My Church--It’s Meaning

The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Upon this rock, I will build My church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). My friends, Jesus did just what He promised -- He build a church He could call His very own. It cannot belong to anyone but Christ, if it is the one He built

All of the saved make up the church (ekklesia) of Christ. There is no salvation for anyone outside of this ekklesia. Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). The term ekklesia is defined in both secular and sacred terms. The Greeks used the term to denote any assembly of persons called out, or called together, for any specific purpose. Notice Luke’s narrative in Acts 19. The setting tells of the uproar which resulted from Paul’s expelling of a demon from a young lady. The chaotic condition made it dangerous for Paul. His brethren knew the danger of the lynch minded unbelievers. Some of the “officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater” (verse 31). The next verse uses the term ekklesia. “Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (verse 32). It is used again in verses 39 and 41. In this case it is obviously a simple meeting of people who have some specific purpose for congregating.

It is used in a sacred way to define those who are saved from their sins. The Lord called it His church (ekklesia). The purpose for which those who constitute His ekklesia congregate centers on one common bond, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. On the first Pentecost festival after Jesus was raised from the dead, a group of Jews came together to hear the words of Peter. For a while, they were an (ekklesia) in the secular sense. They were together in a public meeting to learn what the great noise was all about.

They heard words none had ever heard before. Peter preached Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God for the very first time in history. He told the audience of their guilt, incurred in the unjust slaying of Jesus. They asked what they must do to be saved and Peter responded, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). At the conclusion of this meeting the records tells us that those who answered the call in the obedience of their faith were “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church (ekklesia) daily those who were being saved” (Verse 47). The sacred use of this term indicates the nature of the congregating of those who make up the church Jesus said belongs to Him. The same process by which one is saved is that which makes one a member of His church.

Our English word church is derived from a combination of German and Scottish. The German word kirche and the Scottish word kirk evolved from a Greek term, kuriakos. Kuriakos, in turn came from the Greek word kurios, which means “Lord.” It came to mean a house in which the Lord would dwell. At an early date it was used almost exclusively of a religious organization meeting in some sort of building and engaging in joint activities such as worship. Whereas ekklesia refers to the people who were congregated, the word church began to be applied to both the people and the meeting house. Therefore, the English word church is still applied to a building in which a church regularly meets. One would never use the term ekklesia of the building.

In the New Testament, as the word church is used, it broadens into three basic and separate meanings. First, it refers to a particular congregation, assembling regularly at a given place for worship and fellowship. Such passages as Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2; I Corinthians 1:2 and others specify individual units of the people of God. These individual companies of believers often met in the residence of one of the members. At other times they used public buildings for their meetings.

A second usage embraces a group of local assemblies in a given area. Sometimes the expression “churches of ...” is used, and at other times simply “the church” is used to include all of those assemblies within a limited area. Acts 9:31, in the American Standard Version, reads: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, was multiplied.” Other versions adopt a plural use of the term. The textual evidence favors the use of the singular term ekklesia. Bruce Metzger, a well known and established textual critic wrote, “The range and age of the witnesses which read the singular number are superior to those that read the plural. The singular can hardly be a scribal modification in the interest of expressing the idea of the unity of the church, for in that case we should have expected similar modifications in 15:42 and 16:5, where there is no doubt that the plural number ekklesia is the original text. More probably the singular number here has been altered to the plural in order to conform to the two latter passages.” A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, UBS, 1975.

The third meaning encompasses the collective body of all who are saved. All who have united their hearts and lives in Christ are one body in Christ. It is in this sense that Paul says Christ is the head of the church, or that the church is His bride (Ephesians 1:23; 5:25). There are those who refer to this as the “invisible church.” No such language is found in the Bible, anywhere. The distinction between a visible and an invisible church is denominational in origin. One astute denominational writer once admitted, “The distinction between a visible profession of such faith, and its actual exercise as manifested in a truly Christian life, between the church actual and the church ideal, is expressed by the theological rather than biblical terms, visible and invisible.” (Edward D. Morris, Ecclesiology, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1885, page 15.)

The church Jesus owns is described under various metaphors. The church is called “the house of God.” Paul wrote, “But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15). As His house, those who are members of the church are His children. All of God’s children are part of His family. He has no illegitimate children. Becoming a child of God is the same as being saved from sin. The penitent believers who were baptized on the day of Pentecost, became the church. The church is God’s family. Paul wrote, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Baptism is the water of the new birth (John 3:5) that admits one into God’s family. As His house, the church is also God’s dwelling place. Please read Ephesians 2:19-22; II Corinthians 6:16-18.

The church is the body of Christ. That body is the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). That in which the church embodies itself is the fullness of God’s glory. Paul wrote, “To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21). The expression body suggests that there is function, organization, association, relation, and vitality among those who make up the church. In one sense, the body of Christ is found in every place where there are saved people who meet together for worship and fellowship in Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were the body of Christ, “and members individually” (I Corinthians 12:27). In this same chapter Paul had discussed the integral and vital relationship that must exist between the members of the same body. And, he flatly declared there is only one body (I Corinthians 12:13,14,20; Ephesians 4:4). This is the one church Jesus called, “My church.”

The church is the kingdom of Christ on earth. Jesus affirmed to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36a). He did not say it was not in the world, or to be established on earth; He said it was not of the world. The kingdom of Christ came into being in harmony with many prophetic declarations. Daniel was called before the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to reveal and interpret the king’s dream. The dream was divinely revealed. A giant statue with a head of fine gold, a chest and arms of silver, the mid-section and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and the feet of part iron and part clay. (Read Daniel 2:26-34). Daniel told the old king that each metal represented successive world dynasties. The first was Babylon; the second Medo-Persia; the third Greece; and the last was the Empire of Rome. Now read verse 44. In direct reference to the Roman Empire, Daniel prophesied, “And in the days of these kings (of Rome) the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed...” (Verse 44).

A later event in Daniel’s life also bears on the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. Daniel 7:13-14 reads, “I was watching in the night visions, and behold one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” This accords with Jesus’ promise to build His church, against which He said,”the gates of Hades shall not prevail.” It is well to note that the kingdom is unlimited and invulnerable. Any theory limiting Christ’s kingdom to any time period goes contrary to the very nature of the kingdom.

The kingdom has been set up. During the days of Roman occupation of the Palestine, Jesus Christ came to be king over His people. It was not a kingdom in competition with Rome. It was a spiritual government He exercised over willing subjects. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom; we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). The “us” of this verse is the church. Those who are in the church are in the kingdom of Christ. In that kingdom there is forgiveness of sins through His blood. Any view of the kingdom that puts it into the future is erroneous and void of any of the benefits of the blood Jesus shed for the forgiveness of sins.

The church is then, a spiritual body, ruled over by a spiritual head, governed by a spiritual law, and functions in spiritual matters such as worship, fellowship, and the work Christ has given the church to do. In subsequent lessons we will study what He says that worship, fellowship, and work is.

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