By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
There is in existence today a sacred institution purchased at the cost of the blood of Christ. That institution is the church. We dare not treat it lightly nor cast contempt upon it. The church has existed for nineteen hundred years and has grown remarkably in the past decade or so. If it continues to grow it will do so because of our loyalty to the Work. We cannot compromise what the Bible teaches abo ut the church. We must demonstrate the distinctiveness of the true church in contrast to denominational bodies. We must hold the church forth to a desperate world, a world desperate for salvation from sin. Without arrogance we proclaim it as the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
Our up-coming generation wants us to tell it “like it is.” They are tired of hypocrisy. In the several articles that follow, this writer, on the basis of the authority of the Bible, will be presenting the nature, the work and mission of the New Testament church. Our aim is to present the unvarnished truth of God as it relates to that Divine institution. Whether people receive it or reject it, we will still govern our actions according to truth. This writer is not a man pleaser. I am a servant of Christ, charged with the responsibility of preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2). God being our helper we will “tell it like it is” so you can know the truth relating to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Church” Means “Called Out”
One cannot correctly understand the nature of the church without knowing how the term is used. However, in this writing we are more concerned with what the church is, i.e., the true idea behind the word rather than the usage of the word. If the word “church” is allowed to mean what it does mean, then many erroneous ideas of the term can be eliminated. While it does not fall within the scope of this writing to deal with the unscriptural ideas some have about the church and what it is, we do call attention to the word from which “church” comes, i.e., the Greek word ekklisia.
The word “church” is translated from ekklesia. This word is derived from kaleo, meaning “to call” and the prefix ek, meaning “out of”. Therefore, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that the term means “the called out.” Thayer further says that the word means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly” (pp. 195-196). It is used in both a secular and religious sense. In a secular sense it referred to an assembly of citizens called together by a herald for the purpose of performing legal acts. It is used in this way in Acts 19:30, 39-41. This word is applied to religion by inspiration. God’s ekklesia is the church. It is an assembly of citizens who are called by the Gospel for the purpose of glorifying God (Heb. 12:23; Phil. 3:20; 2 Thess. 2:14; Eph. 3:21). Hence, the church is the called out assembly of God. It has reference to God’s gathering, to His body politic, whether actually assembled or not. The Corinthian church was composed of people “called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2,9). Peter describes God’s people as “called out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). These “called out” ones may be actually assembled as in 1 Cor. 11:18, or simply refer to those living in a certain area (1 Cor. 1:2; Rev. 1:11).
The Church Local and Universal
The church has both a local and a universal connotation. Let us look at the universal aspect first. In this sense the church is composed of all the redeemed the world over (Acts 2:41-47; Eph. 5:23). This is a saved relationship between Deity and the individual who is saved. The writer of Hebrews refers to this as “the general assembly and the church of the firstborn . . .” (12:23). To this relationship the Lord adds the saved (Acts 2:47). The church is composed of baptized believers (1 Cor 12:13; Acts 2:41,47). The church in the universal sense has no organization on earth. Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23). There is no earthly head. Rather than function universally the members of the body function as individuals through the local church. They do this on a collective basis. While the church is organic in character, it is wholly spiritual (Heb. 12:22). There is absolutely no legislative body or governing council with earthly headquarters in connection with the church universal. The only functioning arrangement for members of the church is the local church. We should keep in mind however that the church is not a body of local churches. It is a body of baptized individuals.
The scripturally authorized government of the church is the local church with its elders and deacons (Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23). Regardless of its size the local collective is the largest and smallest unit of function. As an entity it has specific function, i.e., it has a mission or a work to perform. This is what makes the local church functional in nature. It therefore has organic entity. It is not just an organization, it has organization. The plural use of the church in the local sense in the New Testament demonstrates the local church’s reality and distinctiveness. “The churches of Christ salute you” (Rom. 16:16), or “churches of Judaea” (Gal. 1:22) demonstrate this point. The local church therefore has identity with reference to location (Gal. 1:2), membership (3 Jn. 9-10), and as to function (Phil. 1:1; 4:15-16). There is congregational or collective activity involved. The local church is therefore a relationship of saints who have a common faith, a common salvation and a common relationship with God. They band together in collectives for the purpose of performing tasks assigned to the church.
Understanding what the Bible teaches about the “church of the living God” is essential to our faithfulness to God. Our life in the church will be determined by our concept of it. A true concept is possible only if it coincides with God’s teaching in Divine revelation.
In this article and the ones to follow we desire to present fundamental facts relating to the church. These are presented for our study and thought. We hope to clearly present these facts so that they cannot be contested. Your alternatives are clear: either accept them or reject them. “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
Truth Magazine XX: 27, pp. 428-439
July 8, 1976