Jn. 13:34 π Jn. 13:35 π Jn. 15:13 π Jn. 16:13 π Acts 7:48 π Acts 17:24 π 1 Cor. 11:20 π 1 Cor. 14:26 π Jas. 1:27 π Rev. 1:10
There are those who think that there is a perfect church. And the flippant advice often offered to these people is, "Don't join it - you'll ruin it!" The thought behind this flippant advice is that, supposing there were such a thing as a perfect church, if an imperfect person were to join it, then it would no longer be a perfect church. There is humor in this and a little bit of truth. But the underlying paradigm contains much more danger than does the advice given.
First, the word "church" is a deceptive word. It ought never to have been placed in the New Testament. The English word "church" is derived from the Greek word "kuriakos" which means "belonging to a lord or master." "Kuriakos" is only used twice in the New Testament: once to refer to the Lord's Supper ( 1 Cor. 11:20 ) and once to refer to the Lord's Day. ( Rev. 1:10; top ) Over the centuries, "kuriakos" developed into the English "church" and it came to mean "the house of the Lord."
In addition to "kuriakos," there were three other Greek words available to the writers of the New Testament to describe either the temple (the building or edifice) of God or the dwelling place (the home) of God. The first of these is "hieron" and refers to the physical structure. The second is "naos" and refers to the place where God lives. And the third is "oikos" and refers to the house or household of God. These words are used extensively throughout the New Testament and have very precise meanings.
However, the word used in the New Testament to describe the gathered body of believers is neither "kuriakos" nor "hieron" nor "naos" nor "oikos." It is "ekklesia" and it was "a common term for a congregation of the ekkletoi (a word not used in the New Testament), the called people, or those called out or assembled in the public affairs of a free state, the body of free citizens called together by a herald." (Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary) The appropriateness of this word must not be overlooked. The kingdom of God is indeed an assembly of individuals who are free citizens. We are freed from the bondages of sin and death so that we might truly and worshipfully obey our glorious King who gives no command that is not for our own good.
But because there was no direct English equivalent for ekklesia, the King James translators in 1611 used the word "church" as if it were an appropriate translation for "ekklesia." As a result, we have had centuries of confusion between recognizing the people of God as the ekklesia and not as the "house or building of the Lord." We have, on the basis of finding "the house of the Lord" within the pages of Scripture, assumed that we need to build a building in which to worship God. This is utter foolishness when we find it so clearly stated that God does not live in buildings made with human hands. ( Acts 7:48 ; 17:24; top ) And it becomes criminal against God whenever our purchase, manufacture or maintenance of this building (which God will never inhabit) interferes with or opposes our true relationship with Him. (see Jas. 1:27; top )
But let's suppose that we move past this deception and begin to look for the perfect ekklesia or, for lack of a direct English equivalent, the perfect assembly. What will be it's characteristics?
First, there will be genuine love for one another. Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another." ( Jn. 13:35; top ) He also said, "No greater love has anyone than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." ( Jn. 15:13; top ) And His new command (which replaces or supersedes the old command to "love your neighbor as you love yourself") is to "love one another as I have loved you." ( Jn. 13:34; top ) This love is neither superficial nor metaphysical nor metaphorical. It is genuine and practical. It is self-sacrificing, even unto death. If you find this kind of love present, you have found a functioning ekklesia.
Second, there will be no authoritarianism and there will be no focus on one man as the channel or conduit of all that God has to say to the people. That is, the ekklesia does not need one man to dominate the gatherings or the relationships between one another because one Man through His Spirit already dominates these things. There will be an interaction between all the people in the ekklesia, especially in the meetings, and there will be no reliance on one man to hear from God for all the people. Wherever you find one man trying to dominate the proceedings and others allowing him to do so, you have the makings of a pseudo-Christian cult, not a true ekklesia.
Third, there will be no church building. The ekklesia meetings (contrasted with evangelistic or apostolic meetings), if there are any, will be held in someone's home (probably the home of a man or couple recognized as being gifted with godly leadership). Any regular ekklesia meetings will only be the gatherings of individuals who have working relationships with the others in the group. If there are no such relationships, the meetings will be characterized by superficial religious nonsense and will have little to do with strengthening and building up one another. Allow the Lord to build up the relationships, though, and you will see the meetings take on their intended characteristic of building up the body of Christ in love.
Fourth, there will be little or no agenda for the meeting. There may be seasons where the group studies through a certain book of the Bible or tackles a specific concept, but that is the exception and not the rule. The best attitude to come with is that of expecting the Holy Spirit to move through each person as He sees fit. (see 1 Cor. 14:26; top ) To set up a program of singing first, followed by announcements, followed by a teaching is only to fall into one of the traps of becoming a hardened wineskin which cannot contain the flow of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is to be the one who directs the meeting - and while He is not to be restrained, He will always do things in an orderly manner. Wherever chaos or confusion starts to manifest itself or wherever the life of God begins to be squeezed out of the meeting, the Holy Spirit is no longer in control of the meeting - some man or woman is.
In some ways I feel the need to apologize for this description of the perfect assembly. It is so filled with what it is not that there is little of what it is. Yet I cannot apologize for this. This is just the result of centuries of being programmed by men in the church paradigm and not receiving the ekklesia revelation from God. Some of us have seen the perfect assembly and participated in them regularly. But the majority of people are so exposed to church that they have never even heard that there is so much as an ekklesia. Thus it is necessary to expose the church lies for what they are.
The most important differentiating aspect between church and ekklesia is in their authorship. Church is the house of a god - any god - and these buildings were in use long before the ekklesia was built by Christ. Church is an invention of the devil - something which careful research will allow you to confirm. Ekklesia is something which is built by Christ which the gates of hell, even in clever church disguise, cannot overcome.
Thus church is a place that saps the resources of individuals and families while providing a place of anonymous sinful living. Church is a place that ingrains 90% of the people with the ability to be a passively disobedient listener who feeds off the labors of the 10% who do truly seek the One they mistakenly believe to be the Lord of the house. Church is the place where autocrats and bullies forcibly maintain their own doctrines, creeds and status quo at the expense of the unity of the body of Christ. Church is indeed one of the gates of hell which chew up the unwary and unsuspecting.
Ekklesia, on the other hand, is the assembly of elders, deacons, apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers who carefully and lovingly tend the flock of God, the saints. They are the overseers, servants and saints who do the work of God's kingdom - that is, who work to establish, through the Holy Spirit, an atmosphere of righteousness, peace and joy. They are the soldiers who sacrifice their lives to penetrate all of hell's gates to liberate and rescue God's elect.
The truth is that church is a place of the dead who administer death. Only the Spirit gives life and wherever the Spirit has gone, only death can be imparted.
There are those who will object that the Spirit has not left their church - and they will be making a true statement. But what is being overlooked is twofold:
1) The gracious nature of God is such that He will come looking for us wherever we happen to be - and He is not surprised by our condition brought on by our own ignorance or rebellion. He reaches out to us in whatever condition He sees us in and commands us to repent and forsake those things which have kept us from Him.
2) The ability of God to turn evil things into beneficial things is often underestimated. The primary vehicle used at a church is communication. This is a two-way device. There is a speaker and there is a hearer. The speaker may be a complete apostate while the hearer is a genuine seeker of God. The hearer will be moved towards God even while the apostate is further confirmed in his damnation. Or the speaker may be a genuine (but misguided) worker for God and his hearers are confirmed apostates. The speaker will be moved towards God and his hearers will experience a further hardening of their hearts. The Holy Spirit is more than able to work in the hearts of sincere individuals even while the rest of the crowd is off on its own tangent - or even when the vast majority are running headlong off a cliff.
The Holy Spirit's work is to lead us into all truth. ( Jn. 16:13; top ) To do this, He must lead us out of all deceptions. All those areas of our lives built on lies and fabrications, no matter how comfortable we may be in them, must be destroyed if we are to continue to experience the purifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is returning for a spotless bride. Those who have only a few spots or blemishes are not spotless - and they are not the bride. Only those who have truly purified themselves in the blood of the Lamb will be spotless and are worthy to be called the bride.
There is soon coming a day - if it has not come already - when the Lord will pronounce the death of the church. On that day, men and women will still gather in church buildings. They will still have their Sunday morning "worship services" and mid-week "prayer meetings." They will still hear all their favorite teachers tell them what their itching ears want to hear - stories about God and about Jesus Christ that have no connection with the Spirit of truth who requires obedience to the Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. There will still be church- building programs and marketing schemes. There will still be "Sunday school" and "pastors" lording it over their flocks. Church will go on without interruption on the day the Lord declares it dead. And, in truth, the church-goers will not even be attempting to resuscitate anything because they will mistake their multitudes of programs and "ministries," their multiple activities, for signs of real life.
But the ekklesia will be gone from their midst. And the ekklesia will be busy about their Father's business, seeking the establishment of His kingdom rather than their own. And the church-goers will be envious and jealous and will persecute the ekklesia even unto death, thinking they are doing God a service.
Then will the righteous shine like the sun in a dark and perverse generation. And the true identity of the tares will be exposed for all to see as they are cast into the fire and burned with an everlasting fire.
The time to choose between being in the church or in the ekklesia is now.
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