The Nature of the Church

The Nature of the Church

 Stuart L. Brogden

 Greek Word: ἐκκλησία

Strong’s 1577

Transliteration: ekklēsia

from a compound of <G1537> (ek) and a derivative of <G2564> (kaleo); a calling out, i.e. (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both), assembly, church.

What is “the church”?

The Greek word ekklesia is most often presented in English Bibles as “church.” The word “church” is not a translation of the Greek word, ekklesia; it’s not even a transliterated version of that word. Strong’s concordance shows ekklesia being used in the KJV as either “assembly” or “church.” But the Greek word means “the called ones” and actually shows up in Scripture being applied to an assembly of town-folk (3 times in Acts 19:32-41). As with most words in the Word, the bare definition of the word does not reveal the meaning in every usage.

As for the use of “church” in the Bible, there does not appear to be a clear record of why it was chosen, nor of the meaning of this word. At least twice in the New Testament of the KJV, “church” applies to God’s covenant people in the Old Testament:

Acts 7:37-38 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.

Heb 2:11-12 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified [are] all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

It is not possible for anyone to make a categorical statement that every occurrence of “church” means the local assembly of the saints, as some do.

The first known use of this word in English Bibles is found in Wycliffe’s Bible, spelled “chirche.” His work was translated from the Latin Vulgate and we have no clear reason for his use of this word.

In Smith’s Bible Dictionary from 1884, page 452, we read:

the derivation of the word ‘church’ is uncertain. It is found in the Teutonic and Slavonic languages and answers to the derivatives of ekklesia, which are naturally found in the romance languages and by foreign importation elsewhere. The word is generally said to be derived from the Greek kyriakos, meaning the lord’s house. But the derivation has been too hastily assumed. It is probably associated with the Scottish kirk, the Latin circus/circulous, the Greek klukos, because the congregations were gathered in circles.

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable of 1898 agrees:

The etymology of this word is generally assumed to be from the Greek, Kuriou oikos (house of God); but this is most improbable, as the word existed in all the Celtic dialects long before the introduction of Greek. No doubt the word means “a circle.” The places of worship among the German and Celtic nations were always circular. (Welsh, cyrch, French, cirque; Scotch, kirk; Greek, kirk-os, etc.) Compare Anglo-Saxon circe, a church, with circol, a circle.

The first definition in Daniel Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “church” as “A house consecrated to the worship of God, among Christians; the Lords house. This seems to be the original meaning of the word.”

There two things to bear in mind regarding the apparent definition of the word “church.” The ekklesia of God in the New Testament refers to the redeemed saints, not a location or a building. Secondly, one of the messages Jesus taught the woman at the well (John 4) is that, in the Christian faith, there are no sacred or consecrated places where we must meet God.

Since the etymology of “church” is based on location rather than on people, it is a poor choice for ekklesia. In practice, so many Christians think of the building as the church, which many refer to as “the house of God,” it is a constant battle to keep the true meaning of ekklesia in front of people. In contrast, the Scriptures use myriad examples of buildings to refer to God’s redeemed people (1 Cor 3:15-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5; Gal 4:26; Rev 21:2), and never refers to a temporal location within the New Covenant context. Why do we carry on with this word that people consistently understand to mean a temporal location rather than the people of God?

After Wycliffe’s Bible (1382), the early English Bibles took a different view. Tyndale’s Bible (1526), the Coverdale Bible (1535), Matthew Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), and the Bishop’s Bible (1568) all translated ekklesia as “congregation,” a term that conveys the idea of people called to be together. The Geneva Bible (1560) followed Wycliffe and used “church” in place of ekklesia, as did the KJV.

When work on the King James Bible began, the king provided 15 rules that the translators had to follow. Rules 1 & 3 are of particular interest to the topic of this paper:

  1. The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.
  2. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.

Rule 1 shows that the king wanted his Bible to be in the common tongue, accessible to the people, who were used to having the Great Bible and the Bishop’s Bible used in the state-churches. It is not true, as some KJV defenders claim, that the KJV was a unique Bible; it was based on the Bishop’s Bible. Rule 3 came into play in two prominent words that were not translated, but merely used in place of (as with “church”) or transliterated (as with “baptism”). Translating these two words would have provided us a clearer picture of what God was communicating. Ekklesia rendered as “congregation” or “assembly” shows we are talking about people, not places. Baptizo rendered as “dipping” or “dunking” shows we are talking about being identified with Christ in His death and resurrection by going down into the waters as if unto death and rising up from them as if unto new life. Advocates of the state-church have a history of building geo-political empires with ostentatious buildings for their gatherings and sprinkling infants rather than baptizing disciples.

There are at least eight passages where ekklesia refers to what is called “the universal church,” all the redeemed in Christ, called according to His name.

Matthew 16:18 (KJV) 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.

1 Corinthians 15:9 (KJV) For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Ephesians 1:22-23 (KJV) And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Ephesians 3:9-11 (KJV) And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3:21 (KJV) Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Ephesians 5:23-32 (KJV) For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Philippians 3:6 (KJV) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Colossians 1:18 (KJV) And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Colossians 1:24 (KJV) Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.

Hebrews 12:23 (KJV) To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

In each of these passages, the bolded phrases make consistent sense when seen as references to the total number of God’s redeemed; not as references to any given local ekklesia. In his 1858 book, Manual of Church Order, John Leadly Dagg spent chapter 3 discussing the universal church, beginning with this: “The Church Universal is the whole company of those who are saved by Christ.”

In his book, Concise Theology, chapter “The Church,” J. I. Packer, describes the universal church:

The New Testament defines the church in terms of the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and patterns through a relationship to all three Persons of the Godhead, brought about by the mediatorial ministry of Jesus Christ. The church is seen as the family and flock of God (Eph. 2:18; 3:15; 4:6; John 10:16; 1 Pet. 5:2-4), his Israel (Gal. 6:16); the body and bride of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:25-28; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9-27); and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; cf. Eph. 2:19-22). Those in the church are called the “elect” (chosen), the “saints” (consecrated ones, set apart for God), and the “brothers” (adopted children of God).

The truest, purest expression of ekklesia is the vision of heavenly Jerusalem, coming down from heaven with the Lord Jesus upon His second advent (Rev 21:2). Therefore, those New Testament passages which appear to speak of the universal assembly of God’s redeemed should be embraced rather than cast in the shadow, so the references to the local gathering of saints would be established as THE “church.” The primary focus on the “local church” by some brothers is so prominent in their doctrine that one can easily lose sight of the fact that the ekklesia of Christ is a heavenly body. Our citizenship is in heaven, we are pilgrims and sojourners in this age.

It is true that the overwhelming occurrences of ekklesia in the New Testament refers to local assemblies; there is no reason to pretend otherwise. The point is that the local assembly is not the only ekklesia of God’s people mentioned in Scripture. It’s easier to see this when we use a term that clearly portrays the people of God and not merely a place on the ground. The local ekklesia is important for the saints – this is where critical spiritual growth takes place, this is where the Spirit of God gathers and gifts us as it pleased Him. But in each local assembly of saints, there is likely to be false brothers in the pale. In this way, the local ekklesia is a type of the true ekklesia, the universal church, because in that gathering, there are only true sons and daughters of our Holy God; no pretenders.

The congregation is the people of God. Christ gave Himself for His sheep – all and each of them, whether they belong to a local congregation or are awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. After all, the Bible is all about the Lord Jesus and we ought to be, also. Let us not get so earthly focused that we take our eyes off Him.

Justified

You’ve heard it said that “justified” means “just as if I’d never sinned.”

If that were true, we would be in trouble by the hour.

If all Christ did for us was to make us like Adam before the Fall, we are not clothed in His righteousness, we are not aware of the offense against Him we’ve committed, and we have no amazement at the grace He lavished upon that we would be the sons and daughters of Holy God.

Justified means MUCH MORE than “just as if I’d never sinned.” It means forgiven, reconciled, and destined for glory in spite of my sin.

Praise the Lord! He does not merely make our sin go away; He paid for it on the cross and covers us in His righteousness, reconciling us to the Father by the blood of His cross.

A Baptist Look at the Reformation and the Covenants

A Baptist Look at the Reformation and the Covenants

Baptists have historically been called people of the Book, based on a devotion to knowing Christ through His written revelation, seeking wisdom from God as His Spirit guides us.

Our charge is to be faithful to the One who called us, not to those dear brothers who went before us, some 400 years past.

May my imperfect message provoke you to dig into the Word and not be content with being a disciple of men.

The Christian’s True Sabbath

Had the blessing of preaching at Grace Pointe Baptist in Edmond this morning.

Preached on the Christian’s True Sabbath – the Christ who promises true rest to all the Father has given Him. Those who hold to a weekly Sabbath instead strike me as people who sit in the sun and admire a flashlight,

Grace Pointe is a wonderful fellowship where some of the saints make comments or ask questions during the sermon. I like this model!

You can listen to this message here: https://app.box.com/file/327497674962

The Glorious Church

We are created and saved to glorify God so the church is to be glorious which applies to the individual “local” church and the church universally as well.

What makes the church glorious? Certainly we aren’t glorious as sinful men therefore it stands to reason that He who is glorious (Christ our Head) makes the body of believers a glorious church. There is an attribute that makes the church glorious and that is known as “harmony.”

Sadly, we have quite a bit of disharmony within “the church,” and this disharmony/disunity detracts from the luminosity of that quality of being “glorious.” The Apostle Paul gives this entreaty in Ephesians 4:2,3 – “with all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Also consider 1st Corinthians 1:10 – “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

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The Life and Theology of Paul

The Life and Theology of Paul

A review by Stuart Brogden

I was intrigued when I saw this book come available for review. I’ve reviewed this author’s commentary on Acts and was eager to see how he addressed Paul. This book will not disappoint the reader who truly wants to know the theology of Paul, which is to say, the theology of the Bible.  

Guy Water’s has organized this book into 12 chapters, covering Paul’s conversion and calling by God, his view of sin, justification, sanctification, the church, and the end of the age. In the introduction, Waters points out that Paul’s life stands as “a testimony to the gospel that he preached” – even while acknowledging what we can know about Paul’s life is found only in the Bible. But considering how much of the Bible Paul wrote, and what Luke wrote about him, we have more than enough material (inspired by God!) to know Paul very well. In summing up a nice, concise review of Paul’s life, our author tells us of two ways his life is still fundamental in the life of the church today. First, God prepared Paul “from the womb to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”” (page 10). We should consider our own lives as having been worked out by God for use to His people, trusting Him when we are not sure of our path. Secondly, although he was dramatically converted, the man was not transformed into someone else. Since God had prepared Saul for his role, it would overthrow all that preparation if the result was a different man. God’s preparation leads to His plans being fulfilled. When we look at ourselves, we should look unto the Lord, knowing He is faithful and trustworthy to equip us and keep us.

In his review of Saul’s conversion, Waters observes (page 15), “Saul, then, would serve as a pattern or model of what Jesus Christ would do in the lives of men and women who hear Saul’s witness to Christ.” He notes that not all who hear the gospel are saved, but that those who are saved are saved in the way Saul was. I’ve made note of this myself in much the same way and think people who claim man plays a role in his own conversion would benefit from chapter 2 and the biblical evidence our author marshals.

It has been said that the basis of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification. Waters quotes Martin Luther: “If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” (page 49) Without a clear understanding of Who saves whom – and from Whom – the Christian will tend to drift into thinking too highly of self too lowly of Christ. Waters’ two chapters on justification follow his two chapters on sin. And following justification, we have three chapters on sanctification. I have been severely grieved of late by the number of Christians I’ve encountered who consider sanctification a one-time thing that is finished upon redemption. While I disagree with Waters on his interpretation of the man in Romans 7, his teaching in these chapters is very good and concludes on the high note that the “Christian life is one of unceasing dependence upon Christ” (page 89) and “Our ultimate good is our glorification in and with Christ.” (page 99). If we keep these biblical truths in front of us, we will do well.

Since justification is the hinge point of our faith, I think it best if we make sure we understand it. Waters quotes Romans 3:21, reminding us that “Paul has labored to argue that sinners lack the righteousness that God requires of human beings. Now, for the first time in this letter, Paul begins to describe the righteousness that God has accomplished in Christ and that He freely gives in the gospel to sinners (see Rom. 1:16-17)” (page 50). He then tell us of three important words used by Paul to define and describe this gift of righteousness: redemption, propitiation, and justification.

Redemption, we are told, has a rich history in the biblical story. In Exodus 6:6 and 2 Sam 7:23 God describes “His deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt” with this word. “In Isaiah’s prophecy, God often speaks of Himself as the Redeemer of His people,” (page 50) laying the foundation that God is the initiator and author of man’s redemption. To redeem mean to buy back something, such as a slave, by paying a ransom. In redeeming sinners, Christ Jesus has purchased us from the slave market of sin; the purchase price was His life. Waters points out that Paul connects our redemption to the shedding of Jesus’ blood in Eph 1:7.

Secondly, propitiation “is the turning aside or averting of wrath.” (page 51) Our author declares, “those for whom Jesus died have not only had their sins atoned for, but they have also had the Father’s wrath averted from them. Jesus has turned aside the wrath of God from His people because He exhaustively bore the wrath of God on their behalf at the cross.” (page 51) It has been well said that we are saved from God by God. Those who are perishing will not be separated from God in the complete sense – only as regards His benevolence. They will be personally experiencing His unending wrath for eternity as their sinful human frame is unable to atone for their sin against an infinitely holy God. This is why Paul wrote that “there is, therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1) – God’s wrath was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no wrath left, no sin debt unpaid, for those who are in Christ!

Regarding justification, Waters warns us about some who claim “justification carries the idea of inward transformation” (page 52), as the Roman Catholic Church does. To Paul we go to find out his view, as we see it as something brought to us once as a gift, and the alternative to condemnation (Rom 5:16; 8:33-34). “The opposite of justification is condemnation. This … confirms justification as a strictly forensic (that is, courtroom) reality.” (page 52) Justification, he says, “has in view two inseparable realities.” (page 52) Firstly, Rom 4:7-8 teaches that forgiveness is complete, none of the sins of the saints are unforgiven, as if the blood of Christ was not sufficient. Secondly, we are declared righteous. “In Justification, God does not clear our account of debt to Him and tell us to start over and do better this time. We are, rather, counted as righteous for Christ’s sake.” (page 53) This is a status that cannot be over turned – not by man, devil or God.

One point of strong disagreement I have with Waters comes to us on page 55 where read that the righteousness of Christ is “offered in the gospel and may be refused (see Rom. 9:30-10:4)” Nowhere in the Bible is the gospel an offer, something that can be refused. When a sovereign says, Come!, that is a command of a superior to an inferior, not a request. The grace that saves is a gift from God, but not a gift that CAN be refused. A proper understanding of redemption reveals that man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and THEN given the faith needed to receive the grace to believe. John 6:44 sums up the actions and sequence: John 6:44 (HCSB) No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. Note the first act – God draws, or drags, the person who is dead in sins (Eph 2:1-2) to Himself. Everything else, though it cannot be disconnected from this, follows it. Being regenerated, the sinner now wants God where he was unable to before. No one being so changed would be able to refuse God, just as one not changed is not able to want God nor discern spiritual things (John 8:43; 1 Cor 2:15). Further, nothing in the Scripture noted by Waters (Rom 9:30 – 10:4) supports his assertion that sinners are offered salvation and can refuse that offer.

Wanting to finish this review on a positive note, overall Waters does very good, indeed. His third chapter on justification rests on our “union with Christ.” The bond we saints have with Christ Jesus is essential to our salvation and our standing with God. He rightly asserts, “if we are in Christ, this relationship and all that it carries are due entirely to the gracious initiative of God. … Our unity rests on nothing in ourselves, but entirely on our Savior and what He has done to rescue us from sin and death and bring us to eternal life.” (page 68) Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us just as our sin has been imputed to Christ. We have no righteousness or merit of our own; if not joined to Christ we have no hope. But we who are in Christ have security, we “have a certain glorious future and, therefore, hope for the present.” (page 68)

Reader – pick up this book and read. Your soul be edified.