5 Min Read


The church is the assembly of those who have been called out of the world by God in Christ. Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the church. Accordingly, He has chosen to make the church the sphere of His covenant blessings—together with all nurture and admonition. Scripture refers to the church by various titles and attributes. While Jesus is the church’s great Prophet, Priest, and King, God has appointed other officers in the church by whom He equips His people for worship and ministry. He calls elders to shepherd the saints through the ministry of His Word, sacraments, prayer, and discipline, and He calls deacons to care for the physical and material needs of the members of the local church. The church is called by God to worship and carry out the Great Commission by means of the ministry of the Word, sacraments, prayer, and discipline. The church’s mission in the world is built on the collective labors of its members.


The church exists according to God’s eternal purpose. Before the foundation of the world, God purposed to redeem a people for Himself out of every tongue, tribe, people, and nation (Rev. 7:9). He calls them out of the world and gathers them together to be a worshiping community in heaven and on earth. The English word church derives from the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia). The word ekklēsia may be translated “called out.” God calls His people out of the world and into His eternal kingdom. Furthermore, the word ekklēsia caries the idea of being “called out” in order to be “gathered together.” The words congregation and assembly are English translations of the word ekklēsia. This definition covers the teaching of Scripture in both the Old and the New Testaments. In his dying speech, the first New Testament martyr, Stephen, spoke of Moses as the “one who was in the congregation [ekklēsia] in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). The Apostle Paul highlighted the significance of the “gathering” element of the church when he wrote, “When you come together as a church [ekklēsia]” (1 Cor. 11:18).

In the Old Testament, God addresses the church with a variety of names and titles. Sometimes the ekklēsia is called “Israel,” “the daughter of Zion” (Ps. 9:14; Is. 62:11; Mic. 4:8), the “daughter of Jerusalem” (2 Kings 19:21; Song 2:7; Lam. 2:13; Zeph. 3:14), “Jerusalem,” “Jacob” (Ps. 14:7; 53:6; Is. 9:8; 27:9; Jer. 10:25), “Zion” (Is. 33:6; 52:7–8; 59:20), and “the city of God” (Ps. 46:4; 87:3). In the New Testament, the church is called “the bride of Christ,” “the people of God,” “the house of God” (Heb. 3:1–6; 10:21), “God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16–17; Eph. 2:21), “the children of God,” and “Israel” (Gal. 6:16). These names and metaphors represent the diverse characteristics of the people of God and His work among them. 

In addition to giving the church various titles, the Bible speaks according to the church’s diverse perspectives. It sometimes has reference to the universal church—that is, the one body of believers over all time in heaven and on earth—and sometimes to the local church—namely, any congregation in a single geographical locale. Many of the Apostolic letters in the New Testament are addressed to specific local churches in particular cities or regions. For instance, the Apostle Paul wrote individual letters to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Colossae, and Thessalonica, as well as to the many local churches in the region of Galatia. Sometimes, Scripture uses the word church in reference to the invisible church—those who are savingly united to Jesus Christ. At other times, Scripture alludes to the visible church—the multitude of professing believers and their children, some of whom have true faith and some of whom do not. Additionally, Scripture envisions the church in light of its existence as the church militant and the church triumphant. The church militant consists of the believers still living on earth, while the church triumphant consists of the believers who have gone on to their heavenly reward.

The New Testament church is the fullest manifestation of the kingdom of God until the consummation. It is built on the foundation of the person and work of Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). By giving us the full revelation of Christ in the Scripture, the Apostles became part of the foundation of the new covenant church until Christ comes again (Eph. 2:20). Upon the conclusion of the Apostolic age, gospel ministers carry on the Apostolic word through preaching and teaching the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in light of the full Apostolic revelation. On account of the Apostolic foundation of the church, the Nicene Creed rightly sets out the four attributes of the church: there is “one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church.”

As the Savior of soul and body, the Lord Jesus Christ has given His church the gift of elders and deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1–7, 8–13; 4:14; 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1, 5). From His own fullness, Christ has entrusted the care of His people to the loving service of church officers. Christian elders are called to equip the saints unto the edifying of the body in love (Eph. 4:11–16). As the chief Shepherd of His flock, Jesus has appointed undershepherds to lead, teach, encourage, comfort, warn, and discipline His church (John 21:15–19; 1 Peter 5:1–5). Elders are called to administer the means of grace for the spiritual care of the members of the church. The means of grace are God’s appointed instruments by which He communicates Christ and the benefits of redemption to His people.

Since all believers are a royal priesthood, God has given every member of the church gifts for ministering to other believers in the body of Christ. All believers have access to God in prayer. The Holy Spirit indwells each believer, illuminating their minds and hearts to understand God’s Word and empowering them to live according to it. Even the small acts of service by the members of the church are significant acts in the service of the members of Christ’s body. The ministry of each member of the body is an essential part of life in the covenant community.


The Apostle Paul explains the doctrine of the church so that we might understand what God has done and so that we may understand who we are. And in calling us to understand who we are and what we’re called to do, Paul says that we’re the church. We’re the church that God ordained from the foundation of the world. We’re His people; we’re His household, so let the church be the church.

R.C. Sproul

What Is the Church?

Tabletalk magazine

In the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the church comprises the ‘whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be, gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof’ (25.1). This is otherwise known as the invisible church. In another sense, the church is the body of the faithful (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 2:21–22; Rev. 21:2, 9), consisting of those throughout the world who outwardly profess faith, together with their children (WCF 25.2). This is otherwise known as the visible church.

Derek Thomas


Tabletalk magazine

What does it mean that Jesus is the only head of the church? It means that He rules over His church by His Word and by the Spirit. He has placed the Bible in the hands of the church through His Apostles. The Bible tells us what Christ would have us believe and how Christ would have us live. Jesus has also sent His Spirit to indwell believers. It is the Spirit’s delight and commitment to equip believers to walk in the paths that Christ has set for them in His Word (see Isa. 59:21).

Guy Waters

The Head of the Church

Tabletalk magazine