Purpose of this Session
The subject of the Church is vast and comprises both the temporal aspects and the eternal aspects of the company of ‘called out’ ones referred to as the church (the Ecclesia). In these sessions we will focus on what Scripture teaches about the nature of the church, rather than specific models of church (although we may touch on these throughout the sessions), and the glorious calling we have been privileged to partake in: to corporately represent Christ in the earth, and spend eternity alongside Him in governance of the Created order.
- To revisit the essential foundations of the doctrine of the church, and uproot false ideas about its nature and calling.
- To recognise that the church is central to the plan of God, not parenthetical or secondary.
- To fall in love with the one whom Christ loves, despite her obvious failings and present shortcomings.
The church is called the ‘Ecclesia’ in the Scriptures, meaning ‘called out ones’. We will consider in broad outline what, or who, this called out company are, and the purpose of this calling in the plan of God for the ages and eternity.
1. The Ecclesia
Only twice in the gospels does Christ refer to ‘the church’ directly (Matthew 16:15-20 and 18:15-20) . Both times He calls it ‘the ecclesia’.
The New Testament word translated church is derived from two Greek words: ‘EK’ meaning “out of’, and ‘KALEO’ meaning “to call”.
In the classical understanding ‘ecclesia’ was a convened assembly of free citizens, called to assemble together to give consideration to matters of public interest. These matters included election and dismissal of magistrates and other officers, directing policy of the city, declaring war, making peace, contracting treaties and arranging alliances, assigning troops and raising and allocating funds.
The ‘ecclesia’ of God is a company of free citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, called together to hear God, and participate in His governance.
Jesus refers to this assembly as ‘My church (assembly of called out ones)’ in Matthew 16:18. This is not just any assembly of citizens, it is ‘His’ gathering, summoned by the trumpet call of the gospel to gather for worship, fellowship, and participation in God’s governance through Christ.
The church universal consists of those who have responded to God’s calling:
a. A calling out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2:9)
b. To a holy lifestyle worthy of such an honour (Ephesians 4:1)
c. To a hope (Ephesians 4:4)
d. To holiness (2 Timothy 1:9)
e. It is a high calling (Philippians 3:14)
f. It is a heavenly calling we partake of (Hebrews 3:1)
g. We are called to eternal glory in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 5:10)
h. We are called to His Kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:12)
i. It is a call to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom 8:29-30)
2. Two Aspects of the Church
The verses from Matthew spoken by Jesus reveal two aspects of the Church:
- What the Church IS NOT
For a further exploration of this subject the student is recommended Kevin J Conner’s book, ‘The Church in the New Testament’, City Bible Publishing, pp 9-11
According to Scripture the Church is NOT:
- The Church is not a Material Building
Not once in Scripture does the word ‘church’ in Scripture (used 140 times in the New Testament), refer to a material building. [Acts 19:37 refers to ‘robbers of churches’ but the word here is ‘Hierosulos’ meaning more accurately ‘temple buildings’].
With the death of Jesus, God forever finished with material tabernacles and temples. The true temple or dwelling place of God is now a living temple made up of living stones. The ecclesia is a spiritual house, a spiritual temple or building where God now dwells (1 Peter 2:4-5). It is an impossibility to ‘go to church’. Rather, the Church goes to a particular place or building to meet together and worship. The Church may meet in a building, but the building is NOT the Church.
- The Church is not a denomination, organisation or sect
Denominationalism, with all its names and divisions, is evidence of mankind’s carnality. (1 Cor 3:1-6). All that calls itself ‘church’ is not necessarily ‘His’ Church as spoken of in Matthew 16.
Within any given ‘denomination’ there may be many people who are not born again, and therefore do not belong to THE CHURCH at all. THE CHURCH comprises only of those individuals who are born again of God’s Spirit, whether they belong to an organisation of man’s making or not.
Certain denominations or sects claim to be THE CHURCH to the exclusion of all others. This is absurdity taken to its most prideful degree.
- The Church is not a nationalistic Enterprise
There is no England or Rome in the Kingdom of God, nor any other nationalistic division. THE CHURCH is composed of Believers from “every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation”. It is a new ethnic group, and new creation, a holy nation not of this world among the nations. All nationalistic distinctions cease to exist in Christ where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female, but one new creation in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)
- The Church neither replaces Israel nor extends it
The New Covenant in Christ is not merely an extension or progression of Judaism. In Christ the old order of the Mosaic economy was fulfilled and done away with in Christ, and an entirely new Creation came into being. Although Christianity was in a sense born out of Judaism, it is nevertheless unique and comprises in itself both Jew and Gentile into ‘One New Man’ (Ephesians 2:15). Both Jew and Gentile are called to participate through the new birth in this glorious new man, the spirit born nation called the ‘ecclesia’.
It must be stressed also however that the Church did not replace Israel in God’s plan and purpose. Some falsely claim that Israel’s rebellion and rejection of Christ nullified their Covenant place in God’s purposes, relegating them to no more than another political nation, no different to any other, and that they were entirely replaced by the Church in God’s Covenant purposes. This thinking also tends to assign all the Old Testament curses to disobedient and rejected Israel, yet claims all the blessings for the Church who supposedly replaced them. Romans 9-10-11 clearly refute such doctrine however, making it clear that God’s calling and commitment to His people Israel is no less binding than His love, call and commitment to His Ecclesia (which comprises within itself both born again Jews and born again Gentiles forever removing any wall of division). National Israel still has a special part to play in God’s Covenant purposes, and this needs to be recognised.
- The Church is not the Kingdom of God
The church is not the entirety of God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom comprises the entire universe, the Angelic hosts, as well as Old Testament and New Testament Saints. Although the Church is very much a part of God’s Kingdom, and integral to God’s plan and Kingdom extension and rule, it is not the Kingdom in totality. God’s Kingdom is all-inclusive, extending to all time and space. The church is for the present limited in time and space, under God’s direction and rule.
The Ecclesia is however God’s chosen vessel during this dispensation for the demonstration of His Kingdom in the earth.
- The Church is not a parenthetical plan of God
Some erroneous dispensational teachings state that when Israel rejected the King and His Kingdom, God took the Kingdom from them, and in the intervening time planned the church as a new thing. The teaching further states the Church will end in failure with only a remnant remaining faithful and in the end of days the Kingdom will be restored to Israel who will take up the gospel of the Kingdom. The Church however has never been a secondary plan of God, and was in His heart before the foundation of the world. The Church is indeed His eternal purpose, and this purpose has been worked out in time through out the ages.
- What the Church IS
for the Church
The Permitted Will of God
Denominations, divisions etc
The Church is the will and purpose of God
The Perfect Will of God
Paul the Apostle speaks in several places concerning ‘the mystery’ (Eph 1:9-11; 3:3-6; 5:32; Rom 11:25, 16:25). This mystery is the Ecclesia, a many membered spiritual Body comprising both Jew and Gentile. This was a mystery hidden for many centuries, sometimes glimpsed but never fully understood, until its inception after the death and resurrection of Christ.
The thing that is important for us to recognise here is that the Ecclesia was not a parenthetical plan of God, instituted at a late date in light of Israel’s failure, nor was it an accidental or incidental development in the divine history, but rather absolutely central to God’s will and plan for time and eternity. Before there ever was Jew or Gentile, the Ecclesia existed in the heart and mind of God.
According to Paul, the Ecclesia is the manifestation in time of God’s eternal purpose, which He purposed in Christ before the world began (Eph 3:11; 1:4,9-11).
It is also important to realise that although the Ecclesia is the perfect will of God, purposed before the foundation of the world, much of the history of this mystical body is not God’s perfect will. An example of God’s perfect and permissive will is revealed in the matter of divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19:3-9. God permitted divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts, not because it was His best and perfect will. Similarly, Isaac and Ishmael are a picture of God’s perfect and permitted will. God permitted the birth of Ishmael, and even though it was not His perfect will He still blessed the child. The same is true for denominationalism and the many divisions that are presently apparent in His people. God’s blessing is still evident despite our divisions. God’s eternal purpose and perfect will however will come to fulfilment as the Ecclesia is restored and perfected as we draw closer to the return of Christ.
Kevin Conner in ‘The Church In The New Testament’ pictures it thus:
Paul Billheimer’s book ‘Destined For the Throne’ presents a Cosmology (an explanation of the origin and purpose of the universe) which centres on the Church. He contends that “the one purpose of the entire universe is the production and preparation of an Eternal Companion for the Son, called the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife.” He highlights a fact that very few believers would disagree with when He says that Calvary is the central event of history, but then asks the question, what was the purpose of Calvary? It was to redeem to Himself the Church, to be His eternal companion. This was His purpose before and from the foundation of the universe, and was indeed the purpose they were brought into being. “All things (the entire cosmos) are working together” to see this eternal purpose come to ultimate fulfilment (Romans 8:28).
- The Church is the new ethnic – a Holy Nation
According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:32 there are basically three divisions in the human race:
“Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks (Gentiles) or to the church of God,” (1Corinthians 10:32)
In God’s mind there are three major groups within humanity: The Jews, the Nations and the Church. The Church is not a nationalistic enterprise, but an entirely new Creation comprising all who are born of God’s Spirit. God brought a nation into being (Israel) to bring forth the man (Christ Jesus), to bring forth the new nation – the Church (Ecclesia). The New Testament refers to this new nation as the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), the seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16,29) and a holy nation.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1Peter 2:9 NKJV)
In regard to the purpose of God and it’s fulfilment the Ecclesia will be:
The Ecclesia is an entity built by Christ Himself, the Architect and Head, on the rock of revelation (not on Peter as certain have tried to assert) – that Christ is the very Son of God, and upon relationship and obedience to Him (Luke 6:48-49; 1 Cor 3:9-15). Christ – WHO He is, WHAT He has done, all He has SAID, is the sole foundation upon which the Ecclesia is built. It is born of the Spirit and not the flesh.
i. Militant and Victorious
(Matthew 16:15-20 NKJV)
“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and
on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
ii. The Ecclesia is to be Unified
In John 17 Christ prayed several times that the Ecclesia would know and operate in the same spiritual unity present within the Godhead. As impossible as this may appear this prayer will be answered in full before the return of Christ.
- We are one Body, with many members (1 Cor 12:12,18)
- We have the same mind, speak the same thing, and have the same judgement (1 Cor 1:10)
- We are of one accord, with one heart and mind (Acts 1:14; 2:1,46; Phil 1:27; 2:2)
- The unity of the Godhead is manifested among us (John 17:19-26)
- The Ecclesia is to become the Perfect man, fully mature and manifesting the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Ephesians 4:12-16)
Sectarianism and divisions are works of the flesh, and are sinful. Christ, the Head, will sanctify wholly, and abolish all divisions from His Body before His return.
iii. The Ecclesia is to be glorious
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:” (John 17:22 NKJV)
The Companion and Bride for which Christ returns will not be a divided body of loosely connected but contentious believers, nor will it be a miserable remnant hanging on for dear life, but rather a glorious and vibrant Body, passionately in love with the Bridegroom, and manifesting that love and power among themselves.
- The Ecclesia carry the glory of God within themselves, just a Christ Himself did (John 17:22)
- We are being sanctified and continually cleansed and perfected by the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26)
- We are to be presented to Christ as a glorious company, without spot, wrinkle or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27)
- We are holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27)
- We are members of His body, of His flesh, of His bones and one glorious spirit with Christ (Ephesians 5:30; 1 Cor 6:17)
Jesus will not be unequally yoked, but joined to One like Himself, a glorious Bride.
5. Symbols, Types and names of the Ecclesia
The New Testament Ecclesia is both prophesied and typified in the Old Testament.
- All nations will be blessed by the Seed of Abraham (Gen 22:18)
- All kindreds and nations will worship the Lord (Psalm 22:27-28)
- In the last days all nations will flow to the house of God (Isa 2:2-3)
- The Gentiles will seek the Root of Jesse (Isa 11:10)
- Many nations will be sprinkled with Messiah’s blood (Isa 52:15)
- The Name of the Lord will be great among the Gentiles (Mal 1:11)
- Many nations will be joined to the Lord (Zech 2:11)
- In His name the Gentiles will trust (Matthew 12:21)
Old Testament symbols and types of Ecclesia
Many people see numerous typical representations of Christ in the Old Testament, but fail to see His Church therein. The following are some of the symbols and types of the Ecclesia as revealed in the Old Testament:
- Adam and Eve Genesis 2-3
Christ and His Bride Eph 5:23-32; Rom 5:14
- The Tabernacle & The Temple Ex 25-40; 2 Chron 2-7
Ecclesia – Dwelling place & Temple of God Eph 2:19-22
- Israel – the ecclesia in the wilderness Acts 7:38
Ecclesia – the called out ones
- Israel – a kingdom of priests, a holy nation,
set apart for God’s purposes Ex 19:1-6
Ecclesia – a royal priesthood, a holy nation 1 Peter 2:5-10
- Israel – the typical bride of Jehovah Isa 54
Ecclesia – the Bride of Christ Eph 5:23-32; Rev 21
- Israel – the Flock of God Jer 23; Ezek 34
Ecclesia – The Flock of The Great Shepherd John 10; 1 Pet 5:2
- Israel – God’s witness in the earth Isaiah 43:10
Ecclesia – God’s witnesses in the earth Acts 1:8; 2Cor 5:20
- Israel - God’s Vineyard Isaiah 5:7
Ecclesia – God’s husbandry (farm) 1 Corinthians 3:9
- Israel – God’s inheritance Isaiah 19:25
Ecclesia – God’s heritage 1 Peter 5:3
New Testament pictures of Ecclesia
There are many symbols and pictures that the New Testament gives us that help us understand the nature, character and composition of the Ecclesia. As well as those already recorded above in our explanation of Old Testament types. These include:
- The House of the Lord, a holy Temple, the habitation of God
Hebrews 3:6; 1Pet 2:5; 1Tim 3:15; Ephesians 2:21-22
- The Sons of God
Romans 8:16-19; John 1:12-14; 1 John 3:1-2
- A Royal Priesthood
Revelation 1:6; 5:9-10; 1 Peter 2:5-9
- The seed of Abraham (children of promise)
Galatians 3:16,29; 4:28
- The Assembly or Ecclesia (church) of the Firstborn
Col 1:18; Hebrews 12:22-24
- A Holy Nation 1 Peter 2:5-9
- The Body of Christ 1 Cor 12:27; Ephesians 4:12
- The Bride of Christ Ephesians 5:23-32
- The Vine and Branches John 15
- The Light of the World Matthew 5:14; John 8:12
- A City set on a hill Matthew 5:14; Hebrews 11:10-16
- God’s Chosen People 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Cor 6:16;
- A Peculiar Treasure/People 1 Peter 2:5-9; Exodus 19:3-6
- The Righteousness of God 2 Corinthians 5:21
- The Army of God Ephesians 6:10-18; 2Tim 2:3-4
- The family of God Eph 3:14-15; Gal 6:10; 1 Pet 3:8
Take 5 minutes to discuss as a class what these pictures/symbols reveal about the Ecclesia. If you are in a large class divide into groups with each group looking at 3-4 different symbols/images then feeding their findings back to the class.
Names and titles attributed to the Ecclesia
Throughout the New Testament various names are given to the Church, the most common being simply ‘Ecclesia’ which is used about 114 times, 96 speaking of the local church in a particular region, and 18 speaking of the universal church comprising all believers.
The Ecclesia is also called:
i. The Church of Christ Romans 6:16
ii. The Church(es) of God 1 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 1:2
iii. The Church of the Firstborn Heb 12:23
iv. The Church of the Living God 1 Tim 3:15
v. The Church in the Father and in Christ 2 Thess 1:1
vi. The Body of Christ (the anointed one) 1 Cor 12:27
vii. The Christ (the Anointed one) 1 Cor 12:12
- The Atonement – Module 6 – What was the cost of bringing the Ecclesia into existence?
- New Testament Overview sessions – The life and correspondence of the early Ecclesia.
Suggestions for Further Study
- Take some time to meditate on what it really means to be the Body of Christ, and to be the habitation of God’s Spirit.
- Think about how the truths of this session should look when lived out in genuine community with other members of Ecclesia.