“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
(Please note: I apologize for the length and detail of this series, and to be honest, I realize it will not be easily consumed by some of its readers. I normally do not post articles of this length or depth, but I feel obligated to write this posting based upon feedback I have received from the Importance Of The Local Assembly series that was recently published. So for the many who have shown interest and/or curiosity on this subject, here is the information you have requested. My apology to those who lack interest or the time to read this study. It is understandable.)
Facts about the word “church” as used in the King James Version of the Bible….
1. The word “church” is not used in the Old Testament.
2. The word “church” is used in 111 verses in the New Testament.
3. Every occurrence of the word “church” is translated from the Greek word “ekklesia” in the NT.
In this study, I would like to study the definition and contextual usage of this Greek word “ekklesia”, with the intent of answering the following questions…
“When the Bible speaks of a “church” is it referring to an invisible, universal assembly made up of all believers in Christ;…. or, is it referring to visible, local assembly whose membership is limited to baptized believers;…. or, does the Bible speak of both types of “churches” that are differentiated by the context in which they are used?”
Let us all ask the Lord for grace, a spirit open to truth, clarity of thought, and accuracy as we work our way through the Holy Scriptures…
A. (Matthew 16:16-20);
B. (Act 2:42-47); (Act 7:37-41); (Act 12:1-4); (Act 15:1-4); (Act 19:29-34); (Act 19:35-41); (Act 20:17-28)
C. (Romans 16:21-24)
D. (1 Corinth 6:1-5); (1 Corinth 10:24-33); (1 Corinth 11:19-24); (1 Corinth 12:27-31); (1 Corinth 15:1-11)
E. (Galatians 1:11-13)
F. (Ephesians 1:16-23); (Ephesians 3:8-12); (Ephesians 3:14-21); (Ephesians 5:22-33)
G. (Philippians 3:4-6)
H. (Colossians 1:14-29)
I. (1 Timothy 3:14-16); (1 Timothy 5:9-16)
J. (Hebrews 2:10-13)
K. (James 5:12-18)
L. (3 John 1:5-10)
A basic principle used in this study:
You must take the normal, usual usage and meaning of a word unless the context CLEARLY DICTATES ANOTHER MEANING is ABSOLUTELY necessary.
This is the core principle upon which this study is based. Both the details, and conclusion, of this study rest heavily upon this principle. We will be finding the common, basic usage and definition of “ekklesia” as found in the Scriptures, and then attempt to consistently apply that meaning to each text.
The common definition of the word “ekklesia”:
The basic meaning of “ekklesia” is “called out from”, or “to separate by summons”.
Therefore, based upon the definition of “ekklesia”, we find no indication of which type of assembly we are speaking of whenever we find the word being used.
However, this is only half of our “equation”. Next we have to look at the USAGE of the word “ekklesia” in the Holy Bible.
The common usage of the word “ekklesia”:
I am forced to conclude that the common usage of the term in the NT is “local visible assembly”. This definition clearly applies in at least 80 verses (that’s over 70 percent of the time) the word is used. There was only, at the most, 32 verses that it could mean a invisible, universal assembly (that’s less than 30%).
Therefore, for this study, we will be using THE COMMON DEFINITION OF “EKKLESIA” WILL BE “A LOCAL VISIBLE ASSEMBLY”.
Based upon our earlier discussion under the heading “A basic principle used in this study” This will be our process…
1. We will look at the context of each of the 32 Scriptures where “ekklesia” could mean an “invisible universal assembly”.
2. We will see if each one could allow us to use our common definition a “local visible assembly” .
3. If the context allows “ekklesia” to hold to its common definition, that will be the definition we assign to that text.
4. If the context forbids that the common definition of ekklesia can be used, we will then attempt to determine the definition of “ekklesia” for that text.
For more detailed information on the above sections, please see part one of our study…
A verse by verse study of the “questionable” texts that use the word “ekklesia”:
“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
Here we find the Lord speaking to Peter, emphasizing the veracity, and importance, of the statement “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. He then explains the great authority that he will give, and is now held by, the local assembly as they proclaim the gospel message to the lost. For those who accept the gospel message by faith, they will be “just as saved” as if Christ Himself had delivered the message to lost person. Likewise those who reject the gospel message delivered by the local assembly, will be just as greatly condemned to judgment as if Christ Himself had delivered the message to them.
The usage of “ekklesia”
There is nothing in the context that dictates that the term “church” cannot mean a local assembly. Therefore we will look no further.
(Please note: In this case, the word “church” is used in a generalized sense. This means that the statement “upon this rock I will build my church” was not pointed toward a specific local assembly, but will apply to any assembly of that type. Much like the statement “the duck is a bird that quacks” does not refer to a specific duck but it refers to any bird of that type.)
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all [men], as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Here, we find the church at Jerusalem being increased in membership and unity. Following their baptism and church membership, they enjoyed times of worship through the teaching of God’s Word, fellowship with the saints, observing the Lord’s supper, and communal prayer and self-sacrifice for the welfare of the other members. Also, to accredit this newly formed entity, we find the apostles working many signs and wonders…proof the God had authorized this assembly and her message.
The usage of “ekklesia”
Clearly, the context dictates that the word “church” is referring to the Lord’s local assembly that continued to grow as the lost were saved and joined the assembly. Since church can easily mean a local visible assembly we need to look no further for another definition.
“This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and [with] our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust [him] from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for [as for] this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.”
This text is an account of an event that took place during the wilderness wanderings of the nation of Israel. As the nation of Israel traveled through the wilderness, they were an organized, visible assembly that had been called out of Egypt, separated to worship and obey God.
The usage of “ekklesia”
Again, clearly this is speaking of a local, visible assembly of God’s people. No other definition needs to be sought.
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth [his] hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put [him] in prison, and delivered [him] to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. 5) Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him….. 12) And when he had considered [the thing], he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
The martyrdom of the local church of Jerusalem’s members included James. Herod also went after Peter (another member of the local assembly). Peter was imprisoned and the local church then prayed for him.
The usage of “ekklesia”
We know that the local church (vs 5) is described as praying for him… in verse twelve, we are told many were gathered praying, which is describing the local visible assembly at prayer. The church in vs 1, when kept in the context of vs 5 and 12, clearly is referring to a local assembly. Once again our rule applies. Since the vs1 can mean a local assembly, and we know the church in vs 5 is speaking of a local assembly, then we have no need to find any other definition for either term.
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and [of] the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.”
The church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to consult the Apostles and Elders of the church at Jerusalem. They traveled back to Jerusalem and were received by the local church there.
The usage of “ekklesia”
“church” in both verses, can easily be speaking of the local assemblies in those areas. No reason to search for another definition.
“And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre. And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring [him] that he would not adventure himself into the theatre. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people. But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great [is] Diana of the Ephesians.” (Acts 19:29-34)
“And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, [Ye] men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the [image] which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another. But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.” (Acts 19:35-41)
Here we read of a political assembly that was gathered to hold a makeshift trial and persecute Gaius and Aristarchus in defense of the Goddess Diana.
The usage of “ekklesia”
Here, the word “ekklesia” is translated “assembly” and is speaking of a local visible assembly of Greek citizens.
“And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: [And] how I kept back nothing that was profitable [unto you], but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I [am] pure from the blood of all [men]. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:17-28)
Paul calls for a meeting of the elders of the local church at Ephesus. They travel to Paul, and Paul then speaks to them about his persecution, imprisonment and missionary ministry. He then emphasizes to them his ministry to their church (the local church at Ephesus) and emphasizes the need for them to watch over and feed the church of Ephesus over which they have been placed.
The usage of “ekklesia”
In my mind, both times the “church” is mentioned, it is clear that a local assembly is being spoken of. If you notice they are given the responsibility to feed and watch over “the church”. This cannot be speaking of a universal, invisible assembly, for it would be impossible to feed and watch over all Christians on the face of the planet earth. However, it is very easy, and obvious, for them to watch over and feed the local assembly where they were ministering. No need to look further for another definition
We will continue our study of the questionable texts in our next posting.
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