The church is the family of God. In the New Testament it’s called the community of the new covenant. It’s the body of which Christ is the Head. It’s the bride of Christ. We’re called a holy people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. The church is the people who have been made God’s children, adopted by God through Jesus Christ. And the church consists of all cultures, all ethnic groups, people across the ages, all those who have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord.
In my tradition, the Anglican tradition, we have a statement of faith called the Thirty-Nine Articles. They describe the church this way:
The local, visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men and women, in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance. . . .
The church has no authority except in submission to Christ, and it is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, and neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another.
The ancient creeds describe the church as “one holy catholic and apostolic.” It is one because the church is one body under one head. It is holy because the Holy Spirit indwells it and consecrates it, directing the members of the church in the work of God. It is catholic, meaning worldwide, proclaiming the whole apostolic faith to all people to the end of time. And it’s apostolic. That means we continue the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, and we’re sent out on Christ’s mission to all people.
We don’t choose who is going to be in the church, just as we have no say in who our brothers and sisters or cousins are. God chooses. Whatever particular denomination or group they may belong to, God’s people are part of the church and our brothers and sisters.
The church is summed up in this wonderful old hymn by Samuel J. Stone:
The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.
Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.
CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON
My brethren, let me say, be ye like Christ at all times. Imitate him in public. Most of us live in some sort of publicity; many of us are called to work before our fellow-men every day. We are watched; our words are caught; our lives are examined, taken to pieces. The eagle-eyed, argus-eyed world observes everything we do, and sharp critics are upon us. Let us live the life of Christ in public. Let us take care that we exhibit our Master, and not ourselves—so that we can say, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.” Take heed that you carry this into the church too. . . . Be like Christ in the church. How many there are of you . . . seeking pre-eminence? How many are trying to have some dignity and power over their fellow Christians, instead of remembering that it is the fundamental rule of all our churches, that there all men are equal—alike brethren, alike to be received as such. Carry out the spirit of Christ, then, in your churches, wherever ye are; let your fellow members say of you, “He has been with Jesus.”