What Is The Church?
There is much division today over the concept of the church. Before an accurate assessment of the Holy Spirit's work can be given, an accurate statement of the doctrine of the church must be decided upon. It would be impossible to proceed with a subject such as this one without first of all having a thorough, Biblical definition of the Church as it is found in the New Testament. Thus, this first section of the paper will be devoted to determining a proper, Biblical definition of the word church.
The word "church' as found in the English Bible, is translated from the Greek word "ecclesia". Lindell and Scott define ecclesia as "an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned, the legislative assembly."(1) Herman Cremer, in his Greek lexicon, refers to ecclesia as, "the common term for a congregation of the ekketol (the called ones),
assembled in the public affairs of a free state; the body of free citizens summoned together by a herald."(2) Thayer's lexicon defines ecclesia as, "an assembly of people convened at the public place of council
for the purpose of deliberating."(3) Thus, it immediately becomes apparent
that the original, classical definition of ecclesia involved a public gathering of citizens.
However, simply because a word has a specific classical meaning, this does not necessitate it having the same meaning in literature over the years. Thus, the use of the word ecclesia should be examined throughout the Scriptures themselves. The first area which should be examined is the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. It uses the word ecclesia about one hundred times. Each of these times it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word "qahal". This is very important in determining the meaning of ecclesia, because there are two different Hebrew words used for a gathering of the people of Israel. These words are "qahal' and "edhah".
These two words were so far coincident in meaning that in many cases they might apparently be used indifferently; but... they were not strictly synonymous. "'edhah" is properly, when applied to Israel, the society itself, formed by the children of Israel... whether assembled or not assembled. On the other hand "oahal" is properly their meeting together: hence we have a few times the phrase "qahal 'edhah"' "the assembly of the congregation"(4)
Had the Septuagint writers used ecclesia as a translation of the word "'edhah", then an excellent argument could be given for a universal concept. However, this word is only used in translations of "qahal" which generally means a group which is properly meeting together. There
are instances in the Old Testament however when "qahal" is used in a broader sense. From this fact some have inversely and most illogically inferred that since
"qahal" sometimes means the whole Israelitish people and is sometimes translated by ecclesia, therefore ecclesia must always take on a like breadth of meaning. Reference to the LXX, however, will show that the Greek translators of the Old Testament, so far from encouraging such an implication, have carefully precluded it. For when "qahal" has the broad sense it is never translated by ecclesia, but by another Greek word.(5)
This statement shows that the translators of the Septuagint were very careful in their word selection. They took great care to prove conclusively that their usage of ecclesia was in no wise tied to a universal concept, but was rather always representative of a local, visable, organized entity .
H.E. Dana sums up this discussion effectively with these words:
There are three facts about the Septuagint use of ecclesia, and the Old Testament use of "qahal" which are important to us in a study of the church. (1) It is never contemplated as a spiritual fact, independent of spatial and temporal limitations. (2) The assembly (ecclesia) of Israel as a peculiar possession of Jehovah was contemplated as an ideal conception, but having its only literal counterpart in a definite gathering of the people. (3) The word came, especially in the interbiblical period, to denote a local gathering for purposes of worship.(6)
Having discussed the use of ecclesia in the Septuagint, it is now necessary to determine its uses in the New Testatment. The word ecclesia appears 115 times in the Textus Receptus. Of these 115 appearances it is translated by the word church 112 times and bv the word assembly three times, all in Acts 19.(7) For the purposes of discussion,
these various appearances will be broken down into several different classifications.
The first class of uses for ecclesia is the plural usage. This occurs thirty-six times in the Greek New Testament. An example of this is found in Romans 16:4, which reads, "Who have for my life laid down
their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles." I Thessalonians 2:1: furnishes another example of this usage. Paul writes, "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus." It is obvious from the structure and content of these verses that the churches referred to here are local and visable, not mystical or spiritual.
The second class of uses for ecclesia involves those passages in which the location of the ecclesia is given in the context. This usage is found twenty-two times in the Greek New Testament. An example of this can be found in Acts 13:1. Here Luke writes, "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers." Another example is found in Colossians 4:l6, which states, "and when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans." Both these passages plainly teach, as do all those in this class, that the word ecclesia in this context refers to a local, visable assembly.
In three instances the word ecclesia is accompanied by the words "every" or "no". An example of this is found in Philippians 4:l5. Paul writes, "When I departed from Macedonia no church communicated with me." Here again the context clearly shows a local assembly. In four instances ecclesia is in a context that denotes coming together. This is shown in I Corinthians 11:18 which reads, "For first of all, when ye come together in the church..." Again this is an obvious reference to the local, visable, organized assenbly.
Eight times in the book of I Corinthians the word ecclesia is used to refer to the Corinthian church. An example of this is found in the fourth verse of the sixth chapter. It reads, "If then ye have judgements of things partaining to this life, set them to judge who are
the least in the church," This is an obvious reference to the local
assembly in Corinth, not a universal idea. In the book of Acts there are seven references to the church at Jerusalem. One of these is Acts 15:22 which states, "Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church..." Again, there is no question in the reader's mind as to the fact that this is referring to a local assembly. There are a number of other instances in the New Testament which teach a local church. Thus, out of the 115 occurences of the word church, ninty-two of them are unquestionably speaking about a local assembly.(8) Generally speaking, all scholars, whether universal church oriented or not, accent these instances of ecclesia as meaning an assembly.
It has been shown that ninty-two out of 115 appearances of the word ecclesia are unquestionably speaking of an assembly. However, for the sake of argument, it would be beneficial to investigate some passages which are not so widely accepted as referring to local churches, and dealing with them. It is here that an important hermeneutical principle should be mentioned. This principle is: if the literal sense makes common sense, seek no other sense. This means that if the literal meaning of the word being analyzed makes good sense within the context of
the verse, then that literal sense should be accepted and no new or different sense should be sought. It has already been shown that the literal sense of the word ecclesia is a local, visable assembly. Looking at the subject in this light, an examination of so called controversial passages should be made.
There are three such passages in the sections of the New Testament which deal with Paul's persecution. One of these is found in Galatians 1:13, which reads, "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jew's religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it." Some who espouse a universal church position believe this to indicate the church as being all believers. However, a simple view into Paul's history gives a plain answer.
So far as the Scriptures reveal, Paul never persecuted but one church-the church at Jerusalem. It was a 1arge church composed of several thousand people, and Paul "made havoc" of it, scattering it all over the country. His persecution affected one local, visable assembly the church at Jerusalem.(9)
Thus, those verses which relate to Paul's persecution of the ecclesia do not indicate a universa1 church, but a loca1 assembly.
Ephesians 1:22-23 has often been used as a proof text for a universal concept in the word ecclesia. Here Paul writes, "and hath put all things under his feet and gave him to be the head over all
things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." This must be examined in light of the previously mentioned hermeneutical principle. Does the statement "and gave him to be the head over all things to the local assembly, which is his body," make sense? Yes, it does, particularly in the light of I Corinthians 10:27 where Paul says to the Corinthian church, "Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular." Although the King James Version uses the definite article with "body", the article does not appear in the Textus Receptus. Thus, Paul is telling the Corinthians that they are a body of Christ. If they are a body, this wording would seem to indicate that there was more than one body. It becomes apparent then that Paul is identifying each local assembly as a body of Christ. With this in mind, Ephesians 1:22-23 is obviously using ecclesia to mean a local, visable assembly.
One passage which is often used to prove a universal concept in the word ecclesia is found in Ephesians 5:22- 32. Here ecclesia is found six times. In each instance, the literal sense translation "local assembly" makes perfect sense. For example, verse 23 would read, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the local assembly." There is nothing contextually wrong with that statement. Verse 25 would read, "Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the local assembly." Again, there is no contextual problem with this. A final example occurs in verse 27, which would read, ''That he might present it to himself a glorious local assembly, not having spot or wrinkle". Again, a logical statement has been constructed. At this point the hermeneutical principle should be reiterated: If the literal sense makes common sense, seek no other sense. It is obvious that the literal meaning of ecclesia makes common sense in all these passages. Thus there is no reason to add an additional meaning to the word.
It can be seen from the above quoted Scriptures that the word ecclesia applies to a local, visable, assembly. There is no place in Scripture where a universal church concept is taught. The Septuagint clearly shows that all uses of ecclesia apply to a local assembly. In the New Testament, all scholars generally agree that ninty-two out of 115 appearances of the word ecclesia refer to a local assembly. And having used the herneneutical principle, it has been shown that other verses which are used as proof texts for the universal church advocates really refer to a local assembly. There is no evidence in the Bible which leads to the application of a universal church concept to ecclesia. The classical meaning of a local assembly still holds true. The ecclesia is a local, visable assembly.
Who then made up the church? It was (and is) made up of immersed believers. Let it suffice to say that the New Testament knows of no individual who was a church member and was not saved and baptized. Acts 2:41 states, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." This shows that people who received Christ got baptized, and then joined the ecclesia. Perhaps the best evidence of this is found in Matthew 28:19-20. Christ commanded His disciples to go and win the lost. Then after salvation, the converts were to be baptized. Finally, they were to be taught. Where would they be taught? The obvious answer is the ecclesia. Thus, it is seen from Scripture that the New Testament ecclesia, or the church of today, is a local, visable assembly of baptized believers.
The Holy Spirit and the Church
The ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through the church is an important, but often neglected subject. There are several passages of Scripture which deal with this ministry of the Holy Spirit, and they should be examined so as to provide a proper understanding of His work. It should be mentioned here that although the church is made up of individual members, it is not the Spirit's ministry through the individuals which is being discussed here. The Spirit's work through and to the church is being examined.
The first ministry of the Holy Spirit is that of giving comfort to the church. Acts 9:31 states,
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
The Holy Spirit was referred to by Christ as the Comforter in John 14:16, when Jesus promised Him to the disciples. However, from Acts 9:31 it becomes apparent that His comfort is also given to the church. The Spirit's ministry is one of counsel in addition to comfort. The
word translated Comforter and comfort carries with it the idea of one
who comes along to aid or offer advice.(10) Thus, following Saul's escape from Jerusalem, the churches were edified and moved forward in the fear of the Lord and in the counsel of the Holy Spirit. It was His counselling and comforting ministry which led the church and edified the church and caused it to multiply. Thus, the comforting and counselling ministry of the Spirit to the church is one which is very important. If churches are to be multiplied, then the counsel of the Holy Spirit must
Acts 13:2 shows another area of the Spirit's ministry through the church. This verse reads, "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." The first item which should be noticed about this verse is the fact that the "they" which is mentioned refers to the prophets anl teachers of the church at Antioch. This is plainly taught in verse one: "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers...". These are the ones who are mentioned in verse two. They were the men of the church. Thus, the Holy Spirit worked through the church to send out missionaries. Verse four states that Barnabas and Saul, "being sent forth by the Holy Ghost", departed. The Holy Spirit sent these missionaries, but He did it through the church, not through Saul and Barnabas personally. Thesc two men were in the church of Antioch. God spoke to the church to send then out, and they were sent. Thus, a second ministry of the Holy Spirit is to lead the church in the selection of missionaries and other servants of God, and the sending out of those selected.
A third passage which deals with the Spirit's work in the church is found in Acts 20:25. Here Paul ls speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus and he tells them, "Take heed, thereto, unto yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Paul's statement indicates that the church was given its elders by the Holy Spirit. This then is another of His ministries to the church. A man does not go to a church as a pastor by his own volition. Neither does the church choose a pastor of their own volition. But rather the Holy Spirit chooses who He wills to be the pastors and leaders of the church. Conversely, it must be assumed that, were it not for the ministry of the Spirit over the church, no church would have an overseer, or pastor. The Holy Spirit then has the ministry of providing churches with pastors so that they may have leadership in their service for God.
A different relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church is taught by Paul in Ephesians two. Verses 19-22 state:
Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; In whom ye also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Paul here is speaking of the church. In verse sixteen he mentions that Christ reconciled both Jews and Gentiles unto God "in one body". It has been shown from I Corinthians 12:27 that the body of Christ is the local church. Also, it is apparent from the context of the passage that Paul is speaking of the church. He speaks of the believers together being built upon a solid foundation, with Christ as the cornerstone. This is an obvious reference to the church. Then Paul refers to the building being framed together, just as a carpenter erects a building, using different materials but molding them together into a finished product.(11) Then he gives one of the reasons for having a church at all. He says that the believers are built together "for an habitation of God through the Spirit." The church is actually the habitation of God on earth. While it is true that the Holy Spirit indwells all believers (John 14:7), it appears from this verse that the church serves as an additiona1 dwelling place of the Spirit. What does this additional dwelling place
signify? It seems apparent from Scripture that the fact that the habitation of the Spirit is the church must give to the church a special
power or influence which is not extended to mere believers.
It is the opinion of this author that the church is endowed with the real power of the Holy Spirit. Acts chapter two is the best exanple of this. In this chapter, the Holy Spirit filled the church members for service. Some may argue that it was only the disciples who were filled. This is not the case. Luke 24:33 states that the eleven disciples were gathered together with other individuals. Christ informed all of them to wait at Jerusalem until they were "endued with power from on high" (verse 49). This they did in Acts 1:12-26. In fact, verse fifteen of this chapter indicates that there were 120 men and women meeting and praying in Jerusalem. This was the local church. Then, when they were together, the Holy Spirit endued them with power in Acts chapter two. It is interesting to note that no individuals in Acts two are mentioned as receiving this power without being in the church. When the power came upon the church, thousands were saved. Thus, the church, as the habitation of the Spirit, is the power for the Christian. The Christian outside the church has no power. Christ said that the gates of Hell should not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). Thus, the church is on the offense. This offensive power comes from the Holy Spirit's habitation within the church. An example of this can be found in a common electrical outlet. The outlet can be fully functional, but unless it is hooked up to the generator, the light plugged into it will not come on. The same is true of the Christian. He can be fully functional as to his knowledge of the Bible, but if he is not plugged into the church, which is the source of the power of God through
the Spirit, he will be unable to be of any useful service. Thus, one of the major functions of the Spirit is to inhabit the church and empower it.
Revelation 2:7 teaches another ministry of the Spirit. It reads, ''He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This again indicates that God's leadership and direction come to the church. The Spirit did not speak to individuals. He spoke to the churches. Thus, the church is the recipient of the Spirit's instruction. By practical implication this means that Christians need to be in the church in order to receive what God has for them. "He that hath an ear" is to listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The only way to hear is through the church. Romans 10:14 states "and how shall they hear without a preacher." The Holy Spirit uses the church as His instrument for proclaiming the Word.
The final relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church involves the giving of spiritual gifts. This discussion is found in the twelfth chapter of I Corinthians. Verses twelve through twenty-eight teach the doctrine of the church, which makes it obvious that the spiritual gifts being discussed are found in the church. Verse twenty-eight states, "And God hath set some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversites of tongues." This clearly shows that the gifts are for the church. The Holy Spirit is the One who gives these gifts. Verse four reads, "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." Verses eight through twelve list the various gifts. These match closely with the list quoted above from verse twenty-eight. Thus, the Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church which enables it to march forward and do the Lord's service. If an individual is not in the church, he will be unable to effectively use those gifts which would empower him for serving the Lord.
There are two other relations between the Spirit and the body which should be mentioned from this chapter. First of all, the Spirit leads into church membership through baptism (I Corinthians 12:13). Secondly, the Spirit unifies the body. (I Corinthians 12:406, 13). While these are important ministries, they are very self-explanitory and will not be discussed extensively here.
The relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church is a vital one. The local church is God's instrument to win the world to Himself. The Spirit is the energy of the church. Individual Christians are indwelt by the Spirit, but they do not receive the power outside of the church. The church is the habitation of the Spirit. The church is given gifts by the Spirit. The church is unified, taught and comforted by the Spirit. The Spirit calls the church to send out Christian leaders. These are the varied ministries of the Holy Spirit to and through the church. Practically speaking, if the individual Christian wants power with God, he must be in the church, for that is where the power of God is to be found.