. It would seem to me that the Bible speaks of both. But when we start our definition of “church,” by saying what is “a church,” you are already limiting what conclusions you might arrive at.

  8. 9-18-2006


    Thank you for your 2-cents.

    My comment “a church …” was really a quote from a book (cited in my previous comment). Later in my comment I did say “the assembly/meeting/gathering/etc.” (comparing it to “a church”). I suppose I used “a” and “the” interchangably. I was not trying to make a distinction between “a” church or “the” church, in fact, I am not sure a distinction actually exists.

    I hope this helps clarifies my previous comment.

    Thank you,

  9. 9-18-2006


    I happen to believe there is a distinction between “a church” and “the Church.” And, if you limit your definition of “the church” to “a church” it will skew your view of “the Church.”

    I hope in the midst of this semi-tongue-twister, my meaning comes through.

  10. 9-18-2006


    What do you think are the distinctions between the two?


  11. 9-19-2006


    Although if I took more time, I could go into more depth, I am comfortable with the answer the BFM 2000 gives to this question:

    A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

    The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.

  12. 9-19-2006

    David and Lew,
    Thank you for civil discussion!

    I have enjoyed following this because I am very interested in the “local/universal” distinction. The problem that I have with the distinction is that I can’t find it explicitly in Scripture. Instead, “local” and “universal” seem to be theological categories which shift with the theologian.

    For example, 1 Cor 12:13 states “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” Depending on the theologian, this can be intereted to mean the “local” church or the “universal” church. However, the Scripture itself does not claim either interpretation.

    I agree that there are various manifestations of the church. I am not convinced that “local” and “universal” are the best categories to describe these manifestations. I hope to post a longer article about this later.

    Thanks again, and keep up the discussion!


  13. 9-23-2006

    David and Alan

    Sorry for the late reply, I have been a little busy.

    I have a very long and complicated comment, but I am not going to post it because I have already written it and it is so long and complicated I am sure it will be mis-interpreted. So this is the gist:

    I current believe that the group of believers that I meet with is the universal church, I only meet with a part of that universal church, and sometimes there are more of the church there and sometimes there are fewer of the church there.

    The problem I have with the local church distinction is how it is formed. Currently there are ~90 people who consider themselves to be members of the local church institution. Of those 90, ~50 gather together on Sunday mornings, fewer gather in smaller groups earlier in the morning (what we call Sunday School), more gather after “Sunday School,” and then fewer altogether gather that evening. Sometimes “regulars” do not show up at some of the “services” and “non-regulars” do show up at some of the “services.” So at what point can we say we have met with the “local church”?

    Do all 90 have to gather together? What if there are Christian visitors when all 90 are there? Does the same apply for gatherings outside of the building (ie. Family Cookouts, etc.)?

    Well, I guess that turned out pretty long… Althought it was almost completely different than what I had written before.

    Grace, Mercy, and Peace,

  14. 9-23-2006

    Question… and let me know if I am way off base here. I was thinking about denominational distinctions.

    I taught in our “Sunday School” a few weeks ago and talked about the word “church.” Basically I encouraged everyone to stop using it to mean “the buildling,” “the service,” “the time,” and pretty much anything else other than what the Bible defines it as.

    During the discussion someone asked what would change the sign to read? Currently it reads, “Baptist Church.” Someone said, how about “The Assembly of God.” I grinned and before I could say anyone someone in the back said, “ABSOLUTELY NOT – There is another denomination called The Assembly of God and we do NOT want to be associated with them! WE ARE BAPTIST NOT ASSEMBLY OF GOD!” (not exact quote, but you get the point).

    That tickled me a little, but anyways, I was reading 1 Corinthians today and got to thinking. Now tell me if I am misusing this verse but this looks interesting.

    1 Corinthians 1:11-13
    For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s {people,} that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

    Now this sounds like a modern day – “I am a Baptist,” and “I am a Pentecostal,” and “I am a Methodist,” etc.

    Yet Paul tells us that Christ has not been divided and we were not baptized in the name of Baptists (or any other denomination).


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