8. The Church
Definitions of “Church”
From Strong’s: 1577. ekklesia, ek-klay-see'-ah; from a comp. of G1537 and a der. of G2564; a calling out, i.e. (concr.) a popular meeting, espec. a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Chr. community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both):--assembly, church
From American Heritage Dictionary: 1. A building for public, especially Christian worship. 2. often Church a. The company of all Christians regarded as a spiritual body. b. A specified Christian denomination: the Presbyterian Church. c. A congregation.
From Holman Bible Dictionary: Church is the term used in the New Testament most frequently to describe a group of persons professing trust in Jesus Christ, meeting together to worship Him, and seeking to enlist others to become His followers. A basic understanding of the church in the New Testament requires answers to the following four basic questions: What does the word "church" mean? What were the characteristics of the early church's life? How was the church organized? How did the early church grow and expand?
The meaning of the term "church" Church is the English translation of the Greek word ekklesia. The use of the Greek term prior to the emergence of the Christian church is important as two streams of meaning flow from the history of its usage into the New Testament understanding of church.
First, the Greek term which basically means "called out" was commonly used to indicate an assembly of citizens of a Greek city and is so used in Acts 19:32, 39. The citizens who were quite conscious of their privileged status over slaves and noncitizens were called to the assembly by a herald and dealt in their meetings democratically with matters of common concern. When the early Christians understood themselves as constituting a church, no doubt exists that they perceived themselves as called out by God in Jesus Christ for a special purpose and that their status was a privileged one in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:19).
Second, the Greek term was used more than one hundred times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in common use in the time of Jesus. The Hebrew term (qahal) meant simply "assembly" and could be used in a variety of ways, referring for example to an assembling of prophets (1 Sam. 19:20), soldiers (Num. 22:4), or the people of God (Deut. 9:10). The use of the term in the Old Testament in referring to the people of God is important for understanding the term "church" in the New Testament. The first Christians were Jews who used the Greek translation of the Old Testament. For them to use a self-designation that was common in the Old Testament for the people of God reveals their understanding of the continuity that links the Old and New Testaments. The early Christians understood themselves as the people of the God who had revealed Himself in the Old Testament (Heb. 1:1-2), as the true children of Israel (Rom. 2:28-29) with Abraham as their father (Rom. 4:1-25), and as the people of the New Covenant prophesied in the Old Testament (Heb. 8:1-13). As a consequence of this broad background of meaning in the Greek and Old Testament worlds, the term "church" is used in the New Testament of a local congregation of called-out Christians, such as the "church of God which is at Corinth"(1 Cor. 1:2), and also of the entire people of God, such as in the affirmation that Christ is "the head over all things to the church, Which is his body" (Eph. 1:22-23).
What church means in the New Testament is further defined by a host of over one hundred other descriptive expressions occurring in relationship to passages where the church is being addressed. Three basic perspectives embrace most of these other descriptions. First, the church is seen as the body of Christ; and a cluster of images exists in this context as emphasis falls on the head (Eph. 4:15-16), the members (1 Cor. 6:12-20), the body (1 Cor. 12:12-27), or the bride (Eph. 5:22-31). The church is also seen as God's new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), the new persons (Eph. 2:14-15), fighters against Satan (Eph. 6:10-20), or bearers of light (Eph. 5:7-9). Thirdly, the church is quite often described as a fellowship of faith with its members described as the saints (1 Cor. 1:2), the faithful (Col. 1:2), the witnesses (John 15:26-27), or the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17).
We have talked primarily about what the “Church” is and very little about what is required or expected of the Church. There are many good books about what the church should be and how it should interact with the world and with the members. I believe once we know who and what we are we will be better equipped to find, accept and fulfill our rolls within the church. Let’s talk a bit about whom we recognize as brothers in the Lord. That is as members of the church.
If we better understand who we are can we then better identify who others are?
Must all members of the church agree on all subjects?
If not, then what subjects are open to disagreement without excluding someone from the church?
To what extent does someone’s intention and faith influence your decision as to whether or not you recognize them as a member of the church?
What characteristics of other denominations would force you to conclude that they are not part of the church?
How would you apply, “by their fruits you shall know them” to other people and other denominations?
Given that, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” how will you respond to others of different understanding and denomination? Will you recognize them as disciples?
If we understand the Church to be the totality of God’s people, then does it seem right to consider the Church as both an old and new testament concept?
Those that are called to God are called to truth. God is Truth. A search for fundamental truth can be considered a search for God. This is a good thing. However, although a man might search for truth his entire life it is inconceivable that he will ever know the truth of all things. God does!
Can we see that God’s people, the church, are called out and are being perfected? Can we see that that which is being perfected is necessarily not perfect or would not need perfecting? So, the people that make up the church are not perfect and yet are accepted of God. And, all though we are children, babes in the Lord, can’t we see that God is trying to find ways to keep us, protect us, nourish us, and not ways to discard us or scatter us?
Why then do we, too often, focus on those things that are divisive and fail to recognize the essentials we hold in common? It’s so easy to see the speck in our brother’s eye when the actual or bigger problem is in our own, “I” or put more clearly, in our conceit. Yes there are important differences of understanding in the Church but I truly believe our own lack of understanding, read that as “Faith” frequently makes mountains out of molehills.
So I close with this. Discover the essential fundamentals of God’s people. Discover those things that are not essential but tend to divide God’s people. And then as our President has said, “Be a “Uniter” not a divider.”