The Church (Ekklesian) – Local And General
No doubt many learned men, together with some who must be classified as suspect, have written in support of the local churches to the exclusion of the general church. Some were very scholarly and their credentials most impressive. But as said by the apostle to the Gentiles “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me.” (Galatians 2:6)
Even so, those who seem to be so highly refined in worldly wisdom, who have written in support of the local churches while condemning the general church add nothing to us. For God said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” (I Corinthians 1:19)
God did this. He has made foolish the wisdom of this world, and so will He continue to take the wise in their own craftiness.
When Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build My church,” or as the Greek text reads, “The Ekklesian — “ekklhsia” (Matthew 16:18). He said, I will build one Ekklesian; not two, not three, but ONE. And as the Greek scholars know, or at least should know, the direct article “THE _____” in the phrase “the church” is in the singular number, the accusative case, and in the feminine gender. Therefore, Jesus then said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against “HER — (autov).”
In the Song of Solomon, she, “The Ekklesian,” is referred to as “My dove.” It is said of her, “My undefiled is but ONE, … she is the ONLY ONE of her mother … she is the choice ONE of her that bare HER — (autov).” (Song of Solomon 6:9)
She is said to be the one and only wife (not wives) of the Lamb of God, “and to HER — (autov) was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen clean and white,” etc. (Revelation 19:7-8)
The singular CHURCH — EKKLESIAN in the feminine gender in Matthew 16:18 is none other than “the bride the Lamb’s wife.” (Revelation 21:9)
Paul in writing to the saints at Ephesus said, “Even as Christ also loved THE CHURCH — EKKLESIA and gave Himself for HER — (autov) … that He might sanctify and cleanse HER — (avrqv), … that He might present her to Himself glorious — THE CHURCH —EKKLESIA, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that SHE —autov… should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25, 27)
In these things it is not a matter of what men believe or what they don’t believe, how we interpret or how we don’t interpret. What matters is what Christ said and taught, and so too with His apostle.
His apostle has said in Ephesians 5:25-27, in reference to the general church, the same thing that Jesus said in Matthew 16:18. He uses the same case, number, and gender. If we abide by what is said strictly on the basis of the Greek text (and integrity is our theme and honesty prevails), then no scholar by the name, nor professor by title, would dare say that the CHURCH — EKKLESIAN does not mean or include the CHURCHES — EKKLESIAI.
For to deny the church general, collectively or universally is to say Christ is a polygamist. To say every local church is an independent body of Christ categorically to the exclusion of the collective body of Christ general is to say that Christ in reality had more brides than one . . . that He had many wives, many doves, many undefiled ones that every local church is a bride, a wife, including Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and we could go on and on naming local assemblies from then until now counting the many local Ekklesiai that have existed from Jerusalem until the present time so that Christ must be the Husband and Head of more brides, wives, and bodies than Solomon’s seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
The independent churches that espouse this view, in their communion, close their doors to all other bodies; even all bodies of their own faith and order. This is consistent with their view; for if Christ be the Husband of many brides-wives, and the head of more bodies than one, then it is only common decency that He have intimate union separately with only one body at a time. They do not, however, cooperate to schedule their communion at different times. Even in nature no man can have intimate union at the same time with more than one woman without involving some sort of unnatural lust. These people, in their consistency, not only dance to the music but they also pay the fiddler.
Pertaining to the body of Christ, Paul said, “There is ONE BODY —(swma) .. and ONE SPIRIT — (pneuma)…ONE LORD…ONE GOD.” (Ephesians 4:4,6)
In the expression “one body”, we have the same expression, one spirit.
If the Spirit be present in the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, and Thyatira at the same time, does this mean there are four spirits instead of one, or is there one Spirit present in four different places?
Christ said “where two or three are gathered together (church) in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
If the situation requires that Christ be present among two or three in more places than one at the same time, does this mean there are more Christs than one? And if the body of Christ be localized in more places than one, for example: the called out assemblies at Ephesus, Corinth, Colosse, and at Rome; does this mean four separate bodies under one head, or does it mean but one individual body localized in four different places with one head? Of course the latter is true. If not, then for sure Christ is the head of a body which is multiplex in nature, Siamese in order, and multiplied many times since.
The incontrovertible answer to this question is found in Paul’s letters to the following triad of churches: Rome, Ephesus, and Corinth. Paul, while at Rome (about nine hundred miles from Ephesus) writes to the saints and faithful in Christ at Ephesus wherein he said, “THERE IS ONE BODY”. (Ephesians 4:14)
Then he said, “for WE are members of this body, of his flesh, and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30).
Paul, when at Ephesus (about three hundred and fifty miles from Corinth), writes to the church wherein he includes “all in every place” and refers to Jesus as both theirs and ours telling them, “THE BODY IS ONE and hath many members… and the MEMBERS OF THAT ONE BODY being many ARE ONE BODY: so also is Christ.” (I Corinthians 12:12)
“Now are they many members yet BUT ONE BODY” (I Corinthians 12:20) ….. Now YE are THE body of Christ”, etc. (I Corinthians 12:27).
In the last quote above, the direct article “the” is not found in the Greek text; neither is the indirect article “a” to be supplied in the absence of the direct article. To do this would in effect be saving “a” body at Corinth, “a” body at Ephesus, and “a” body’ at Rome. This, by everyone’s arithmetic, would be three bodies, not one — as the apostle stated. Even so, the apostle while AT Ephesus, as previously stated, about three hundred and fifty miles from Corinth, writes, “By one spirit are WE all baptized into ONE BODY” (I Corinthians 12:13 and 10:17).
Together with, “Ye are body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:27) without the article in the Greek text. Considering the distance, the pronoun “WE” includes the writer and those to whom written, as one. The phrase, “Ye are body” can only mean the body of Christ in the localized sense of the word; else the personal pronoun WE will not stand as correct in these texts. As all grammarians should know, the word WE is a personal pronoun, first person plural, nominative case, a plural form of “I” with another person, or others than ‘‘I”.
To look at Paul’s teaching from the larger point of view, he being at Corinth writes to Rome some six hundred and fifty miles away says, “So WE being many are ONE BODY in Christ.”
Then at Rome he writes to Ephesus some nine hundred miles from Rome says, “For WE are members OF HIS BODY, OF HIS FLESH, OF HIS BONES.” And at Ephesus the apostle writes to Corinth some three hundred and fifty miles distant says, “By one spirit are WE ALL baptized unto ONE BODY.”
These facts are self evident. Paul called the churches within a radius of about nineteen hundred miles ONE BODY, ONE bread, Christ’s BODY, SAME BODY, HIS FLESH, and HIS BONES. It is further evident that the apostle in speaking of the body was referring to the militant assembly, both local and general, visible and invisible, including Jerusalem and all local assemblies in every generation thereafter called by Paul in Colossians 2:19 “all the body”. All this constitutes the body of Christ — the church which is His body, of which Christ is the Head, in which all the faithful are ONE. Even Jews and Gentiles are reconciled in this one body by the cross. So we have one new man, Christ, the Head, and the church: His body. (Colossians 1:18) Of this one church, body, bride and wife, Christ said, “… – the gates of hell shall not prevail against” her. (Matthew 16:18)
These things shall stand as stated, except of course until someone proves Scripturally that Paul was a member in the church at Rome when he said “WE” (Romans 12:5); and had moved to Ephesus and was a member there when he said “WE” (Ephesians 5:3); and was a member at Corinth when he said “WE” (I Corinthians 12:13).
The listed conditions must be the case if one is successfully to maintain a body independent and solely to the exclusion of the general body. In my judgment, taking into full account the pronoun we, to see anyone advocate such a conclusion is but sheer flim-flam and foolishness. But foolishness is characteristic of men whose intents are only to prove their point in order to maintain their own doctrine.
The foolishness of men has said that there are no New Testament references to the word church meaning the church unassembled, but Paul said, “I persecuted THE (EKKLESIAN) church of God and wasted HER — (autov)” (Galatians 1:13)
When Paul persecuted the Ekklesian of God, what did he do?
Luke (afterwards Paul’s companion in travel) said Paul made havoc of the church (ekklhsia) entering into every HOUSE (oikov) haling men and women, committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3)
Herein we have an incontrovertible fact and pointed conclusion that Saul, in persecuting the church, did so when he entered their houses, dragging them from their homes and confining them to prison. Therefore, this is certainly a reference in the New Testament to the word church meaning saintly men and women in their houses being ravaged, dragged-out and put into prison. In fact, in every letter which Paul wrote to the churches, he was writing to the church both while in assembly and out of assembly. If not, then he could only have written to them while they were assembled; otherwise, he would have written to the church when the church did not even exist in those places.
As to the etymological meaning of the word ekklhsia (church), the Scriptures are given by divine inspiration and must be rightly divided. They are not keyed to some crier in a free Greek city calling its free citizens out, summoning them to come together to transact some order of business. Indeed, no Greek city included all Greeks in their ruling assembly, orekklhsia . Nor is the called out assembly of the Lord to be confused with some gathering called together by a tower belfry or any other bell. The total aggregate of saints constituting the Ekklesian of Christ are all called with a high, holy, and heavenly calling. They are called out of darkness into His marvelous light. They are children of light and, as such, they are the Ekklesian of Christ wherever they are, whether alone or with someone — and at all times both at home or away from home, asleep, awake, in the air, or in the sea, assembled or unassembled, three hundred and sixty five days a year!
But note the following statement made by a noted professor when asked to give the meaning of Ekklesia; he replied, “I do not know of any passage in classical Greek where Ekklesia is used of unassembled or unassembling persons”.
Now, consider that most religious folks, and indeed the local church herself, spends on an average only about six to eight days of the year in actual assembly. This would leave about three hundred and fifty eight days out of three hundred and sixty five when the Ekklesian of Christ doesn’t even exist in a particular location. Christ loved the Ekklesian and gave Himself for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
Does this mean he only loves her six to eight days out of the year; that the gift of Himself for her only applies to six or eight days while in assembly during the year?
This is exactly what you have if the word “Ekklesian” doesn’t mean out-of-assembly as well as in-assembly.
Another quote, from an Arminian says, “We hear much of the invisible church as contradistinguished from the church visible. Of an invisible church in the world I know nothing. The word of God says nothing: nor can anything of the kind exist except in the brain of a heretic.”
Well, sarcastically speaking, from one “heretic” to another “heretic”, I will say: does Christ the Head of the body exist?
Is He visible or invisible?
Though we have known Christ after the flesh, do we still know Him after the flesh or henceforth know we him no more? (II Corinthians 5:16)
Is Christ the head, the image of the invisible God the first born of every creature? (Colossians 1:15)
Is Christ not now the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God? (I Timothy 1:17)
Does anything of the kind exist in the brain of a “heretic”?
Yes, it does and it exists also in the hearts of ALL God’s children. Christ is the invisible Head of the body (the church) and the body (the church) goes far beyond the boundaries of the localized churches of Christ located in particular places.
As Paul said, “I speak as to wise men judge ye what I say.”
Is it not just as reasonable, thinkable, and possible for the body to be invisible as it is for the Head?
Of course the general body of Christ is militant in being, but there is an aspect of her which is invisible and they who say otherwise are simply blinded by too much etymology.
Finally, the church has both a local and general significance denoting both the individual assembly and the general community. The church in its local aspect is independent in some matters while in other matters it coalesces with all other churches into a general dependency. It is a building of which Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone, an holy temple in the Lord, an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20)
It is the fellowship of saints; it is the bride of Jesus Christ sanctified by Him for union with Himself. (Ephesians 5:25)
The two-fold usage of the word “church” is seen everywhere in the writings of Paul, but a point to be emphasized is that no tension exists between the churches local and the church general. Each church, or congregation, is THE church in its own setting and each is a manifestation or concretion of the whole church.
As to the general church, organizationally, she is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the Head and Chief Cornerstone, foundation, chief Shepherd, and Bishop of souls. As to unity’ in the general church the strongest spiritual ties unite all to one Head and to each other. But the basic unity is always the local church; not in isolation or as an independent-minded body, but as a concretion of universal fellowship and having a strong sense of belonging to it. As to its form of government, it is a theocracy, not a democracy. It is not a government of the people, for the people and by the people, but a government of God with one King, head, and lawgiver governing the one body, His dove. His undefiled one, His choice one, the only one of her mother, the bride, His wife.
Christ Jesus our Lord (I repeat) is not a polygamist. His body is not Siamese in nature. Christ is not the head of a harem. He is the Head of only one — the Ekklesian general.
By Robert H. Hale