Concept of the “Church” in the New Testament
Introduction. (Matthew 16:13-18). I call to your attention the
promise which Jesus makes in response to Peter’s confession. He promises to build His
“church.” What is
Jesus promising here? Probably all people who
speak English, whether they come from a religious background or not, have some
concept which comes to mind when the word “church” is used. To some…
think of a place
(i.e. a building)—maybe a grand European cathedral or a simple wooden
country church building. Is
that the “church” which Jesus is talking about?
of something that is rigid and stuffy—perhaps a time and a place where parents
or grandparents made you as a child wear uncomfortable clothes, and sit still
while someone talked on and on. Is
that what Christ’s “church” is?
of people who are judgmental and picky—they see a “church” as a
group of gossips, and tattle-tails, who sit back waiting to catch you doing
something they think is wrong—Is that what Jesus is promising to
This morning I’d
like for us to consider something very simple and basic, but something of vital
importance to our understanding of Scripture, our relationship with God, and
ultimately our eternal destiny—What is the concept of the
“church” as it is taught in the New Testament?
I. The General Meaning of Ekklesia. When Jesus uttered these words He did
not do so in English, but in the common language of much of the Mediterranean
world of the First Century, koine (or “common”) Greek. Our English word in translated from the
Greek word ekklesia.
A. Literal meaning. Ekklesia literally meant
“called-out,” yet to what extent this sense applied in its general
usage is unclear. It was a
political term which applied to an assembly of citizens “called-out”
for a particular purpose. In
Christ, the New Testament teaches that those who follow Christ are
“called-out” by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:13-14).
B. Greek Usage. The New Testament shows us how the Greeks used this term, in
one passage where it is used three times in ways which do not refer to
Christ’s ekklesia. (Acts
19:32-41). Here we see a formal and an informal application of this
term. First, the mob that was
angry is described as a confused “assembly (ekklesia)” (19:32). The
clerk of the city calms down the riotous mood and says their charges must be
heard in a “lawful assembly (ekklesia)” (19:39). Then the mob, or “assembly”
is dismissed (19:41).
see from this (before looking at all at its application to Christ’s
church), that an ekklesia is a group or assembly of people.
any reference to a “church” must be understood to be referring to
people—not a place, a building, a cathedral, or a little country
chapel. (Note: This is an English
application of the word “church”—not a biblical application).
C. Use of the term in the Greek Old
Testament. The use of this term to
apply to people is confirmed in the way this term was used in the Greek Old
Testament made before the time of Jesus.
It used ekklesia in reference to the
“congregation of the Lord” in the wilderness (Deut. 9:7-10), and to
religious assemblies of the people of Israel during the period of the kings (2
Law of Moses set laws concerning conduct and admittance into the
“assembly (ekklesia) of the Lord” (Deut. 23:1-3).
shows that among the Greek-speaking Jews of New Testament times the
“church” or ekklesia was understood to be an assembly of people in a
covenant relationship with God, and assemblies of these people assembled for
religious or national purposes.
II. The Lord’s Church. Jesus does not use a word in Matthew 16:18 which
had no conceptual background. He
used a word which the Greek-speaking Jews would have understood in application
to Israel and God’s relationship to Israel. Jesus was declaring that He would establish a new covenant
assembly, with its own terms and regulations dictating its conduct and
relationship to God through Him.
In the New Testament we see this word used in at least three distinct
senses (all of which apply to this new relationship).
A. Its Universal Sense. The Hebrew writer speaks of coming to
“the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in
heaven” (Heb 12:18-24).
These are the people of all races, tongues, nationalities, living and
dead who are in fellowship with God in Christ.
this assembly, this “church,” Christ is the only head (Col.
1:18). There is no appointed human
leadership over the church in its universal sense. The only headquarters is heaven itself. The only guidebook is Scripture.
is to this congregation, to this “church,” that God adds a person
upon his or her obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:47 KJV, NKJV).
B. Its Local Sense. Paul addressed 1 and 2 Corinthians
“to the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor.
1:1). John is commanded to write
seven epistles to churches in Asia, including “the church in
Smyrna” (Rev. 2:8), “the church in Pergamos” (2:12),
“the church in Sardis” (3:1), etc. Now those in each of these
churches may well have been a part of the church universally, but only God can
know this for sure. Each of these
churches had different problems and degrees of faithfulness. These were local
assemblies of Christians, but the church in Corinth was not the church in
Smyrna, nor was the church in Sardis the church in Pergamos.
we know that the “church” is Christ’s “body”
(Eph. 1:22-23) and we know that there is only “one body” (Eph.
4:4). Christ did not build His “churches” and yet ekklesia is used of different
assemblies. In fact Paul addressed Galatians to “the churches of
Galatia” (Gal. 1:2).
is evident that the term “church (ekklesia)” is being used
in these references to speak of local assemblies of Christians in a specific
noted of the universal sense that God “adds” one to the
church—we don’t add ourselves, yet we can identify ourselves with a
faithful church. In this it is our
responsibility to consider whether a group is sound. In this it is the responsibility of a congregation to
consider if one who seeks to identify with them is faithful. But this concerns only what we can
observe. God determines who is a
part of the Lord’s church in a universal sense.
this local sense, it is clear that there are to be appointed human leaders over
local churches. Paul told Titus in
Crete to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Paul told the
elders of the church in Ephesus to “shepherd the church of
God”—“among which the Holy Spirit has made you
overseers” (Acts 20:28). The elders of Ephesus had no leadership over
Corinth. The elders in the cities
in Crete had no leadership over Ephesus, but they were all Christians, serving
Christ as the Head. Yet, there is
a third sense…
C. The Church
Assembled. This third sense is
sometimes easy to miss. In Matthew
18:17 instructions are given regarding treatment of an unrepentant sinner (Matt.
18:15-17). After several steps are
pursued the command is given to “tell it to the church” in the
hopes that the sinner might “hear the church.” When is this even
possible? We cannot “tell
the church” in its universal sense. Even in a local sense we can only do
this when “the church” is actually assembled. This is talking about
an actual assembly of a local church.
Let’s notes some further examples of this…
1 Corinthians 11Paul rebukes the Corinthians for being divided (1 Cor. 11:17-18). This is very interesting. As Christians the Corinthians were a
part of the Lord’s church when they obeyed the gospel. In a local sense, they were members of
the church in Corinth from the time they identified with the saints there. Yet,
Paul speaks of coming together “as a church” or lit. “in the
church.” This is not talking
about being “in” the place of their assembly, rather it is talking
about what they did together, with the church assembled.
same sense is found in 1 Corinthians regarding women (1 Cor. 14:34-35). This does
not mean that a woman must be silent from the moment she is added to
Christ’s church universally.
Nor is it speaking of being silent while identified with a local church. It is talking about regulations that
pertain to the local church when assembled “as a church.”
we saw in the Greek OT that the Law dictated rules and restrictions regarding
behavior and admittance to the assembly.
1 Cor. 14:34 is just like those types of laws. We note that it actually appeals to the law, by way of
comparison. Why? Where is this ordinance? This is an example of the binding
nature of scriptural silence. The
law never grants to a woman the right (nor is there example) of a woman addressing
“the assembly” (Gr. ekklesia) of Israel.
does this apply? Acts 18:26 shows
that this is not prohibiting any discussions between men and women. As a result Bible classes that do not
constitute the church assembled as a church are not the context here. This is talking about the church
is the church assembled? Not just
during worship (that’s not the context specified) rather this restriction
applies “in the church” (i.e. in the assembly). When we assemble together as a church
and our assembly begins this applies.
of us who make announcements need to be careful here. How often do situations arise when we may have failed to ask
a woman about a matter and ask them from the pulpit? We are asking her to violate 1 Cor. 14:34. We are “in the church”
(i.e. “in the assembly.”).
sense of ekklesia in
reference to an actual assembly is comparable to how we speak of the US
Congress. A representative may be
said to be “in congress” as soon as he or she is elected, but there
are different rules and restrictions which apply when congress is in session.
These rules regulate behavior when “in congress.” Ekklesia functions in a similar
way. Note: In modern Heb. a church
is called a knesset this is the same word they use to refer to their
sense of what Christians do “as a church” is at the heart of issues
of scriptural authority. There may
be many freedoms and responsibilities we have as individuals which we do not
have when we function “as a church.”
a. Parents can discipline children (Eph.
6:4; Heb. 12:3-11). Is the church
given this duty? Are elders to
spank the children of members?
No. That is an individual
b. As individuals we are to do good to all
people as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10). “As a church” the only examples of the use of
the collection concern matters “for the saints” (1 Cor. 16:1).
c. Individuals are free to establish and
operate organizations for business or good works, but that doesn’t grant the
right to the church, “as a church” to do the same.
Conclusion. There is much more which the New Testament
teaches us about the Lord’s church that we have not been able to consider
this morning. However, Lord willing this will allow us to understand the
biblical concept to which all other teachings on the church which Christ
“purchased with His own blood” are applied.