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The Church: Its definition, its head and its members (PDF) PDF version

The Church: Its definition, its head and its members

There are really few words that are so frequently used by Christians as the word "church". Unfortunately, few also are those who really understand this word as the Bible understands it, and apply its Biblical meaning in practice. Given the importance of a clear understanding of what the Word of God says about the church, we will devote this article to its detailed examination.

1. Church: the definition

A quick look at what most people think that the word "church" means shows that the great majority uses this word either to denote a place where various religious ceremonies take place or as a component in the title of various denominations1. However, these usages of the word church do not correspond to what the Word of God defines as church, thus making necessary a better examination of the meaning of this word.

1.1 The word "Ekklesia" and its general meaning

The word "church" is a translation of the Greek word "ekklesia" that means "what is called out or forth2". As E.W. Bullinger says, this word was used "of any assembly, but especially of citizens, or of a selection of them, "burgesses3". In the New Testament it is used 115 times, 3 of which it is translated as "assembly", and 112 as "church". A look at the three times that this word is translated as "assembly" is enough to show us that it was not exclusively used for Christian assemblies only. Indeed, Acts 19, referring to a demonstration against Paul that took place at Ephesus, says:

Acts 19:32, 35, 39, 41
"Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly [Gr.: ekklesia] was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together....And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said [to the assembly]:....."If you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly [Gr.: ekklesia]....And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly [Gr.: ekklesia]."

As it is evident from this passage, the word "ekklesia" was used for non-Christian, and, as it happens in our case, even for antichristian assemblies.

That the general meaning of the word "ekklesia" is "assembly", is also evident by the usage of this word in the LXX. There, this word is used 71 times, all as a translation of the Hebrew word "qahal" that means "a coming together, an assembling, the act; an assembly, congregation, convocation; in a wider sense of any assembly or multitude of men, of troops, of nations, of the wicked, of the righteous4 etc."

To conclude therefore: the general meaning of the word that the KJV translates as church, is "assembly". This word was neither exclusively used for Christian assemblies, nor for the buildings that hosted such assemblies. In contrast, it was a general term used for any assembly irrespective of its kind.

1.2 The word "ekklesia": its meaning in the Word of God.

Having seen what the word "ekklesia" generally means, it is now time to see what it means in the Word of God, and especially in the part of this Word that refers to the age of grace (i.e. in Acts and the epistles5) in which we live. There, though this word again means an assembly, this time the assembly is a specific one, having as members ALL the born again ones i.e. all those who have confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus and believed in their heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Another term that the Bible uses to denote the world-wide total of Christ's believers6 is "body" or "the body of Christ". That "church" and "body" or "body of Christ" are equivalent terms, all used to denote the entirety of Christ's believers, is evident from various passages in the Word of God. Thus, starting from I Corinthians 12:27 we read:

I Corinthians 12:27
"Now YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST, and members individually"

Also Colossians 1:18 tells us
"And he [Jesus Christ] is the head OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH,..."

Moreover Ephesians 1:22-23 says:
"And He [God] put all things under his [Christ's] feet, and gave him to be head over all things to THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS [Christ's] BODY.."

WE, all the believers together, compose the body of Christ. The Word of God does not say that in this place there is one body and in that place another one. Nor it says that this denomination is one body and the next another one. What it does say is that "YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST", THE CHURCH. To this "you", I belong, you belong and generally every born again believer belongs. As far as the Word of God is concerned, there is no distinction, because of denomination, color, social status, place of living or because of any other reason. Really, Galatians 3:26-28 tells us:

Galatians 3:26-28
"For you are ALL sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for YOU ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS."

We are ALL, without any distinction, sons of God BY FAITH in Christ Jesus and we are ALL, again without any distinction and through the same faith, members of the body of Christ.

That the church or body is ONE and NOT MANY is also evident by many other passages in the Word of God. Really, starting from Romans 12:4-5 we read:

Romans 12:4-5
"For as we have many members in ONE BODY, but all the members do not have the same function: So we, being many, are ONE BODY in Christ, and every one members one of another."

Also, I Corinthians 12:12-13 tells us:
"For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many , are ONE BODY, SO ALSO IS CHRIST. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into ONE BODY-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free- ......"

I Corinthians 12:20
"But now indeed there are many members, yet ONE BODY."

Ephesians 2:16
"And that he [Jesus] might reconcile them both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in ONE BODY through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity."

Ephesians 4:4
"There is ONE BODY and one Spirit, just as you are called in one hope of your calling;"

And finally Colossians 3:15
"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in ONE BODY; and be thankful."

As it is evident from all these passages, the church, the body of Christ is one body that includes, ALL the born again ones i.e. all those who have confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus and believed in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. Unfortunately, what the Word of God declares so clearly seems to be ignored by a large part of Christianity, as at least the existence of so many denominations shows. Really, many of us instead of seeing ourselves as members of the ONE body of Christ and ALL the other Christians as our brothers and members of the same body, we see ourselves as members of the so and so denomination which we may also characterise as the body or THE church, and all the other Christians that do not belong to our denomination as strangers not to say enemies. Fortunately, the Word of God does agree with this view. Really, as we saw, for God we (ALL Christians) are neither strangers nor enemies to each other, even if it happens to have different views in many things. As long as we agree that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead, we are all children of God, brothers, members of the same body and in fact, as Romans 12:5 says, members one of another. Isn't that wonderful? Really, it is so pity that the devil has managed to hide this wonderful truth from us, making us to think that the body is limited to our denomination, organisation, or fellowship. These are not the body but PARTS of the body7 which is composed of thousands of other fellowships and millions of other Christians, even if their views happens to agree with our own only in that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead. Instead therefore of denominational fights and hates, we need to put in our hearts the truth of the ONE body, and act accordingly, loving and serving ALL the other Christians that also belong to the same body with us. Otherwise, we are bound to continue fighting each other, causing nothing else but harm in the body.

2. Church: the boss

Having seen that the church, as it is defined in the Bible, is ONE, composed of ALL those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his resurrection, we will now move ahead to see who is the head, the boss, of the church. The answer of the Bible to this very critical question is again very clear. Really, Ephesians 5:23 tells us:

Ephesians 5:23
"CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH"

Other passages that also confirm that the boss, the head, of the church is the Lord Jesus Christ are:

Ephesians 1:22
And He [God) put all things under his [Jesus'] feet, and GAVE HIM TO BE HEAD OVER ALL THINGS TO THE CHURCH."

Colossians 1:18
"And HE [Jesus] IS THE HEAD OF THE BODY, the church"

As it is evident from all these passages, the one that God appointed to be the chief director of the church, the head over ALL things to it, is the Lord Jesus Christ8. He is the head and the church is his body. And as in a literal body the head is the part that leads the body, so also in the church, Christ, being the head over all things to it, is the one that leads, governs the church. He and only he is its leader and its only boss. Thus, in contrast to the various hierarchies that one can find in many denominations and organisations, the hierarchy in the church, as it is given in the Word of God, goes as follows: first and foremost God, the head of Christ (I Corinthians 11:3). Then, Christ the head of the church, and finally all we that believe in Christ and in his resurrection and compose the body of Christ, the church. To conclude therefore, instead of "many churches with many mortal bosses", there is "ONE church with ONE immortal boss: the Lord Jesus Christ".

3. Church: the members

We already have seen that to become a member of the church, the only that is needed is to be born again, saved, which, we repeat, happens when you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). We also saw that the head, the boss of the church is the Lord Jesus Christ. Having seen all this, we will move ahead to examine in more detail the role of the members in the body of Christ.

3.1: Different needs and different roles in the church

It is not at all accidental that the Bible presents the church as a body. Though in the last section, we covered, in our discussion of Christ as head of the church, some aspects of this figure, I Corinthians 12 gives us more information. Thus, starting from verse 12 we read:

I Corinthians 12:12-14
"For as the body [a literal body] is one, and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, SO ALSO IS CHRIST. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body [the church], whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free;......For in fact THE BODY IS NOT ONE MEMBER, BUT MANY."

Four times in this passage we are told that the body is ONE which, for one more time, confirms what we saw previously i.e. that there is ONE and only one body to which all Christians belong. Apart from this, something else that is also pointed out is that "THE BODY IS NOT ONE MEMBER, BUT MANY". Verses 15-20 that follow, will help us to understand better what God wants to tell us by this. There we read:

I Corinthians 12:15-20
"If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body", is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body", is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now GOD HAS SET THE MEMBERS, EACH ONE OF THEM, IN THE BODY AS IT PLEASED HIM. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body."

In this passage, Paul by revelation makes a comparison between a literal body and the church, the body of Christ. His conclusion is that as a literal body has many members each of which may do a different job necessary for the body, so also the body of Christ, the church, has MANY members each of which is set in the body AS IT PLEASED GOD, to obviously do a job that is necessary to it, and which may also be different from the job of another member. To help us understand this point better, Paul asks us to imagine what would happen if all the body was an eye. As it is obvious, in this hypothetical case, it would be impossible to smell, move, bend or do anything else apart from seeing. Evidently therefore, instead of having an eye-body it is much more preferable to have a specification of roles in the body according to the needs. By this we will have a full exploitation of all the members of the body and at the same time a covering of all the needs in the best way. As I Corinthians 12:19 puts it: "And if they were all one member [i.e. if all the members had the same role], where werethe body?" Transferring this figure to the body of Christ, it is obvious that instead of all the members having the same role i.e. instead of all the members being one member, it is much more better to have a specification of functions in the body that would secure the full employment of all the members and the full covering of all the needs of the body. And this is exactly what happens. Romans 12:4-5 tells us:

Romans 12:4-5
"For AS WE HAVE MANY MEMBERS IN ONE BODY, BUT ALL THE MEMBERS DO NOT HAVE THE SAME FUNCTION, SO WE, being many, are one body in Christ"

As it is obvious from this passage, there is a specification of functions in the body of Christ and each member is set in the body with a function that may be different from the function of another member. Who now defines what would be our function in the body? I Corinthians 12:18 states the answer very clearly. As it says there: "GOD has set the members each one of them in the body AS IT PLEASED HIM". It is therefore God that defines our function in the body.

Having seen that indeed there is a variety of functions in the body and not all members is necessary to have the same function, let's move ahead to see more. Thus, continuing in I Corinthians 12 we read:

I Corinthians 12:21-25
"And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you". No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honour; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care for one another."

There is no member of the body of Christ that has no need of the other members, and there is no member that is unnecessary in the body. In fact, as the above passage tells us, God composed the body in a way that implies the interdependence of the members and the necessity of all in the body.

Returning now to the functions in the body, I Corinthians 12:28-30 tells us:

I Corinthians 12:28-30
"And GOD HAS SET SOME IN THE CHURCH [the body], first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?"

In this passage the Word of God gives us a list of functions that one can find in the body of Christ and which I repeat, are distributed by God to the members of the body as it pleases Him. The functions that are referred in the above passage are: apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues9. Ephesians 4:7-8, 11 tells us more. There we read:

Ephesians 4:7-8, 11
"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore he says, "When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men....And he himself [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;"

Also, Romans 12:4-8 tells us:
"For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation: he who gives, with liberality; he that leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."

As we can see from all these passages, there is a variety of roles in the body, that are distributed to each member by God, obviously to cover the needs of the body in the best way. Thus, there are teachers to cover the need of teaching, evangelists to cover the need of evangelizing, pastors to cover the need of pastoring etc. As our literal body is complete, so also the body of Christ is complete, since for any need that it has, God has set a member to cover it.

4. A deeper consideration of I Corinthians 12:28-30

After all the above, the reader may think that one cannot bless the body but only through the function that God gave him. In other words, one may think that a teacher cannot pastor, or that someone cannot speak in tongues or interpret or prophesy if this is not what God gave him as his function in the body. A passage that is frequently used to support this view is I Corinthians 12:28-30. There we read:

I Corinthians 12:28-30
"And God has set some in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles?Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?"

For many people the question marks in this passage are taken to mean that not all Christians can speak in tongues, or interpreter or prophesy or teach, or heal, but only those who are set in the body especially with this function. However, a conclusion like this can only be drawn if we ignore the context of the passage as well as the other references to the same topic. Taking speaking in tongues for example, I Corinthians 12:8-12 classifies it as one of the nine manifestations of the spirit10, while I Corinthians 14:5 makes clear that it is God's desire that ALL speak in tongues. Indeed, I Corinthians 14:5 tells us:

I Corinthians 14:5
I wish that you ALL speak with tongues,"

The word "would" in this passage is the present tense of the Greek verb "thelo" that means to desire, to love, to take delight in, have pleasure11. Also the fact that this verb is in the present tense, it means that in this passage God expresses what He loves, what He desires to be done in the present time. Thus, speaking in tongues is what God desires, loves for us to do now. "I LOVE that you ALL speak in tongues" He says. This is not a hypothetical wish12, but what God desires from ALL of us to do NOW, in the present time.

Returning now to our topic the question is simple: Would it ever be possible that God desire, love, wish, ALL of us to speak in tongues without this be available? Of course not13. Thus, since God desires ALL of us to speak in tongues it means that ALL of us can speak in tongues. That's what the Word of God says and that's what it means. In fact, not only can all Christians speak in tongues but they can also prophesy and interpret. Really, verse 5 tells us:

I Corinthians 14:5
"I wish [Gr. thelo] that you ALL speak with tongues, but rather that you [ALL] prophesy: for greater is he that prophesies than he who speaks with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edification."

Since God asks us apart from speaking in tongues to also prophesy and interpret (the last two when we are in the church, in order to give by our message edification) it means that we can not only speak in tongues but also prophesy AND interpret.

Having seen all this (there is much more that we will probably see another time) the question is what is then meant by the questions in I Corinthians 12:28-30? The answer is in the context of the passage. Really, as we saw, the context (I Corinthians 12:12-30) does not speak for the manifestations of the spirit but for the ROLE, the SPECIAL FUNCTION that a believer may have in the church. In our case, ALL Christians can and should speak in tongues and interpret and prophesy and generally operate all the nine manifestation of the spirit listed in I Corinthians 12:7-10. However, NOT ALL ARE SET TO ESPECIALLY WORK, FUNCTION, IN THE BODY through speaking in tongues or through teaching or prophecy or interpretation etc. To understand this better, let's assume that someone is set by God to function in the body as a teacher while someone else is set to function through speaking in tongues. BOTH can teach and speak in tongues but working in the body the former will be better in teaching while the latter will be better in speaking in tongues. As we saw, we all belong to the SAME body but we are NOT all the same member.

To conclude therefore: ALL Christians can do ALL. However, some are set by God to function in the body in one way and some in another. If now one asks "what is my function in the body" my answer would be "go to God and see what He wants you to do". The title of the role is not the important. For, I may have been set to the body to evangelize for example and never do it. On the other hand, if I make myself available to God He will certainly guide me to do what He thinks that He needs me to do in the body. I may not know even know the title of my function but this is not what counts. What counts is to make myself available to God so that He may utilise me as a member of the body in the way that He thinks as the best. Therefore we should go to God, and ask Him to show us what He needs us in the body. His responsibility is to show us what He needs us and to guide us on the way. Our responsibility and job is to be available to Him for everything that He needs us and act when He wants us to act and as He wants us to act.

 

Anastasios Kioulachoglou

 

 



Footnotes

1. For example "the Roman Catholic church", "the Greek Orthodox church", "the Anglican church" or the so and so church.

2. See Young's concordance to the Bible, p.59..

3. See E.W. Bullinger: Figures of Speech used in the Bible, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, This printing 1995, p.72..

4. See New Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p.92..

5. Apart from 3 occurrences in the gospels and 7 in Revelation, all the other occurrences of "ekklesia" are in Acts and the epistles.

6. Besides this broad meaning, the word "church" is also used in a narrow sense, meaning the assembly of born again believers in a specific area. Thus Romans 16:3-5 and I Corinthians 4:15 tells us for the church in Priscilla's and Aquila's house i.e. the assembly of the believers that used to take place in their house. Similarly, Collosians 4:15 tells us for the church in Nympha's house. Other passages where local assemblies of believers are called churches are: Romans 16:1, I Corinthians 1:2, I Thessalonians 1:1 and Galatians 1:2. Whether in a passage the word church means a local assemply of believers or the world wide total of them is something that has to be seen from the context.

7. It is characteristic that though the word church is also met in plural, when it is used in the narrow sense (see ftn.5 above, and Galatians 1:21 for an example), the word "body", IS NEVER USED IN PLURAL for it denotes the ONE world wide body of Christ, THE (it is THE) church.

8. I Corinthians 11:3 makes clear Christ has also a head: God.

9. For a deeper consideration of I Corinthians 12:28-30 see section 3 of this article. Also see that apostle is a function in the body of Christ and not a title belonging only to the 12 Biblical apostles. Thus as for example there are teachers or evangelists today, so there may be apostles as well. None can preclude it.

10. These, as listed in I Corinthians 12:8-12 are: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues.

11. See the Greek lexicon of the On-line Bible.

12. Unfortunately, the NKJV has entirely missed the point here, translating this passage as "I wish that you all spoke with tongues". It is not "spoke" but "speak" ("lalein") in the Greek (see also the notes of the On-line Bible). God does not express a hypothetical wish here but something that He wants us, He desires us, to do NOW.

13.Otherwise, I John 1:5 would not tell us that He "is light and in Him is no darkness at all", for what else than dark points is to ask for something that at the same time you yourself deny to make it available.