Identifying A New Testament Assembly
Compiled by Lonnie Ford for the Nepali Brethren
I. DEFINING THE WORD CHURCH AS USED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
- The word "CHURCH" simply means "to call out".
- This is seen first from the compound Greek word from which is translated:
- "ek", meaning "out of".
- "Kaleo", meaning "to call by name"..
- The Greek word 'Ekkelesia' was always used in the common conversations and writings of that day, of those called out to assemble for a particular reason.
In the N. T. we find this word used of three different assemblies. By these usages of the word in the New Testament, we come to understand the common usage of the word in the everyday conversation and thereby determine its proper definition.
- It was never used of a mob or other such gathering.
- Thus "ekklesia" (to call out of) -- speaks of a people called out for the purpose of assembling together.
- A Greek assembly (a town meeting), (Acts 19:23-41 (32, 39, 41).
The Church in the wilderness, (Acts 7:38).
- It is interesting to note that this word 'Ekklesia,' is always translated 'assembly' when not referring to a religious gathering.
- In these verses we have an example, please note the following:
1) It was an assembly, (a town meeting).
2) It was a local assembly, (held in a theater, verse 31.)
3) It was an orderly assembly, (they had called a town meeting, in verse 39 the town clerk speaks of a 'lawful' or 'ordinary,' 'scheduled assembly', which this was not), (However it was orderly, in verse 35, the 'town clerk' appeased them with certain words, then in verses 38-39, he instructs them, then in verse 41, he dismisses them, so it was an orderly local assembly.)
4) It was an organized assembly, (officers, laws, etc.)
5) It was assembled for a specific purpose. (It was not a scheduled meeting and this led to some confusion among those present, verse 32)
1) This refers to Israel after deliverance from Egypt.
The third usage of this Greek word 'Ekklesia,' is in reference to the Lord's Church, (Matt. 16:18-19; 18:15-18; etc).
2) They were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (1 Cor. 10:1-4).
3) They were separated from Egypt as a people. (All were baptized, and ate and drank).
4) They were able now to gather lawfully as an assembly to Worship and serve the Lord their God. (This was one of the things that Moses had pleaded before Pharaoh, that they must be allowed to go at least 3 days journey so they could worship God acceptably).
5) They were a called out, orderly, organized, with officers and laws. (The Lord called them out of Egypt, He called them into covenant fellowship with Himself, and He gave them Moses, Aaron and the Law to govern them as His people, (Ex. 19:5-9; 20:1-17).
6) This was precisely the same kind of assembly as the Greek assembly above.
1) Called 'the Lord's' to distinguish His assembly from the many other kinds of assemblies.
- Jesus used this same word 'Ekklesia,' and said that He would build His assembly.
- The Lord's ekklesia (assembly), fits the description of an assembly as under "a, 3, a & b" above.
2) Though the word always referred to a local assembly when used in the everyday conversation, the translators chose to translate it with the word Church every time it is used of a religious gathering.
- This has caused a great deal of confusion.
- When people today think of a church, all different kinds of concepts come into their minds.
- Many think of a building, others of a religious denomination, still others of a universal invisible body of all the saved.
3) The word always meant and still means an assembly,
called out for a particular purpose.
The Word ekklesia (assembly), is sometimes used in a generic sense in the New Testament, (Matt. 16:18; 18:17; Eph. 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:22-33; Col. 1:18; 1 Tim. 3:15).
- Every day examples of generic usage's of words;
The generic usage of any of the above, does not in any way imply that all lions, husbands, eyes, schools, are one.
- The lion is king of the beast.
- The husband is the head of the wife.
- The eye is the window of the soul.
- The school is a public institution.
- The children should behave themselves in the school room.
In the same way the generic usage of the word 'ekklesia' (assembly), does not imply that all churches are one.
- We may say, the wife went to the store, using the word generically.
- This usage does not imply that all stores are one, nor that there is only one store of which all are a part.
- Nor, does it imply that there is only one kind of store.
To help see this, let's next look at this word as it is used with reference to particular Assemblies.
- Nor does it imply that there is only one assembly of which all the others are a part.
- Nor does it imply that all believing ones make up one universal church.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CONCEIVE OF AN "ASSEMBLY" WITHOUT A "LOCATION".
- The word ekklesia always refers to a local assembly -- there is no other kind of assembly (church) spoken of in scripture.
- The following are examples of direct references to specific assemblies, (Rev. 1:4; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:1-2; Romans 16:1 & 5, etc).
- The word ekklesia, is used in the plural 33 times, which again shows that the word referred to individual and distinct assemblies or combinations thereof, and never to a so called universal Church, (Romans 16:16).
WHAT IS THE LORD'S ASSEMBLY?
- In every case in the New Testament, an assembly had a location and could be photographed.
- Thus the word, ekklesia, always requires that the ASSEMBLY be LOCAL.
- This is clearly documented and demonstrated throughout the New Testament.
- The use of the phrase, "a New Testament Assembly," "a Scriptural Assembly" or "The Lord's Assembly," is an endeavoring to distinguish between the many assemblies in the world today and those established by Christ.
- Jesus claimed that He would establish His assembly and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it, (Matt. 16:18-19).
- During His personal ministry, He did establish His Assembly and it is still in existence today.
- A New Testament assembly is a local visible assembly of baptized believers.
- They have heard and responded to the call 'into the fellowship of His dear Son,' (1 Cor. 1:9).
- Through Baptism they covenanted together as a living organism, indwelled, filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit -- they are commanded to carry out the New Covenant's great Commission, (Matt. 28:16-20).
- In that it is 'the Lord's assembly,' becoming a member is governed by the terms of the Glorious Gospel. These terms are set forth in His Word as follows:
- First each one as convicted by the Holy Spirit, must come to the Lord through genuine repentance toward God and Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, (Acts 20:21; Matt. 3:5-8; Acts 8:36-39).
- Next they must obediently follow in baptism.
WHAT 'THE LORD'S CHURCH' IS NOT!
- This baptism must have come from the baptism of John which was authorized by God, (John 1:29-34).
- This baptism must be administered by a New Testament Assembly which was given the authority to Baptize, (Acts 18:24, 19:7).
- The assembly is not universal nor invisible.
This can be proven in several different ways:
- First, it is not universal because of the definition of the word ekklesia (assembly) itself.
Secondly, this can be proven by the usage of the word ekklesia (assembly) in Scripture, (see section 'A' above).
It is always used of local visible assemblies that can function according to the terms of the New Covenant.
It is a called out assembly.
Furthermore, the Universal Church theory proves itself to be unscriptural.
The universal church advocates teach that all saved are members of a universal, invisible church.
However, such a universal church could not carry out many of the requirements given to them in scripture.
- It is also used in the plural, which would not be correct if all believing ones belonged to one universal assembly, (see section 'A' 5, see above).
1) First, they could not assemble as commanded in scripture, Heb. 10:25 (for them to assemble together, it would have to be in one place).
- The ability to assemble is one of the principle characteristics of an assembly.
2) Second, the Assembly could not judge and purge sin from the body for maintenance of fellowship with the Lord, (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; II Thess. 3:6-15; Titus 3:10).
- We cannot deny that in passages like Matt. 18, Jesus commanded His assembly to endeavor to win the backslider and wayward ones.
- However, if they will not repent, they have severed themselves from the fellowship and the assembly.
- After every effort is made to restore them, -- the assembly has the responsibility of counting the unrepentant ones as a heathen and a publican.
- Neither can we deny that Paul instructed the assembly at Corinth (in chapter 5), to deliver the wayward brother or sister that would not repent unto satan.
3) Third, the universal assembly cannot assemble in one place for the observance of the supper as required, (1 Cor. 11:18-21).
4) Fourth, there would be no personal relationship between most believers in that they would not know each other.
- Without being able to assemble together, they could not fulfill their commanded responsibilities to one another to exhort, admonish, prefer, love, and have the same care one for another, etc.
- So, the Lord's Assembly is clearly not Universal and has never been made up of all the saved.
- The Assembly is not democratic, that is, it is not ruled by the majority.
- The assembly is theocratic, -- it is ruled by Christ the head; (Eph. 5:23-24; 1:22; 4:15).
- The assembly is not legislative, that is, it does not make the rules.
- The assembly is governed by the Scriptures under the leadership of the Holy Spirit; (2 Tim. 3:15-17; John 16:7-17).