The church is a group of believers founded on the confession that Jesus is the long-awaited Christ (Messiah) of the Scriptures. The church exists to glorify God, love one another, help the needy, and spread the gospel. It consists of local congregations and is also scattered throughout the world. Though parts of the church are in decline, ultimately it will not fail since Jesus has promised it will prevail and has entrusted it with the message of eternal salvation, the gospel.
What is a church? Many people understand the church as a building, often with stained glass and a steeple. Though it is true buildings can be awe-inspiring or even plain and simple, a more biblical understanding of a church doesn’t relate to buildings at all, but to people.
In the New Testament, the word for church is ekklesia (ἐκκλησία), or assembly of Christians. Literally meaning “called-out ones” in the original Greek, a church is a group of believers in Jesus who gather for worship, Scripture reading and teaching, fellowship, and prayers (Acts 2:42). Many Christians in the first few centuries didn’t meet in designated buildings due to safety concerns, instead, gathering together in homes. So church is rightly defined as a group of Christians focused on God and the Bible rather than a piece of real estate.
The foundation of the church is found in the confession of the Apostle Peter. When Jesus asked the apostles who people said that he was, Peter replied:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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.” (Matthew 16:16–18)
So the foundation of the church is not actually Peter, but Peter’s confession: Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The church is built upon this foundational understanding that Jesus is the “Christ,” or promised Messiah taken from the Old Testament Scriptures. He is the Savior of the world and intimately connected to God the Father as God the Son. That Jesus is the chosen Messiah has been the foundation of the church throughout the centuries.
The church has been commissioned for certain tasks on earth. In the Bible, we see several aspects of the mission God gave to his people:
The church displays local and universal elements. In one sense, the church is universal. It is not confined to a particular location—the church can be found anywhere God’s people gather across the globe. The universal church includes all believers everywhere. Some verses that indicate the universal nature of the Lord’s people include Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 1:22–23; Colossians 1:18; and Philippians 3:6.
In another sense, the New Testament presents the church as consisting of local congregations. A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather for worship, service to other believers, acts of mercy, evangelism, and discipleship, all through the power of the Holy Spirit. These verses highlight the local aspects of God’s people: Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:14–16; and Revelation 1:4.
Within the global Christian church, there are various denominations. Denomination comes from a Latin term meaning "to name." A Christian denomination is identified by traits such as a name, structure, government, and association with other churches in the same denomination. Denominations are characteristically identified by different sets of teaching or doctrines. Shared doctrines in areas like salvation, church government, mode of baptism, apostolic succession, and eschatology often unify churches within a denomination.
Various denominations include Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Reformed, and others. Groups differ on whether to include every so-called denomination under the banner of Christianity. In recent decades, many churches have trended away from historic denominational ties and often refer to themselves as "non-denominational."
Parachurch and non-denominational ministries are Christian organizations that work with multiple denominations to engage in specific work related to the church. Parachurch ministries specialize in things individual congregations often cannot do themselves. Though not churches themselves, parachurch ministries often cross denominational and international boundaries to provide specialized services to other Christians and non-believers.
Answers in Genesis (AiG) is a parachurch ministry. That means AiG is not a church in and of itself but is staffed by Christians from various denominations (e.g., Baptist, Christian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) to focus on specific issues and challenges of today’s culture.
Church can be a great place to connect with people who share the Christian faith. But it’s not just a place to make friends, have fun, and learn biblical principles. It’s a training ground for the battle of life. Unless God’s people find a better way to faithfully communicate the war of worldviews in our culture, more people will remain under the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil (Ephesians 2:2–3).
Young people especially need specific help. They need answers, founded in Scripture, especially from the book of Genesis. They need to hear solid answers about the problem of evil, dinosaurs, radiometric dating, sexual identity, faith in Christ, and so much more. These are questions people are asking in every age range. The church must be a training ground to prepare Christians to answer these questions and apply them to the proclamation of the gospel (1 Peter 3:14–17).
Over the past few decades, many mainline (generally theologically liberal) churches have faced financial challenges to pay for costly upkeep of aging church buildings. While paying for the maintenance of old buildings is not exclusively a difficulty for mainline churches, there has been a steady “de-Christianizing” of the United States over the course of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries. When there are fewer people to support the church, church building upkeep is a sign of the decline.
It’s difficult to point to a single explanation for the decline of mainline Protestant congregations in the U.S., given that other denominations are still relatively strong. Nonetheless, Answers in Genesis believes that those denominations general abandonment of the historicity of the Genesis account is partly to blame. By compromising on Genesis, churches (including most mainline denominations) undermine the authority and power of Scripture as the truth of God’s Word is replaced with Bible “stories.”
A dramatically high number of young people are leaving the church. Many of these individuals from Christian homes are now identifying as “nones” (religiously unaffiliated). Many are going as far as to declare themselves atheists or agnostics, while others say they’re “spiritual but not religious.” Why are so many young people abandoning traditional church?
Our research reveals that, as early as even elementary and middle school, young people have doubts and questions about the Bible that are going unanswered. Many of these questions relate to Genesis and scientific issues such as evolution, long ages (billions of years), dinosaurs, and Noah’s ark.
These young people are not getting solid answers from church leaders and parents and, sadly, are often told they can believe in the big bang and evolution. They’re then admonished to reinterpret or ignore Genesis while being told to “trust in Jesus!” These young people recognize the inconsistency of reinterpreting the first book of the Bible and yet being expected to trust the other books that talk about Christ. If we can doubt and reinterpret Genesis, where do we stop doubting and reinterpreting?
Searching for a local church to join can be difficult, frustrating, and overwhelming, but God helps us to walk according to his will (Romans 12:2). There are several things to look for in a good church:
The most important message of the church is the gospel: the good news of Jesus Christ. Before the gospel makes sense, there’s some bad news to share.
The bad news is that Adam, the first man, rebelled against God’s command. This action brought death, suffering, and separation from God into this world. We see the results all around us. All of Adam’s descendants are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5) and have themselves entered into this rebellion (sin). They, therefore, cannot live with a holy God but are condemned to separation from God. The Bible says that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that all are therefore subject to “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
But the good news is that God has done something about it. Jesus Christ the Creator, though totally sinless, suffered, on behalf of mankind, the penalty of mankind’s sin, which is death and separation from God. He did this to satisfy the righteous demands of the holiness and justice of God, his Father. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice; he died on a cross, but on the third day, he rose again, conquering death.
Everyone who truly believes in him, repents of their sin, and trusts in him (rather than their own goodness) are able to come back to God and live for eternity with their Creator. This message of the gospel is the core message of the church:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
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