The Church as an embassy of heaven

A covenant is an agreement with conditions and promises. The church is to be seen as a continuation of the OT covenant community—those whom God promised to bless if they remained faithful to him (Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 28-29). The difference is that now, non-Jews, or Gentiles can be a part of this community, sharing equally in God’s promises to it through Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13). Jesus died for the whole world not in the sense that he bore sin’s punishment for every individual, but for individuals from every nation—reconciling them to one-another and to God (John 10:14-16, Ephesians 2:13-16).

Spiritually then, all Christians are already united because they are one in Christ. So being the church does not depend on visiting a certain building, but on having trusted Jesus (Ephesians 2:18-19). And seeking unity is not about working to get all denominations under one umbrella, but about seeking greater conformity to the truth about Christ (Ephesians 2:20, 4:13), and playing our own part in God’s purposes in a manner that loves, and, where useful, works with others who are also “in Christ” (Galatians 2:6-10).

Each local church is to be a kind of sub-department of the universal church, serving the same purposes and built on the same biblical foundation (Ephesians 2:20). It is therefore essential that above all else, good and sound bible teaching should govern any church we choose to attend or work alongside, because this is the key protection for the believer’s faith (2 Timothy 3:1-4:6). Indeed, the Christian goes to church because they recognize that they are in need of the teaching and encouragement of other Christians if they are to remain faithful to Christ (2 Timothy 4:1-6, Hebrews 10:24-25). A good church is therefore a welcome necessity that those who love Christ actively seek out.

The word “church” (Greek: ekklesia) simply means “assembly.” Theologians distinguish between the invisible and visible church. The invisible church is the unknown and so invisible assembly of all God’s elect, past, present and future (Hebrews 12:22-23). The visible church is the assembly of all who currently profess faith here on earth, whether or not they do actually believe (Matthew 13:36-43).

Belonging to a church does not therefore guarantee that you are a Christian (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Peter 2:1-2). Indeed, where a Church member refuses to turn from their sin, the church may have to exclude them from fellowship as a sign of the exclusion from heaven they are currently in danger of (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Hebrews 10:26-30). Such Church discipline is an act of love intended to protect the church and bring the individual to true repentance and faith, and so to salvation (1 Corinthians 5:5-7).