The Church & Churches

Our Lord uses the "building concept" a second time. People are not converted to Christ to live their Christian lives alone.

They are to be "BUILT TOGETHER". "In Him - in fellowship with one another - you yourselves also are BEING BUILT UP (into this structure) WITH THE REST, to FORM a fixed abode (dwelling p1ace) of God in (by, through) the Spirit" (Amp). "YOU ARE ALL PART OF THIS BUILDING in which God Himself lives by His Spirit" (JBP) (Eph. 2:22). It is of this that our Lord Jesus speaks when He says, "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH"! (Matt.16:18). He likens our INDIVIDUAL lives to a building and He speaks of our COLLECTIVE lives as a building. He calls the latter, "MY CHURCH".

Just to be extra clear, the building being talked about here has nothing to do with actual bricks and mortar. Unfortunately, many have taken this building metaphor and applied it to a particular church denomination or gathering place. The New Testament clearly speaks to the churches in a particular city or region, i.e. they were trans (across) city, with mention of specific gatherings in homes. However, we are clearly instructed not to call ourselves after a particular label - Baptist, Pentecostal, Reformed, whatever (in Bible speak - 1 Corinthians 1 - from Apollos, Cephas etc.). Jesus returns for a single bride / church, not a divided one. He prayed for our choosing to walk in unity, and thus demonstrating our love to the world (John 17). Thus having that as our context for these lessons, let us proceed.

It is well to note at the outset of this study, a few things about this first reference to the church made by our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Builder - "I will build". He is both Architect and Contractor! He will draw up the plans and oversee the construction. All those who work under Him in the erection of this building will follow His plan explicitly and take their orders from Him.

And let there be no question concerning the success of this project. There is only One in the universe who can speak an unqualified "I WILL". That One is God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, being "God of very God", can so speak. All others, when undertaking any activity, must say "IF THE LORD WILL, we shall live, and do this, or that" (Jas. 4:15). The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, speaks with a SINGLE VOICE! when our Lord Jesus said, "I WILL build my church", He spoke a word of divine purpose against which there can be no successful opposition. The church will be built!

This unique building will be His - "I will build MY church". We do well to remember that we are being permitted to be a part of, and workers in, the building, of our blessed Lord's church. Let us keep in touch with the Architect and the Contractor, our Lord Jesus Christ, and study carefully and prayerfully the blueprint, the word of God.
What is it our Lord is building? "I will build MY CHURCH".

In revealing His truth and purposes, God has chosen to use people, places, and things, which already have meaning to those to whom He is speaking. So in this case, when He wanted to describe His redeemed people by something well known to them, He used the word CHURCH. Several other metaphors are used in the New Testament for God's people, which we will consider later in this series.

A. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE WORD "CHURCH"?

1. "THAT WHICH IS CALLED OUT" is the meaning of the Greek word "Ekklesia" translated "church". It is derived from the preposition "ek" (out of) and "kaleo" (to call), thus suggesting a CALLING OUT.

2. THE BACKGROUND of the word will help us to understand its meaning.

a. GREEK BACKGROUND - "Throughout the Greek world and right down to New Testament times, "ekklesia" was the designation of the regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state, "called out" by the herald for the discussion and decision of public business". This use of the word is found in Acts l9:32,39,41, where "ekklesia" is translated "assembly".
b. HEBREW BACKGROUND - In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), "ekklesia" translates a Hebrew word which comes from a root which means "to summon". "It is regularly used for ‘the assembly' or 'congregation' of the people of Israel. It occurs over 7O times. In the Hebrew sense, it means God's people called together by God, in order to listen to or act for God."

  • Psa. 22:22 - "...I will declare your name to my people; in the ASSEMBLY (ekklesia) I will praise you."
  • Heb. 2:12 - "...I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the ASSEMBLY (ekklesia) I will sing your praises."
  • Acts 7:38 - "He was in the ASSEMBLY in the wilderness..."

3. PEOPLE NOT PLACE! It is not uncommon for people to think of a building when the word church is mentioned. However, it is obvious from the above definitions, that the word "church" refers to people and not to the place where they congregate. "It is not until the early third century that anything in the nature of Church buildings came into being." There is no reference to "Church buildings" in the New Testament.

B. WHERE IS THE WORD "CHURCH" FIRST USED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?

Since, as we have seen, our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of the church as "My church", it is not surprising that He should be the one to use it first.

  • Matt. 16:18 - "I will build MY CHURCH ..."
  • Matt. 18:15-17 - "...tell it to the CHURCH...if they refuse to listen even to the church .... "

 

C. DOES THE WORD "CHURCH" HAVE MORE THAN ONE MEANING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?

The word "church" is used in two ways in the New Testament. These two meanings are indicated in the first uses of the word by our Lord in Matthew's record.

1. THE CHURCH - "I will build My CHURCH" (Matt. 16:18).

When the word is used in this sense it refers to all the redeemed, including those who have "died in Christ", those who are in Christ on the earth, and those yet to be "called" in the future. When the word is used in this way it is never used in the plural. There is only ONE CHURCH!

  • Heb. 12:23 - "to the general assembly and CHURCH of the firstborn who are registered in heaven..."
  • Eph. 1:22,23 (JBP) - "God has placed everything under the power of Christ and has set him up as head of everything for THE CHURCH. For THE CHURCH is his body, and in that body lives fully the one who fills the whole wide universe."
  • Eph. 3:10 (JBP) — "The purpose is that all the angelic powers should now see the complex wisdom of God's plan being worked out through THE CHURCH."
  • Eph. 5:23,24,25,27,32 - ".. Christ is the head of the CHURCH. .THE CHURCH submits to Christ... Christ loved THE CHURCH and gave himself for her ... a radiant CHURCH...Christ and THE CHURCH."

2. THE CHURCHES — "Tell it unto the CHURCH" (Matt.18:15)

In our Lord's second use of the word "church," He is speaking about one brother trespassing against another brother. He urges the one who has been sinned against to go to his erring brother "alone" and attempt to "gain" him, or win him back from his error. If he does not succeed he should then take with him one or two others and try again to restore a proper relationship. If this fails, then he shall "tell it unto the CHURCH." The church then must try to win the brother. If they fail, the sinning man must then be considered as "an heathen man and a publican." It is obvious that the first meaning of the word church could not apply here. It would be impossible to speak to THE CHURCH in the sense universal. "The Scriptures distinguish between the invisible or universal church, and the individual church, in which the universal church takes local and temporal form. The individual church may be defined as that smaller company of persons, who, in any given community, are gathered in accordance with Christ's laws." The following are just a few of the many Scriptures which refer to this meaning of the word "church."

  • Acts 14:23 - "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in EACH CHURCH,"
  • Rom. 16:5 - "Greet also the CHURCH that meets AT THEIR HOUSE."
  • 1 Cor. 1:2 - "To the CHURCH of God, AT CORINTH....."
  • 1 Cor. 4:17 - ".... what I teach everywhere in EVERY CHURCH"
  • 1 Thess. 2:14 - "... of God’s CHURCHES in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus:..."

STUDY QUESTIONS FOR LESSON #1

  1. What two uses are made of "foundation"?
  2. What is the meaning of the word "church"?
  3. Is a church a building, and if not, what is it?
  4. Define two uses of the word church in the New Testament.


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