TERM "CHURCH" AS USED
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES
term "church" was not the best translation of the Greek word ekklesia
(as initially "church" had reference to a building). But the word
is solidly a part of our language now. So we go from here in making practical
use of it in the light of the meaning of the word it represents and what
the context implies in its New Testament usage.
Of course the meaning of ekklesia as
we break the word down into its stems, ek (out) + klesia
(kaleo, to call), has reference to those called out,
an assembly. In the New Testament it is almost exclusively used in the
context of Christianity. However, Stephen speaks of the "church in the
wilderness" (Acts 7:38) in talking about Israel, and the word is used in
describing the multitude that came together in the theater at Ephesus,
being translated "assembly" (KJV, Acts 19:32,39,41).
In connection with Christianity we find the word
ekklesia (church) used in at least three different ways.
It is used in (1) a universal sense, in (2) a local sense,
and in (3) a local assembled sense. Let us look into this.
(1) Jesus declared, "Upon this rock I will build
my church" (Matthew 16:18); here it is easy to think of this in terms of
the universal church. Then when the Ethiopian on his way back to Ethiopia
was baptized in Acts 8, he certainly was not a part of a local church yet,
but he was in the universal church (I Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 1:18).
Contrasting the Old Testament system and the New, and speaking of the New
Testament, the writer of Hebrews states in Hebrews 12:22,23, "But ye are
come...to the general assembly and church of the firstborn [Greek plural,
firstborn ones], which are written in heaven... "
(2) Next, the term church is used to speak of a community
of believers in one location, bound together as a single unit; the local
church. This is quite evident in the New Testament, whether reading the
book of Acts or the epistles that follow. Paul addressed the epistle of
I Corinthians to the "church of God which is at Corinth" (I Corinthians
(3) Finally, the term church is used of the public
assembly of Christians in one locality. Paul speaks of the church coming
together at Corinth (I Corinthians 5:4; 11:17,18,34) and coming together
in one place (I Corinthians 11:20; 14:23). It is in this context that this
coming together is called the "church," when Paul said, "Let your women
keep silence in the churches" (14:34), meaning they were not to
teach or usurp authority over the man (I Timothy 2:11-14). "Church" refers
to the assembly, not church in a general sense, otherwise the prohibition
would be universal (which is unthinkable). In this same 14th chapter of
I Corinthians, Paul, in regulating the assembly so everything would be
"done decently and in order," asserted, "For God is not the author of confusion,
but of peace, as in all churches [assemblies] of the saints" (14:33).
Likewise the term church seems to refer to the assembly in Colossians 4:16.
The universal church is not organized, nor is it
to be organized. We are to "love the brotherhood" (I Peter 2:17), not organize
it. The extent of the organization of the church is the local, autonomous
church. That is all that there is to it. Local bodies of believers were
organized under the oversight of men called elders. Paul and Barnabas "ordained
them elders in every church" (Acts 14:23), i.e. in every local church,
as they visited the new body of believers in each city. In talking to "the
elders of the church" at Ephesus, a local church in Asia, Paul admonished
them, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over
the which the Holy Ghost [Spirit] hath made you overseers, to feed the
church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:17,28).
Peter admonished the elders in I Peter 5:2 to "feed the flock of God which
is among you, taking the oversight... " This is referring to a local
church. The jurisdiction of the elders is not beyond the local body of
Christians. The simplicity of the local unit is likewise seen in Philippians
1:1. Paul and Timothy were preachers who had been sent out from local churches
(Acts 13:1-3; etc.), and with others had been instrumental in starting
this church. The only ecclesiastical organization started beyond the local
church was other local churches.
However, apostasy came early to the original church
in their getting away from the simplicity of the local church, setting
up district and national organizations, and finally a universal one with
the pope at the head of it. Men have never learned their lesson, and the
unending cycle continues with each generation and with each denomination
in varying degrees. To get away from the local church is to head back toward
Rome and denominationalism. It is to presumptuously assume authority beyond
what has been given. It is to usurp the responsibility and prerogative
of the local church. We need to beware. Even in the name of co-operation
men set up denominational organizations and agencies that are antagonistic
to Godís plan for the local, independent, and autonomous church. Then unindoctrinated
people always take things a step further and solidify a denominational
structure. It is always just a matter of time. Even in having religious
conventions and gatherings beyond the local church men are presumptuous
and speak with audacity when they would appendage and name their gatherings
with district, state, or national designations. The universal church is
not organized, and no one has the authority to put a name for anything
beyond the local assembly in an organizational context. The implication
is that they have the authority to do this and are in some sense representing
Christians nationally or regionally. It is intimidating to those who do
not choose to be part of such gatherings, implying they are out of step.
The unindoctrinated think so. It is denominational and represents a denominational
mindset (further promoting division).
We humbly admonish you to consider these things.
Let us have the New Testament concept and understanding of the term "church"
and how it is properly used. Then let us accordingly comply with it if
we claim to be the New Testament church. (VOL. 35, NO. 1,