When someone asks you what church is, do you know how to answer them?We have been taught that church is important to God and we often go each week, but how would you describe church?
Don’t know? Well, don’t worry! The Bible has some helpful metaphors of what the church is like to help us understand and describe church.
In the Bible there are five main images of church; they are:
- A Family
- A Body
- A Bride
- A Temple
- A Lamp stand
Some of these ideas probably aren’t how you thought church might be described, so let’s flesh them out a bit more.
The church is often referred to as a family in the Bible. This is probably one of the images of the church that you would be most familiar with. This is also one of the images of church that we see most in our interactions with fellow Christians. Church is a family because we are to recognize that God is our father and that all the members of the church are our brothers and sisters. There are older Christian brothers and sisters that we can look to for advice on how to live as Christians (much like we’d look to an older brother, sister or a father figure) and there are younger brothers and sisters that we can teach about Jesus (much like you’d teach your own younger siblings). And just as a regular family loves and cares for each other, we too are to love and care for each other with a brotherly and sisterly love that comes from Christ.
Another metaphor that is used for the church is “the body,” specifically the body of Christ. This image uses the understanding of a body with head, hands, feet, and other body parts. In this image, Jesus is the head of the body — that’s why it’s called the body of Christ. And the rest of the body is made up of Christians. The people in the body are different and they have different roles. This body metaphor is helpful because it shows that we are all different and we have different gifts that God has given us to serve in different ways.
As a church, God’s people are also collectively called his “bride.” This image shows us how important the church is to God, because it shows how much he loves the church, just like a husband loves his wife. This love that God has for His people is shown all the way from the promises He makes to them in the Old Testament through to the New Testament, where we see Jesus, the groom, display the ultimate love for the church in one grand act, as he dies for his bride on the cross. While we might find it slightly weird, especially if we’re a guy, to be called a bride, this image is great because it reminds us of how much God loves us!
Another image of the church is a temple. This imagery comes from the Old Testament. The temple in the Old Testament was a huge, magnificent building where God lived. God’s people could go to the temple and know they were near to God. But now, because of Jesus, we don’t have to go to some big temple to worship God. Instead, the Bible tells us that God’s people are a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” This means that God dwells within His people by the Holy Spirit. This image of the church as the new temple is built upon the foundation, the cornerstone of Jesus.
The final image is that of the church as a lamp-stand. This image of the church comes up a lot in the final book of the Bible, Revelation. It is here that the lamp-stand symbolixes shining the light of truth out into the world. This shows us that one of the roles of the church is to shine the truth of the gospel out into a world that is in darkness because they don’t know God.
What this means for us
The different images of the church throughout the Bible help us to understand a bit more about how God views the church, and what he wants His church to be doing. So …
- Let us love and encourage one another as brothers and sisters, because we are family!
- Let us use our different gifts God has given, to serve him and others because we all have a role to play as the body of Christ.
- Let us remember we are the bride, loved so much by Christ that he sacrificed himself to make us clean and holy, so we are to live as His people.
- Let us stand firm on the truth of Jesus and have the Bible taught as the central focus, because as we gather as a church we are like a temple.
- Let us shine the light of the gospel out of our church into this world like a lamp stand, by speaking about Jesus and sharing the gospel.