Determining how church is defined in the Bible could be done a few different ways. If we were to simply look up the word “church” in our modern dictionaries we would get something like, “a building for public and especially Christian worship” or “the clergy or officialdom of a religious body.” We might also go to a Greek dictionary to understand the word ekklesia. It is the Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament and means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly”). However, both of these approaches would fall far short of what we might otherwise understand from how God defines church in the Bible.

How Scripture answers "How is Christ’s church defined in the Bible?"

The church defined in the Bible is one that Jesus would build1 and acquire through His own blood5. Its first members were those added by God (the saved or the “saints”7,9) on the day of Pentecost2. These saints that remained local (some no doubt traveled back to their homes after Pentecost) made up the church in Jerusalem3. From there, members of various local churches (but all part of the universal church) spread the good news4,7,10 and multiplied the church into other locales4,9,10,11. While there are many local churches referred to by many names in the New Testament5,11, they are all part of the one “universal” church of which Jesus Christ is the savior5,8 and to whom it is subject1,6,8. This image of Christ/head and church/body6,8 is just one of the many images used to help us understand how the church is defined in the Bible.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not triumph over it.  I will grant you access to the kingdom of heaven and the authority to teach and condemn that which is from God in heaven.
Near the end of Jesus’ public ministry and six days before (17:1) the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John. Jesus is preparing them for His coming death.  Jesus has asked His disciples who people say that He is (vs 13) compared to who they say that He is (vs 15), and Peter makes the good confession that He is the Son of God (vs 16).

Mark 8:27-30 gives a similar account but leaves out Peter’s confession and Jesus’ response.  Likewise, Luke 9:18-21 provides an account that only leaves out the end of Jesus’ response to Peter regarding building His church.

Scripture-block application to this question

The first mention of “church” in the Bible by Jesus comes just before His death, burial, and resurrection. It is still something yet to happen and it will be His.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Each day, as they attended the temple and broke bread together in their homes, they received their food with thanksgiving, praising God and enjoying the good will of the people. And God added to their number each day those that were saved.
Describing the days immediately following the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved upon the hearing of the gospel message from Peter and the apostles.  Those “added” or “being saved” has already been defined by verse 41: “So those who received His word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”  Scripture later refers to this group of saved believers as the “church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1, 11:22, 15:4).
Scripture-block application to this question

God is the one that adds the “saved” to His church.

And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
And great fear came upon all those in the church after hearing of these things [the deaths].
Ananias and his wife, Sapphira (vs 1) have sold some property and lied about the proceeds they had contributed to the church in Jerusalem.  As a result, the Holy Spirit struck them dead on the spot (vs 5 & 10).
Scripture-block application to this question

The first place in Scripture where we see the “church” referenced as being established since Jesus said He would build it1, and it is the body of believers from the day of Pentecost2.

So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

So he [Saul/Paul] went in and out among the brethren in Jerusalem (in Judea), boldly preaching by the authority of God and confronting the Hellenists’ teaching.  So they sought to kill him, and the brethren helped him to escape to Caesarea (in Galilee) and then to Tarsus.  As a result, the church spread throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, having peace and being built up.  By walking in the obedience of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the church multiplied.

Saul (e.g. Paul) has just been converted after being blinded on his way to Damascus, praying for three days, and meeting Ananias who baptized him. The church required a recommendation from Barnabas (vs 27) before having fellowship with him.

Scripture-block application to this question

Due to the preaching of the gospel, the single church in Jerusalem became many different churches throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and continued to multiply due to its collective, universal membership continuing to obey God and their comfort in/through the Holy Spirit.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Watch out for yourselves and the entire church.  The Holy Spirit made you caretakers of the church of God which he purchased with the blood of his Son.

Paul is meeting with the elders of the church in Ephesus on the beach before boarding a ship back to Jerusalem.  He is returning from his third missionary journey and does not expect he will see them again.

Scripture-block application to this question

The church [of God] was obtained by the shedding of God’s (through His Son, Jesus) blood.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

All things were put in subjection to Christ by God, including the church which is Christ’s body, who fills all things.

Paul’s opening to the church in Ephesus.  His prayer continues for several more verses, including a third “what” he is praying for them to know – specifically that “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (vs 19).

These verses closely parallel Paul’s letter in Colossians 1:18-20.

Scripture-block application to this question

God gave all authority to Jesus, as the head of the church, which is His body.

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This gift to preach about the depth of the riches of Christ to the Gentiles was given to me [Paul], the least of all the saints. This gift reveals to everyone the plan of God, the creator of all things, which had been hidden.  But now, through the church, God’s manifold wisdom can be made known to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Paul is discussing the gospel message in terms of a “mystery” that’s been “made known” to all (vs 5 and other places like 1 Corinthians 4:1 – “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”). It was given to him to preach, bringing “the light to everyone” – in this context (and others like Galatians 3-4 and 1 Peter 2) emphasizing the inclusion of the Gentiles into Christ’s body (vs 6).

Scripture-block application to this question

The church is a universal collection of believers that are to make known “the manifold wisdom of God”. Paul considered himself the “very least of all the saints.”

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Wives should submit to their husbands as they submit to God, since the husband is the head over the wife as Christ is head over the church, His body, and is the Savior of it.  Therefore, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in all things to their husbands.

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus giving encouragement and instruction.  In this immediate context, Paul is instructing on household relationships.  He speaks specifically to wives (vss 22-24, 33), to husbands (vss 25-33, 6:4), to children (6:1-3), and finally to the master-servant relationship (6:5-9). Furthermore, all of these relationships are likened to Christ and His church throughout.

Scripture-block application to this question

The church is subordinate to Christ, its savior and head [of the body5].

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints,)

God is not a God of instability or disorder, but of order. An in all the churches of the saints….

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about orderly worship. In this immediate context, he’s applying this truth to discourage everyone from speaking at once in worship.  In particular, they were using miraculous gifts of tongues improperly (with no interpreter – vs 27).

The second part of this verse is punctuated to start a new paragraph that continues with verse 34 to read, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.”

Other translations such as the KJV and NASB punctuate and include it with verse 33 to read, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”

Scripture-block application to this question

There are multiple, distinguishable churches of believers (e.g. “saints”).

If there is any question about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; if there is any question about our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

If anyone wonders about Titus, they shouldn’t as he is a close colleague of mine [Paul] working for your benefit.  Along with the other brothers, they are messengers (preachers) of/to the churches, which is the glory of Christ.  Therefore, prove your love and our commendations of you before the other churches.

Paul is writing to the Corinthians, informing them of his sending Titus and other brothers and encouraging them to accept them in love.  In chapters 8-9, Paul is specifically encouraging them to complete the giving for the needy saints in Jerusalem that they had embarked upon about a year earlier (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

Scripture-block application to this question

Titus was commended by Paul to work with the church in Corinth, while there were other “messengers” (e.g. preachers, teachers) working with other churches, all of which were the church established by Christ for His glory.

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth.
[Paul] is hoping to come soon, but in the meantime is writing instructions for how members of the church ought to conduct themselves as they are the “support and bulwark” of truth.

Paul’s letter to a young preacher, Timothy, while preaching at the church in Ephesus. Beginning back in chapter 2, he gives instruction for all saints everywhere (2:1-7) before tackling specific roles in the local church: men (2:8), women (2:9-15), elders (vss 1-7), and deacons (vss 8-13).

Scripture-block application to this question

Timothy was at the church in Ephesus when Paul writes “these instructions” about how members (e.g. “people”) should conduct themselves in God’s church, which is the advocate for “the truth.”

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

While Timothy is physically in Ephesus (one local church), Paul’s emphasis throughout the letter is for these instructions to go “every place” (1 Timothy 2:8).

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