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What is the Church?

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

“What is the Church?”

(Selected Passages)

Series: The Church [on screen]

Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD

First Baptist Church, Bartow, Florida

August 11, 2019

Introductory Comments:

If I were to ask you to describe First Baptist Church Bartow, where would you start? 

Some might say that it’s a large church in downtown Bartow. A lot of people ask me, “Is that the church by the city building?”

Perhaps you would describe it with traditional architecture with a modern ministry center built on. 

Maybe you’d describe it as having a young preacher with a certain style of worship. 

We’re going to learn today that those descriptors don’t really describe a church. They describe where the church meets, the style of the church’s worship, and more. 

So, what is the Church? That’s what we’ll be studying in today’s sermon. 

Before we do so, let’s go to the Lord in prayer. 


We’re starting a new topical series. We’re taking a short break from our verse-by-verse study from the book of Matthew. We will be doing a sermon series on the Church. Here are the questions which we will answer from the Word of God throughout the next few weeks: What is the Church? Who leads and serves the Church? What are the ordinances of the Church? Why should I be part of the Church?

This morning we will answer the question, “What is the Church?”

Well, first of all, the Greek word from which we get church is ekklēsia. This word occurs 114 times in the New Testament. Ekklēsia means “gathering,” “meeting,” or “assembly.”

So, literally speaking, a church is a gathering. Well, what kind of gathering? We’ll answer that question today. 

Let’s look at three aspects of the Church this morning to discover what the Church is. 

First, . . .

I. The Foundation of the Church [on screen]

Let me ask you this, who do you think is in charge of the Church?

Jesus is in charge of the Church! Listen as the Bible describes this.

First, the Church will be built upon Jesus and the confession that He is Messiah. I read this passage earlier in the service. Listen to what Jesus says about the foundation of the Church:

Matthew 16:17: “17 Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” [on screen]

Some say the rock here is Peter, but I disagree. Jesus is the rock!

The foundation is not Peter, the foundation is Jesus and the confession that He is the Messiah. Jesus is building the Church upon Himself!

Second, Jesus is also the head over everything for the Church. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians. 

Ephesians 1:22-23: “22 And he (God) subjected everything under his feet and appointed him (Jesus) as head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. [on screen]

Jesus is the head of the Church! He’s in charge!

Third, we also hear Peter call Jesus the chief Shepherd. Listen to 1 Peter 5:4. 

1 Peter 5:4: 4 And when the chief Shepherd (Jesus) appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. [on screen]

Jesus is the chief Shepherd over all the Church! Pastors are shepherds but Jesus is the chief Shepherd. He’s in charge!

Fourth, again, in Ephesians, Paul speaks about the authority of Jesus, calling Him the cornerstone. Look at Ephesians 2. 

Ephesians 2:19-21: 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [on screen]


Jesus is the cornerstone, that is the most important stone in the building, which holds everything else in place. He’s in charge!

Jesus is in charge of the Church. He is the head, He is the chief shepherd, He is the cornerstone, He is the foundation! The Church today exists because of the work of Jesus, the power of Jesus, the authority of Jesus, and to proclaim the name of Jesus!

Further, because Jesus founded the Church we should place tremendous value upon it. The Church is important enough to Jesus that He gave His life for her, so it should be important to us as well. 

Next, let’s look at . . .

II. The Images of the Church [on screen]

Some of you know several of the different images that the Bible gives as descriptors for the Church. Some may even be coming to your mind right now. 

There are a lot of different ways that the Bible describes the Church. Some of those ways are the people of God, a new creation, an obedient servant, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the family of God, the bride of Christ, the branches of a vine, the fellowship of God, an olive tree, a field of crops, a building, a harvest, a group of priests, God’s house, a pillar, and more. That’s a lot, isn’t it?

There are two pictures of the Church, in particular, I would like to focus on today:

First, the bride of Christ. The Church is the bride of Jesus. 

Listen to what John says in Revelation 21.

Revelation 21:2: I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. [on screen]

We’ll talk in a minute about what it means that the Church is one, yet many at the same time. For now, we see that the people who are devoted to God, those who are part of the church, are referred to as a bride for Jesus. 

Also, Paul speaks of the Church as the bride of Jesus. Listen to Ephesians 5. 

Ephesians 5:22-25: 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her [on screen]

Jesus makes an analogy between a husband and wife to Himself and the Church. He is the husband, the Church is His bride.

The Church is to be holy, loving, and devoted towards the bridegroom, Jesus. Jesus loves, cares for, and leads the Church. 

The Church is the bride of Christ. 

The second image on which I would like to focus is the body of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.” [on screen]

We have a lot of different parts of our bodies! So also, the church is made up of a lot of different people who represent the body of Christ. 

We’re not all arms. We’re not all ears! We’re not all left feet! We’re all different. 

What would happen if all the parts of a body were the same? They wouldn’t work very well, would they? What a mess we would be!

As we are different parts making up a body we are connected together and dependent upon one another. 

Since we’re all different we can work together to make a beautiful, holy, loving body of Christ called the church!

Jesus walks through His body the church, to bring Himself glory and accomplish His purposes. The church is the body of Christ. 

Finally, let’s see . . .

III. The Distinctions of the Church [on screen]

First of all, let’s talk about the visibility of the Church. 

The Church is visible and invisible. That is, there is the visible Church and the invisible Church. 

Theologian Wayne Grudem says that visible Church is the Church as Christians on earth see it. The invisible Church is the Church as God sees it. 

The visible Church may actually contain people who aren’t really Christians, because, visibly, they appear to be followers of Jesus. However, the invisible Church is only those who are truly followers of Jesus. In other words, it’s possible to be a member of First Baptist Church Bartow, or any other local church, and not truly be part of the invisible Church as God knows the Church to be.

Also, we have the universal Church and the local church. 

This is often what I describe as the Church with a capital “C” and the church with a lowercase “c.”

The universal Church is the people of God devoted to Jesus Christ throughout all time and all places. 

The local church refers to an individual local church, such as First Baptist Church Bartow. 

The Church is both the collection of all believers all over the world, and it’s also local bodies of believers. 

In that sense there is one Church with a capital “C,” and thousands of churches with a lowercase “c.”

There are more distinctions regarding the Church. Did you know that the Church is not a building? The Church is not a service which meets at 10:45 on Sunday mornings. The Church is a group of people united together under King Jesus! 

First Baptist Church Bartow is not a collection of buildings, we’re a collection of people. 

Remember the old memory device we used for children: here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and there’s all the people. That’s wrong! It should be like this: here’s the building, here’s the steeple, open the doors and there’s the church! 

We’re not located on Church Street, we’re located all over, we’re in the city and in the country. We’re in Bartow, Homeland, Alturas, Lakeland, Winter Haven, and beyond. We’re even in Hardee County! Church is not just certain times of the week, we’re the church all of the time. 

We’re not a country club for people who have it all figured out. We’re a hospital for the sick and those who are being made well. 

The church is not a place to come because we don’t have anything else to do. We gather because we belong to Jesus. We gather because we belong to one body. We gather because the love of God has changed us and we must worship Him, learn from Him, and proclaim His greatness. 

Listen to the fellowship of the believers in Acts 2:42-47: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. [on screen]

Even from the very beginning, there was something special about the Church!

We’re unique and special because we are a collection of people who love Jesus and worship Jesus. We’re devoted to being the people who God has called us to be. 

Do you know our vision statement, church? Our vision statement is: We exist to develop disciples who love God, love the church, and love others. That’s who we believe God wants us to be as a church!

We have a mission as a church: make disciples. We have a vision to where God is leading us: develop disciples who love God, love the church, and love others. 

We are unique and special because of Jesus and who He has called us to be as a church!

Concluding Thoughts:

Well, after all that is said, what is the Church? Some of you are thinking, “You haven’t really answered the question, pastor!” Calm down. Here you go:

Bottom Line: The church is the collective people of Jesus Christ.  [on screen]


We are a collected people devoted to Jesus. That’s why we’re here! We’re not here to be entertained. We’re not here to socialize. We’re not here to make political stands. We’re not here simply to learn. We’re here because we’re devoted to and we want to lift high the name of Jesus!

When you get right down to it, the Church is an absolute miracle. It started out as a small group of apostles in Jerusalem and it blossomed into millions of people all over the world. 

The Church is amazing; founded upon Jesus Christ and made up of the people of God devoted to the Savior. 

Weekly Challenge: [on screen]

  1. Evaluate the significance of the church in your life.  [on screen]

Now that you know what the Church is, ask yourself if it matters in your life. 

Why are you here? When you’re not here, why are you not here?

Does the Church matter in your life? Ask yourself that this week as you challenge yourself to live out this sermon. 

  1. Be the church.  [on screen]

As individuals, and as a Church, we must be the church. 

Play out your part in the body of Christ.

We are not perfect. I know that because I’m not perfect, and I’m part of “we.” I’m impatient, unkind, selfish, foolish, and incompassionate. That’s just today! You know what else I am? I’m redeemed! I’m justified. I’m made new and I am being made new; I am being sanctified! 

We are a collection of people, who aren’t perfect, but we are being made holy by the work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Be the Church!


Above all else, the purpose of the Church is the glory of God. 

In fact, each of us was put on this earth in order to glorify God.

Have you been redeemed so that you can be holy and glorify God?

(Gospel presentation)

(closing prayer)

Invitation Song – Just As I Am


If you have any sort of spiritual decision that you would like to make, you can contact me or any of our staff and we would be glad to talk to you anytime.

Don’t forget about our Back to School Bash this Wednesday from 5-7 PM in the back parking lot! Be sure to come and love each other and love others. Be sure to invite others as well. 

We will meet tonight at 5:30 PM to continue our series called “Discovering Church History.”

Let’s dismiss by singing the Doxology. 

(Sing Doxology)

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