The New Testament Church
A Local Body
The Word Church Means a Called Out Assembly
To understand the word which is translated church, we must go back to the original language in which the Bible was written. Many of our readers could not read or pronounce it in its original form, for it was spoken and written in the Greek language. But we can put it in its English form and tell you how it was used in that language and you can easily see its meaning. Here is the way it looks and is spelled in its English form, Ekklesia. It is a combination of two Greek words: Ek means out and Kaleo means call and this is the verb form. When we put the two together and write the noun form of it, it is Ekklesia and means a called out assembly. This is the way it is always used in the Greek language. It means an assembly of people who are called out for a purpose. If called out for a political purpose, it would then be a political assembly, or church; if called out for a social purpose, it would be a social assembly, or church.
We see a political, or anti-religious ekklesia, or church, called out in Acts 19:25-41. Verse 25 tells us that they were called together; verse 32 tells us that it was an assembly (ekklesia, church), but here was an ekklesia (assembly, church) that was called to work against Paul who had come to preach the gospel to the heathen city, Ephesus. This is not a religious church (assembly), but a plotting church meeting to stir up the people to destroy Paul. Now in verse 39, we find where the town clerk warned the people and told them that this matter should be settled in lawful assembly (ekklesia, church). This reveals that a called out people, for holding court and trying criminals, is called a lawful assembly (ekklesia, church). Therefore we see that the words ekklesia, assembly, and church all mean the same thing when we let them mean what God intended for them to mean. We note further about this meeting in verse 41. There it is said that this unlawful, political assembly was dismissed. That means that the assembly broke up and the people went home.
In Acts 7:38 we see that the children of Israel in the wilderness were called a church: "This is he, that was in the church (ekklesia) 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."
The church (assembly) in the wilderness was not the New Testament Church, but that great assembly had been called out of Egypt and was assembled there, and for that reason God called it an ekklesia, that is a called out assembly, or a church.
Now an assembly is a congregation of people located at a place. It is impossible to have a universal, invisible congregation, but it is just as possible to have a universal assembly or congregation as it is to have a universal or invisible church. So when we come to see the meaning of the word church, we can see that it is impossible for the church to be anything else but a local congregation or assembly.
The Meaning of the Church Institution
A church or assembly formed by Christ has officers and laws to execute or carry out His orders. He gave it the ordinances of baptism, the Lordís Supper and the commission to preach the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20). The commission was to go, make other disciples, baptize them and teach them to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them. So the local assembly was to become a perpetual institution and was to continue to the end of the age. It would be perpetuated as an institution, through other institutions just like the first one, unto the end of the age. As an institution it could be dismissed and reassembled as often as necessary, and as the Lord commanded, in carrying out its work. When it dismisses or disassembles, it then exists as an institution or organization, though it is not in an actual assembly all the time.
Sometimes the Bible speaks of the church in the sense of an institution or organization and, when it does so, it speaks of no particular church, but it refers to any church or every church. Ephesians 3:21: "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." Paul is not talking about any particular church but he means any true church and every true church. It could be the church at Ephesus or the church at Corinth, or the church at Philippi, or the church at Antioch, and every true church.
He simply means that God wants us to glorify Him in a true church institution or organization somewhere, and it does not mean there is just one big, universal or invisible church.
In this same way the Bible refers to the church institution in Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."
Here Paul is speaking to the church at Ephesus, but when Jesus died, the only church that was in existence, was the one at Jerusalem. Did Jesus die for the church at Ephesus? He most certainly did, even though it had not been organized, just like He died for the whole human race. You, Dear Reader, had not been born when Jesus died; but He died for you because He .died for the whole human race, and you belong to the human race. For that reason it embraced you, though you had not been born. So, when Jesus died for that first church institution, He died for every church that should ever come out of it and exist as an institution or organization of baptized believers, keeping house for Him.
But when Paul told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, he did not mean that there was just one big, universal church any more than he meant that there was just one big, universal husband, or one big, universal wife. He meant that every husband should love his wife, or that any husband should love his wife, just like Christ loves any and every true church. In Ephesians 5:23, we have a similar passage. Here it says, "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body." If this passage means that there is just one big church and Christ is the head of it, then, it would also mean that there is just one big wife with just one big husband as her head. The same thing would be true where it says Christ is the Savior of the body. (The church is sometimes called the body of Christ as it is here.)
We can better understand the meaning of this verse if we ask some questions and find the answers to them.
What husband is the head of the wife? Any husband is the head of his wife. Every husband is the head of his wife.
What wife is the husband the head of? His own wife, of course.
Christ is the head of which church? Any true church, and every true church. The one at Ephesus, the one at Jerusalem, the one at Antioch, the one at Corinth, the one at Philippi and every other one in the world.
Thus when the Bible speaks of the church in the institutional sense, calling it, "the church," "the body," "the house of God," "the church of God," "the bride," "the temple of God," it is talking about the church institution or organization, and it means that that one is taken as an example of them all. Therefore, "the church" means any true church or every true church, but it never means one big universal or invisible church. "The house of God" means every house or any house (church) of God, and "the body of Christ" means any body of Christ or every body (church) of Christ. And when the Lord refers to the church as being the "Bride of Christ," it is used in the same sense. Every true church sustains the relationship to Christ a bride sustains to her espoused husband, and in this sense every church is the bride of Christ. The term, "Bride of Christ" denotes relationship and is not to be taken literally. Likewise, the term "House of God" denotes a place for God to dwell with His people, and the church is not to be taken as a literal house. So, also, the term "Body of Christ" denotes a governing body and is not to be taken as the literal body of Jesus.
One more example of how one is used as an example of all is given: "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble" (Job 14:1).
Here the word man is used in the singular (one man), and the word woman is used in the singular (one woman), but it means all men born of women. It means every man born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. One is taken as an example of all the rest of them. So when the Bible speaks of the church and points out no particular church at a given place, it uses one as an example of them all. It means all the churches, or every church. We use language like that all the time. We say, "The home is the foundation of civilization," but we do not mean that there is just one big, universal home. We use one home as an example of them all. Again we say, "The judge and the jury make the court." What judge? One big judge? No, any judge, and any jury. So, "the church" means every church when we speak of the institution.