“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”:
“Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you. I Tertius, who wrote [this] epistle, salute you in the Lord. Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen.”
Paul is writing on behalf on several different Christians (Timotheus, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius (as penman), Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus. Paul goes further and speaks on behalf of the local assembly at Corinth.
The usage of “ekklesia”
Could Paul speak on behalf of all the believers everywhere on earth? I think not. Note the phrase “whole church” is used elsewhere to describe local assemblies (Acts 15:22 – at Jerusalem; 1 Cor 14:23 – at Corinth)
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Corinthians 6:1-5)
Paul, here is encouraging believers who are involved in a dispute to allow the local assembly to make a judgment and not to rely upon the world’s judicial system.
The usage of “ekklesia”
Would it be possible for the universal, invisible church to make a judgment about saints’ disagreements? I don’t know how that could ever be done. Would Christians be able to bring their disputes before a local assembly for judgment…. Absolutely. It could be easily done.
“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s [wealth]. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, [that] eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you [to a feast], and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another [man’s] conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:24-33)
Paul gives a listing or areas of concern for the Christian desiring to possess a proper public testimony for Christ. This involves care concerning covetousness, eating habits, hospitality and social behaviors, limiting our Christian liberties for the sake of others, honoring God in all things that are done, then he makes the statement…
“Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved.”
In other words, we are to take care not to offend those around us. This includes being a good testimony to both Jew and Gentile. Also, it includes being in proper submission to the local assembly and not offend them, it is the local church whose responsibility it is to take the gospel to the lost world.
Whatever church we are a member of, we should be in submission to their authority helping them to fulfill the Great Commission through our life testimony.
By doing all of these things, we are exhibiting a humble attitude of a life lived in ministry for the good of others.
The usage of “ekklesia”
Church is used in the generalized sense. Whatever church we are a member of, we should be in submission to their authority which enhances our testimony and the unity of the church as it takes the gospel to the world.Again, this makes perfect sense, and therefore we have no need to seek another definition.
For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, [this] is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before [other] his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise [you] not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the [same] night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake [it], and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
(1 Corinthians 11:19-24)
Here, Paul is giving the local church at Corinth instructions on how to observe the church ordinance of communion. By partaking of the supper in a selfish fashion the church member is despising the local assembly who holds authority over the ordinance.
The usage of “ekklesia”
Contextually, it is quite clear Paul is instructing a local assembly that has the authority to observe the Lord’s Supper.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also [is] Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether [we be] Jews or Gentiles, whether [we be] bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body [were] an eye, where [were] the hearing? If the whole [were] hearing, where [were] the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where [were] the body? But now [are they] many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those [members] of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely [parts] have more abundant comeliness. For our comely [parts] have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that [part] which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but [that] the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”
(1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
Paul is addressing the local assembly at Corinth. He is describing them as the “body of Christ”. This teaches us that the local church although made up of many different members is to work together in harmony to do the bidding of its head, Jesus Christ. Paul describes the offices of the local assembly and some of the gifts the Lord placed within that assembly for its spiritual growth and accrediting. Finally, to emphasize the need for selflessness and unity, he reminds them to earnestly desire to exercise the “best gifts”… ie the gifts most needed by the assembly.
Also, if you notice in vs 13 membership in this assembly is gained by the Holy Spirit leading us to be baptized in water. (The word translated “by” is also translated “through” in Greek). This is saying that…
“Through (the leadership of) the Spirit, we are all baptized into one type of body.” (It is a local assembly that declares God’s truths and fulfills the Great Commission.)
This membership is offered to both Jew and Gentile, slave or master. There is no difference between a local church filled with Gentiles and a local church filled with Jews. Nor is there a difference between the membership of the rich and the membership of the slave. They hold to the same set of doctrines and have the same mission…. The Great Commission. No matter what their nationality and social standing each member has the same privileges and responsibilities of membership.
The usage of “ekklesia”
The church is being described in the generalized sense here. Only a local assembly could accomplish what Paul is describing in vs 13-31. It is impossible for members of an invisible worldwide body of believers to work together in harmony and meet each other’s needs as being described in these verses.
Once again, as in every text so far, there is nothing in this text to dictate that the “church” that is mentioned cannot be a local assembly. Therefore, there is no need to search for another meaning.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace [which was bestowed] upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether [it were] I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.”
(1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
11) But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12) For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
13) For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
Here, Paul is sharing the details of the gospel message, in the context of his personal testimony to the local church at Corinth, and the local church at Galatia. He is emphasizing proofs that the gospel message is true, the great number of witnesses to the resurrection and the changed life he experienced after his receipt of the gospel by faith.
As a part of his testimony, Paul describes his past life (prior to his salvation) which included the persecution of members of the local church at Jerusalem. This is described in Acts 7:54-8:5 – this account includes the martyrdom of Stephen, and other believers living in the confines of Jerusalem. There is no reason to believe these were not members of the local church at Jerusalem)
The usage of “ekklesia”
There is no reason why the “church” mentioned in Paul’s testimony was not the local church at Jerusalem. No need to look further.
We will continue our study of the questionable texts in our next posting.
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May the Lord bless your study of His Word. Like God’s Word… may your soul’s salvation and your life’s faithfulness be “Settled in Heaven.”