The Truth About The “Church”
We already have an article here on the website titled, WHAT IS THE CHURCH ? But because of the many misconceptions regarding the nature of this entity, another article is appropriate.
I would like to begin by addressing the very word, “church”. The New Testament was originally written in the Greek language. And the Greek word that is generally translated “church” in our English bibles, is “ekklesia”. Ekklesia means “a calling out”. In the bible, the word “ekklesia” is used to denote the people who have been “called out of darkness, into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) The people who have been called out of darkness and into the light of Jesus, are those who have had their sins forgiven and who have been saved. When any of these people are gathered into a group, they are called the “ekklesia”. They are the “called out”. And the word “ekklesia” refers to the “gathering” of these people together, and so it properly means, “the assembly” or “the congregation” of the called out people.
The total of all saved persons would be properly called the “ekklesia”. But a group of saved people in a particular location, such as in Jerusalem, or in Ephesus, would also be called the “ekklesia”. And so we see that the same word refers to the total number of the saved, as well as referring to the total number of the saved in a particular location. If there was only one saved person living in a particular town, then that person would be the “ekklesia” in that town. He/she of course would always a member of the “whole”, but in the town in which they live, they would be the “ekklesia” in that location.
The book of James is addressed to “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad..” James 1:1. This is a figurative expression referring to the whole number of Christians who are dispersed throughout the world. The twelve tribes originally referred to the twelve tribes of Israel, who were the total number, of the people of the nation of Israel. But now James uses this same phrase to designate the total number of God’s people in New Testament days. So you can see that the “twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” refers to the “ekklesia” as a whole.
The apostle Paul addressed a letter to “the ekklesia of Galatia”. Galatians 1:2. Paul is referring to all the Christians throughout the whole district of Galatia. All these Christians didn’t assemble together in one place when they came together to worship, because they lived in various places around that district of Galatia. But Paul is addressing his letter to ALL the Christians, throughout that whole area.
Paul addresses another letter to “the saints who are at Ephesus”. (Ephesians 1:1) He could have said, “to the ekklesia which is at Ephesus”. It would have meant exactly the same thing. So this letter was written to the congregation of Christians who lived in the city of Ephesus. The letter to the Galatians was written to the entire assembly of saints who lived in the whole district of Galatia, not to just one congregation in one city.
So the word “ekklesia” means the congregation, or the assembly of saved persons in any given location, and it also means ALL the saved, collectively as a whole. The word” church” actually comes from an entirely different Greek word. When it is used in our English New Testaments, it is actually a “mis-translation”. It’s an “incorrect translation”. The word “church” originally meant.. “the house belonging to the lord”. But the “lord” being referred to here wasn’t the Lord God, but it simply referred to a “lord” as a property owner, in other words, “the master of the house”. It’s very similar to the expression “the landlord”. So the word church did indeed originally refer to a building. It referred to the building that the “landlord” owned.
The word was in common use long before the time of Christ, and it became typically used to refer to the “house”, or building, where pagan worshipers, worshipped their idols. The reason that it’s used in our English bibles as a “substitute” for the word “ekklesia”, is that by the time the bible began to be translated into English, the word had undergone a “transformation” of sorts, and was already being used rather “loosely” by the Roman Catholic church, and by the church of England, to mean the building where Christians met. People today go to great lengths to explain that the word “church” doesn’t refer to a building, but rather it refers to the Christians who make up the congregation. In reality, the word “church” shouldn’t be used at all, but rather the words “congregation” or “assembly” are the words that should be used. The word “ekklesia” does NOT mean “church”. It means the assembly of the “called out” of God. The “congregation” of God’s people.
Jesus promised in Mathew 16:18, “I will build My assembly”. Jesus was going to “build” His assembly of people who would be “called out from the world, and called into His kingdom”. As I said previously, those who are “called out”, are those who have been saved by God Himself. We’re told in Acts 2;41, “So then those who had received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 souls.” V-47 says, “And the lord was adding to the congregation, day by day, those who were being saved,”
The “Ekklesia” and The Kingdom are the same thing
We already looked at part of the verse from 1 Peter 2:9, but here’s the whole verse.. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
But now listen to Colossians 1:13, “For he delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the KINGDOM of His beloved Son.” The saved are in the kingdom of His beloved Son! The kingdom, and the “ekklesia” are the same thing. So when God saves someone, He adds them to His congregation which is the kingdom of His beloved Son. Many people believe that the kingdom is something that is yet to come, but God says very plainly that He has already transferred the saved into His kingdom.
Jesus told His apostle Peter, in Mathew 16:18-19, “I will build My ekklesia, and the gates of hades shall not prevent it (in other words my death won’t prevent Me from building My assembly) and “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” After Jesus had ascended back to heaven, Peter was given the responsibility of preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, how they could be forgiven of their sins and added to the kingdom. That’s what Jesus meant by “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven”. Peter “unlocked the door” so to speak, to salvation through Christ.
And remember the words of Acts 2:41, “Then those who had received his words were baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 souls”. They were added to the kingdom of heaven. They had been “called out” of this world of darkness, and “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son”, which is His congregation. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “into His marvelous light”.
It’s NOT an Earthly Kingdom
This is something that seems hard for some people to grasp. The congregation of God and of Christ, is NOT an earthly kingdom! When Jesus had been arrested, just before His crucifixion, He said, “My kingdom is NOT of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. But as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” John 18:36
Jesus tells us in Luke 17:21, “The kingdom of God is within you!” So the kingdom is not earthly, but rather it is spiritual. It’s within “our hearts”. In other words, it’s in our spirits. That’s why when the New Covenant was predicted, back in Jeremiah 31;33, God said, “I will put My law within them, and on their hearts I will write it..”
The people who have had their sins forgiven, and who have been added, by God, to His assembly, are members of the kingdom of heaven, which is the spiritual body of Christ. But that kingdom is “within them”. The kingdom lives in the “spirits” of those people who willingly put God’s laws within their hearts, and obey those laws. “I will put My laws within them, and on their hearts I will write it, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” We will be God’s people, ONLY if we obey His laws!
Here’s the part that really tends to confuse people today. There is NO earthly “headquarters” for the congregation of God. His kingdom doesn’t have a physical location where “business” is conducted out of. All of the man-made “churches” have a headquarters somewhere on this earth. For the Catholic church, it’s in Rome. For the Mormon church, it’s Salt Lake City. And for all the other denominations, there is a central location that is claimed to be the “headquarters”. But God’s assembly doesn’t have any physical location of any sort. Each congregation in any given city or area, probably uses a building to meet in for it’s worship, and for bible study, but the building is nothing more than a shelter from the weather. There is NO building that serves as a “headquarters” of God’s assembly.
There is NO governing “council” to tell us how we should live and act and worship. The bible tells us all those things. There is NO need for a council of men and/or women, to tell us what God has already told us in His word. We all have the same obligation to fulfill the words of 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, correctly discrerning the word of truth.”
Six Truths About the Ekklesia
Here’s a summary of six “truths” that we’ve learned so far in this study..
#1. The word “church” is actually an incorrect translation of the original Greek word “Ekklesia”. The word “ekklesia” means.. “the called out”. It refers to the people who have been called out of this world, and into the kingdom of God. As used in the New Testament, “ekklesia” means the “congregation”, or the “assembly” of the people that God has saved, by forgiving their sins and “adding them” to the kingdom of Christ.
#2. The “ekklesia” and the “kingdom” are the same thing. A misconception that many people have is that the kingdom is something that is yet to come. But God says in Colossians 1:13, “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” That was written almost 2,000 years ago, and people had already been transferred into the kingdom back then!
#3. The “ekklesia” is not an organization that you can “join”. It is common to hear the statement, “Join the church of your choice”. We’ll, the only church that you can “join” is a church established by man. The only way for you to be in God’s assembly of the saved, is for God Himself to “add” you to it. We’re told in Acts 2:41, “And there were added that day about 3,000 souls.” Then V-47 says, “And the Lord was adding to the assembly day by day, those who were being saved.” Those souls were not “joining” the assembly of the saved, God Himself was “adding” them to His assembly.
#4. The “ekklesia” is not an EARTHLY kingdom. It is a SPIRITUAL kingdom. Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is NOT of this world.. It is not of this realm.” And He said in Luke 17:21, “The kingdom of God is within you!” The kingdom is within our very spirits. It’s in “the heart” of us.
#5. Jesus is the ONE head, of the ONE body. The “ekklesia’ is the “spiritual body” of Jesus. We learn from Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the ekklesia, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Eph 4:4 tells us “There is ONE body..”
#6. The body is made up of many individual members. God tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”
Now all of these points are very important for us to recognize because they are distinguishing traits about the spiritual body of Christ that He gave His physical life for. However please allow me to comment about point #6.
There is a great number of people who try to “justify” the many denominations that exist today, in spite of the fact that 1 Cor 12:25 tells us “That there should be NO divisions among you, but that the members should have the same care for one another.” Also, the very first chapter of this same letter to the Corinthians says in V-10, “Now I exhort you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and there be NO divisions among you. But you be made complete in the same mind and the same judgment.” The apostle Paul went on to say in V-12, “Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying; I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas, and I am of Christ. Has Christ been divided?”
The answer of course is NO, Christ has NOT been divided! God, through the apostle Paul, is condemning divisions! Is there any difference at all, between saying, “I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas”; And saying, “I am of Martin Luther, and I am of John Wesley, and I am of Saint Peter?” What about saying, “I am of a Baptist belief, and I am of a Methodist belief, and I am of a Pentecostal belief, or I am of a Roman Catholic belief?” IS CHRIST DIVIDED ?
Now here’s how men try to “justify” all that. They say; We are all just different members of the one body. But that’s not what the scriptures say. God didn’t say that various “groups” of you are members of the body. He said, “Now YOU are Christ’s body, and INDIVIDUALLY members of it! Individuals are members, not “groups” of people, each with different opinions of what the bible says. Each claiming that “I’m of this man”, or “I’m of that man”. If you want to be in “man’s church”, that’s up to you. But if you want to be SAVED, then it’s up to God!
There’s another scripture that people will go to, trying to “justify” religious division. That scripture is John 15:5. “I am the vine and you are the branches; He who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; For apart from Me you can do nothing.” However, it’s easy to see from this verse, that “individuals” are the branches and not “groups” of people. It’s exactly the same as the “individuals” who are the members of the body. Jesus said “I” am the vine. And “YOU” are the branches. The word translated “you” is the Greek word “hymeis”. This word is a “personal pronoun”, in the “singular form”. In other words it refers to “individual” people, like you and I. It does NOT refers to “groups” of people such as “this denomination” and “that denomination”. The bible says what it says.. “I, Jesus, the one and only Son of God, am the vine, and YOU, individual disciples, are the branches.”
The Structure of the Body of Christ
There is a certain “structure” that God has given for His body of saved persons. And it’s a very simple “structure” that really is, TOO simple for a lot of people to accept. When referring to the whole assembly of the saved, God says in Colossians 1:18, “He (Christ) is also HEAD of the body, (the ekklesia) and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that He Himself might have first place in everything.” Now that’s pretty simple isn’t it? Jesus is the ONE head of the body. And we’re told in Ephesians 4:4, “There is ONE body..”
So there is ONE body, and ONE head of the body. Now here’s where we come in.. A comparison is made to the human body, in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For even as the body is one, and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are ONE body, so also is Christ! For by ONE Spirit (the Spirit of God), we were all baptized into one body! Whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free , we were all made to “drink” of one Spirit (drink means to “share” in the one Spirit of God). For the body is not one member, but many!”
V-27 says, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually, members of it.”
One head, one body, many individual members, all sharing the same Spirit of God.
Please go on to the second part of this study titled “MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE CHURCH – PART 2” where we’ll examine a lot more about the individual members of His “called out assembly”, the “body of Christ”.
May God bless you in the study of His word.