The church

by James Johnson

Have you ever been asked the question, "What church do you go to?"
Generally, what people mean when they ask that question is, "What denomination or building do you go to?"
The word which is translated 'church' in most English translations of the Greek Scriptures is 'ekklesia', meaning: - 'the called out ones' 'or assembly'.
It is always referring to an assembly at a particular place. For example, the ekklesia in Corinth, the ekklesia in Thessalonica, the ekklesia in Philippi. It is never used of the so called, "Universal Church". When it speaks of all believers it is referred to as 'the Body of Christ'.

Today, the big thrust in religious circles is towards ecumenicism. Not necessarily between different Christian denominations, but different so called 'faiths'. This is totally opposed to the teaching of Scripture - 'Old and New Testaments'.

Those in the Body of Christ may be from many different groups of Christians in many different places. They may well have different beliefs or traditions. Paul in his letters to the various ekklesias dealt with them as individual assemblies, because they all had different cultures or opinions. The Corinthians, the Thessalonians and the Philippians needed Paul to settle different disputes or wrong thinking. Today, such a targeted teaching to individual ekklesias is not necessary. We have the complete Scriptures and that is all that is needed to teach us how to live today.

In Paul's day each ekklesia had one or more elders to shepherd the flock. There was no chain of command over groups of local ekklesias or over those larger groups. This prevents a power struggle by one or more individuals over believers in a large area. The so called 'bishops' were elders or overseers in the local ekklesia and had no authority over others in another ekklesia.

Nevertheless, there was a danger that one elder would assume a dictatorial role in an ekklesia. Also that various cliques within an ekklesia would dominate over the other believers. Paul has the answer to that, and it is recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 12:25. We are to be "mutually solicitous for one another."

Many believers continually seek after new knowledge. Often the motive is to show how superior they are. Yes, we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are also to seek after the unity of believers.

Knowledge is not the goal to seek. The goal is to be rooted and grounded in LOVE, as it clearly states in Ephesians 3: 17-19. "... that He [the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] may be giving you, in accord with the riches of His glory, to be made staunch with power, through His spirit, in the man within, Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, having been rooted and grounded in LOVE, should be strong to grasp, together with ALL the saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ as well which transcends knowledge - that you may be completed for the entire complement of God."

Paul emphasizes that Christ is alive and His spirit in the believer continually influences his actions. The effect of this is to reveal how great Christ's love is for us. This is unlike the influence of a great pagan philosopher such as Plato.

It is God's grace, not our works, that reveals the transcendent love of Christ. We will be filled or completed eventually for that state which fits us for our future destiny.

You can be sure that if the Scriptures repeat something it is very important.

The same emphasis is clear from Ephesians 4:1-6. "I am entreating you, then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit with the tie of peace: one body and one spirit, according as you were called also with one expectation of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,Who is over all and through all and in all."

2 Timothy is considered to be Paul's last letter. The message hasn't changed. This is what 2 Timothy 2:22 tells us: "... yet pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with ALL who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart."

Paul continues in verses 23-26: "Now stupid and crude questionings refuse, being aware that they are generating fightings. Now a slave of the Lord must not be fighting, but be gentle towards ALL, apt to teach, bearing with evil, with meekness training those who are anatagonizing, seeing whether God may be giving them repentance to come into a realization of the truth, and they will be sobering up out of the trap of the Adversary, having been caught alive by him, for that one's will."

It is worth repeating that Paul exhorts us "to endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit with ALL who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart." Not to make the unity, but to keep it. To endeavour to keep it There is no longer one faith for the Jew and another for the Gentile; we all have the same faith. Nevertheless, differences are sure to exist. Hence the different denominations and separatist groups. But we are to try to keep the unity in whatever group we are associated with.

In effect Paul is foreseeing the different sects and denominations. But is a building the same as a 'church'? Yes, but only figuratively as is shown in Ephesians 2:19-22: "Consequently, then, no longer are you guests and sojourners, but are fellow-citizens of the saints and belong to God's family, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the capstone of the corner being Christ Jesus Himself, in Whom the entire building, being connected together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you, also, are being built together for God's dwelling place, in spirit."

We can take these words from Ephesians, that ALL saints, whenever and wherever they are called, ALL belong to God's government, His family, and that ALL are His dwelling place.

Paul tells the Corinthian ekklesia,in his first letter chapter 6, verse 19, "Or are you not aware that your body is a temple of the holy spirit in you, ....?"

This figurative temple is a building in course of erection. 2000 years ago God laid the 'Capstone of the corner' - Christ Jesus. God is the Architect. The building of the ekklesia is a work in progress - it is not finished, but one day, perhaps sooner than many people think, it will display the glory and greatness of the eternal living God.

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©James Johnson

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