The Nature Of The Church: The Called Out Body
When a person is trying to communicate anew thought to someone else, he must use things which both of them understand to bridge the gap of the areas in which their knowledge differs. When Jesus revealed to us the kingdom or church which He planned to build, He made use of several terms to describe this new relationship into which we enter. , He used such terms as Household of God, Kingdom of God, Body of Christ, Temple of God, etc. One of the terms which He used was the term church, translated from the work ekklesia. Each of these words convey to us some aspect of the Lord's people with which we need to be familiar. Let us consider what can be learned about God's people from the fact that they are called the church.
The Meaning of the Term
The English word "church" is derived from the Greek word kuriakos which means "belonging to the Lord." Today, the term is used to refer to a building for public worship, all of the denominations in the world, a peculiar body of "Christians" united under one form of government and believing one creed (a denomination), and a local congregation. The Greek word ekklesia did not bear this meaning. Ekklesia is composed of the preposition ek (out) and klesis (a calling). Hence, the word simply means "the called out."
The word was used to refer to secular assemblies which had been called out for some particular purpose (cf. Acts 19:32, 39, 41). Stephen used it to refer to the Jews who had been called out of Egypt by Moses (Acts 7:38). However, the word took on a technical meaning to refer to those who had been called out by Jesus Christ. When referring to those called out by Christ, the word is used in a universal sense to refer to all of God's people (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 5:23-25) and in a congregational sense (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1).
The Nature of Our Calling
Inasmuch as we are the called out body of Christ, let us notice several aspects of this calling.
1. It originates with God. Paul wrote, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim. 1:8-9; cf. 1 Pet. 1:15; Gal. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:24). Hence, this calling originated with God and can be called a "holy" calling (2 Tim. 1:9) or a "heavenly" calling (Heb. 3:1). There is something impressive to me about the fact that God has called me!
2. We are called into the fellowship of God's Son. "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). God has called us; He has called us into the fellowship of His Son. What a blessed privilege to have joint participation with God's Son.
3. We are called out of darkness. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). One cannot have fellowship with God while walking in darkness (1 Jn. 1:6); consequently, our divine calling leads us out of darkness and into light.
Other things which participate in the nature of our calling might be listed as follows: (1) we are called to be children of God (Rom. 9:25-26; 1 Jn. 3:1); (2) we are called to be saints (1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 1:6-7); (3) we are called to be in His kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12). From these considerations, we can see why the term "called" can be used to refer to the fact that a certain person has been saved. Hence, the "called of God" are simply the saved people of the world (Rom. 1:6-7; 8:28; 1 Cor. 1:24; Jude 1). This "calling" frees us from our burden of sin and saves us by the blood of Christ. It is a calling to freedom (Gal. 5:13) - freedom from sin and freedom of bondage to the Mosaical law.
We Are Called To Sanctification
Every as we are called out of darkness, we are also called unto sanctification. Paul wrote, "For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness" (1 Thess. 4:7). In this context, Paul was showing the Thessalonians that the call of the gospel was a call to moral holiness. They should abstain from fornication and possess themselves in sanctification and honor (v. 4).
This simply shows our responsibility as a result of this call. Men are sanctified through the word of God (Jn. 17:17). We are initially set apart unto God when we are baptized (1 Cor. 6:11). Then, we start the process of sanctification -- that continual process whereby we seek to remove sin from our lives and replace these sins with moral virtues. Hence, we are to "walk worthily" of our calling (Eph. 4:1-3). Having been called out of darkness, we are expected to walk in the light (1 Pet. 2:21-24). We are to press on to perfection in accordance with our upward call (Phil. 3:13-16). This call of God is a call to depart from sin and to walk in moral purity.
The Hope of Our Calling
Paul said that there was but "one hope of your calling" (Eph. 4:4). The Scriptures testify that (1) we are called unto glory (i Pet. 5:10), (2) we are called to inherit a blessing (1 Pet. 3:9), (3) we are called for entrance into the eternal kingdom, and (4) we are called to inherit eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12). We understand, therefore, what the one hope of our calling is. We have the hope of being blessed to live forever with God in the bliss of leaven. We have the hope of escaping the torments of hell. God has called us unto eternal life.
The hope of the Christian's calling is not limited to some kind of better life on this earth below. The hope of his calling is not to make this world a better place in which to live. The hope of the Christian's calling is the mansion in the Father's house prepared for us by Jesus (Jn. 14:1-3). Plainly and simply, we have been called to go to heaven.
How Are Men Called?
Many who admit that the Bible teaches that God' people are "the called of God" have no proper concept of how the call is made. They have been taught that they an to expect a call from God through a direct operation of thk Holy spirit. Hence, they are waiting for God to call them. Some of them have been waiting for years, begging and pleading for God to save them in the meantime. I met one such man in Indiana. He had been pleading for God to save him for five years without success.
To men tormented by their failure to receive a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, the truth of God's word should sound refreshing. Paul wrote, "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 2:13-14). Notice that this passage teaches us that men are called through the gospel, not through some better-felt-than-told experience which is incorrectly labeled the direct operation of the Holy Spirit.
The call of the gospel is directed to all men. Listen to the call for yourself. "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). Listen to the call of the gospel again: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you,a and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Here is how Jesus calls men. The call has already been given. We have no reason to wait for any other call.
The Church Is The Called Of God
The church is simply composed of those men who have heard the voice of the Savior calling them - calling them out of darkness into light, calling them into the fellowship of His son, calling them to be children of God and saints, calling them to inherit a blessing, calling them to enter the eternal kingdom, and calling them to inherit eternal life. They have heard the call and answered it. They have fled to Jesus for refuge. They have forsaken the paths of darkness and dwelt in the paths of light.
This being so, let us draw some conclusions. Since the church is simply "the called out ones," none of those who have been "called out" are outside the church. By definition, they are one and the same. A man is not one of God's called out people unless he is a member of the church. No man who has not answered the calling of God is properly a member of the church. The saved, the church, and the "called out" are synonymous.
Are you a part of the church? Have you heard the calling of the Savior and responded to it? If not, why not do so immediately?
Jesus is tenderly calling thee home,
Calling today, calling today;
Why from the sunshine of love wilt thou roam
Father and farther away?
Jesus is calling the weary to rest,
Calling today, calling today;
Bring Him thy burden and thou shalt be blest;
He will not turn thee away.
--Fanny J. Crosby
Truth Magazine XXIII: 10, pp. 163-165