The Assembly

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Mt. 7:1 π Mt. 13:38-39 π Mt. 23:8 π Jn.17:20-21 π Acts 7:48 π Acts 17:24 π Acts 19:10-11 π Acts 19:19-20 π Acts 19:21 π Acts 19:23-28 π Acts 19:29 π Acts 19:29-31 π Acts 19:32; 2nd; 3rd π Acts 19:39 π Acts 19:41 π 1 Cor. 11:20 π Gal. 4:4-5 π 1 Tim. 4:13 π 2 Tim. 2:15 π Heb. 10:25 π 1 Pet. 2:4-5 π Rev. 1:10

Religion continues to do the greatest disservice to a true understanding of what the Bible teaches. One of the clearest instances of this is found in "church." By that, I mean the word "church." Inserting this word into the English Bible is quite possibly the worst word choice in the history of translating written works from one language to another.

An often overlooked fact is that Christ came in "the fullness of time." ( Gal. 4:4-5; top ) One of the preparations that God worked in the world in anticipation of Christ's coming was the Greek language. For the first time since the tower of Babel, mankind had a common tongue. And not only was it a common tongue, but according to some scholars it was "the richest and most delicate that the world has seen...the language which can best express the highest thoughts and worthiest feelings of the intellect and heart." (The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Conybeare and Howson). So, as we look at how English words have replaced the Greek words in our time, let us understand that God considered the Greek language as the best option for conveying the meanings He had in mind to His people. Let us be careful, then, to find out, as best we can, what those words meant in their original definition and context.

Let me briefly lay out the history of how this word "church" came to be in the English Bible. The word "church" traces its history back to the Greek word "kuriakon" which simply means "of the Lord" or "belonging to a lord." This word "kuriakon" only appears twice in the New Testament, once to refer to the Lord's day ( Rev. 1:10 ) and once to refer to the Lord's supper. ( 1 Cor. 11:20; top ) That's it. But yet we find the word "church" in the New Testament over 100 times.

How did this happen? Well, in 1611 when the King James Bible was written, the common conception was that of a building - a monastery, a cathedral or a chapel - in which one met God, talked of the things of God, listened to messages from the priests, the "men of God." All this was associated with the "house of the Lord," the "church," a very religious word. But because there was no English equivalent for the word most used by the New Testament writers to describe what Christ built, the translators chose the word "church" to be a suitable representation. Unfortunately, "church" as "the house of the Lord" is not the original meaning of the word that the writers of the New Testament used and it has only introduced confusion into the ranks of the believers over the centuries.

The word the New Testament writers used was "ekklesia." But before we look at exactly what that word means, let us also consider what other words the New Testament writers rejected as being descriptive of what it was they had become after the Spirit of God came upon them and began to move them in His order.

One of the words they rejected was "sunagoge." This is "synagogue," the meeting place of the Jews which had its conceptual origins during the Babylonian captivity of Israel. The synagogue is a product of men's minds and is never presented at all in Scriptures - neither Old nor New Testament - as a way to worship God. It had such connotations of buildings, schools and rabbis (teachers) that the writers of the New Testament did not feel that this described what Christ was doing in their time. For God did not live in buildings made with hands. ( Acts 7:48 ; 17:24; top ) And while there were elements of the gospel that required reading and studying ( 1 Tim. 4:13 ; 2 Tim. 2:15 for example; top), the emphasis was on living the gospel and not on simply knowing the gospel as a philosophy or way of thinking. And while there is a gifting of teacher, Jesus specifically told His disciples to call no man "Rabbi" or "Teacher," indicating they were to avoid exalting one man's wisdom or knowledge over the rest. ( Mt. 23:8; top ) So the word "sunagoge" just had too much baggage to be appropriate for what Christ was doing in their midst.

Another word they neglected to use was "kuriakon." This is the word that became "church." That word was certainly available to them - they used it twice in the New Testament! But they did not use it because it simply meant "of the Lord." It had none of the connotations it would have in 1611 or today. "Kuriakon" had none of those connotations because there were three other Greek words which had the connotation of "the house of the Lord" or "the temple of the Lord." First, there was "hieron" which refers to the physical structure. Second there was "naos" which refers to the place where God lives. And third there was "oikos" which refers to the house or household of God. All of these are used throughout the New Testament but never with the same intention or meaning of "ekklesia."

But let's look at the significance of the very existence of these words. These were words which are much closer in meaning to "church" as we use it today and they were quite available to the writers of the New Testament - they even used them extensively in the New Testament. But they did not use them to refer to what Christ was building in His people! This suggests to me that we need to abandon the concepts of "church" and seek, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to rediscover what the New Testament writers had in mind by "ekklesia." And perhaps one of the simplest ways to start this process is to reintroduce the Greek word, ekklesia, into our vocabulary. Thus it is possible to speak of the man-made, deceptive "church" lies and false practices without ever referring to the spiritually-edifying, Christ-glorifying practices of the true ekklesia of Christ. The words "church" and "ekklesia" have such differing and often opposing meanings that this separation is valid. But because "church" is so ingrained into our thinking, it is not always possible to keep straight which church is being referred to, the true or the counterfeit.

Let us now look at this word "ekklesia." The first thing that ought to strike us is that it is not even a religious word! It comes to us from the realms of politics! The words from which ekklesia is derived are not even found in the New Testament. The verb from which this word derives is "ekkaleo"and it means "to call out." The people who were so called out, most often by a herald announcing a gathering, were referred to as the "ekkletoi." When the "ekkletoi" came together as a group to attend to the affairs of their city, they became the "ekklesia," the assembly of the called out people.

This word is rich in meaning for the believer. No longer is there the need to look for a specialized building in which one will find God or the people of God - the believer is the house of God! No longer does a believer need to be surrounded by four walls and wrongfully "protected" from the doctrines and beliefs of others by the divisive doors of the "church" building. No longer is a believer loaded down with the heavy burden of dressing up and enduring 52 lifeless sermons a year on Sunday morning. No! He is free to live the abundant life of Christ by taking the message of the kingdom of Christ into his own world, to his family, his friends, his neighbors, his associates. Oh, the liberty of the ekklesia in contrast to the bondages of "church"!

But God did not leave us with just Greek dictionaries and scholars to point this out to us. He left it plainly in the New Testament. In addition to all the appearances of the word "church" in the place of "ekklesia," there are three instances where the word "assembly" is used in the King James Bible. (One wonders why the translators didn't use "assembly" throughout as it represents at least a closer approximation to "ekklesia.") These three instances represent an exceptionally clear example of what the ekklesia was in that day - and if we will but recognize the simple meaning associated with that word in its original context, we can draw from it parallels to show how Christ's ekklesia ought to be now, parallels which will enable us to discard the modern miasmic "church" paradigm and embrace the eternal perspectives of the ekklesia.

The background to this episode regarding the assembly is when Paul was in Ephesus. He was there for two years and, during that time, God worked unusual miracles there through Paul. ( Acts 19:10-11; top ) "Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed." ( Acts 19:19-20; top ) So, Paul, under the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit, was causing no small disruption to the spiritual environment and the religious status quo of Ephesus, a fact we will look at in more detail.

At the end of those two years though, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem and, from there, on to Rome. ( Acts 19:21; top ) And since Paul's journey was to be a work of God, Satan stirred up a response. Just as Paul was preparing to leave, Luke (the author of Acts) records:

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: "Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship." And when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" ( Acts 19:23-28; top )

Let us note some things before we go on. Demetrius has stirred up the craftsman of Ephesus because they are losing their livelihood, their income, their level of comfortable living. Then, for good measure, to give everyone a feeling of righteous zeal, he then makes claims about worshiping Diana. This manages to get the crowd moving. Let's look at what happens next.

So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's travel companions. And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. ( Acts 19:29-31; top )

Let us again note something before continuing. Notice here that "the whole city" rushed into the theater with one accord. This will become important in a moment.

Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. ( Acts 19:32; top )

Did you catch that? The assembly, the "ekklesia," was confused. The gathering of the ekkletoi, the people called out by Demetrius, who had rushed into the theater with one accord. Now this is not to say that this is a good example of how Christ's ekklesia should meet, but let us note with great care what Luke considered "ekklesia" to be. It was the assembly of the citizens of the whole city. It was not just the division of the silversmiths or the craftsmen. It was "the whole city" (v. 29 ) in "assembly" (v. 32; top ) that Luke calls the "ekklesia."

Thus the modern notion of a church, with its four walls, its doors, its "pastor"-pope, its pulpit and pews, its weekly meetings and its own doctrinal distinctives which divide it from the other believers in the same town, could not possibly be confused with the ekklesia of the New Testament. And again, although Luke's description of the Ephesian political ekklesia is not a good example of how Christ's ekklesia should meet, I find his description ironically applicable to most "church" meetings of today. They were "confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together." (v. 32; top )

Oh, the richness of that! Most people who go to church today are indeed confused and don't know why they have come together. They think they are coming to meet the Lord of the house - but it's not His house! That building will never be His house. Some of the people meeting within that building are portions of His house, but the structure and ritual of the "church" building prevents them from having real interaction with those other living stones in His spiritual house. (see 1 Pet. 2:4-5; top ) No, they are forced to take whatever the man in the pulpit hands them for an hour or so and then they are expected to leave. The only time all the living stones are together in one place, they are not expected nor often permitted to do anything with or to one another! This is blatantly contradictory to the New Testament which contains nearly 60 different commands regarding "one anothering"!

The confusion continues because they think this meeting, in which no "one anothering" could possibly occur, is the "assembling together" that God requires when nothing could be further from the truth! The "assembling together" that God requires ( Heb. 10:25; top ) is "episunagoge" in the Greek. It combines the word "sunagoge," "synagogue, assembly" with the preposition "epi," "to." One must be assembled to something else. In this case, it is Christ Himself, present in the persons of the other believers around us, that we are assembled to. The idea is not that of a haphazard bunch of loose parts lying around helter skelter. Rather, it is the assembly, the putting together of those parts, to form a working unit, a body that takes its commands directly from the Head, Christ Jesus, that is the "assembling together" which God requires. That has almost nothing to do with a Sunday morning meeting in which people sit quietly in a pew or chair and take directions from a man who has positioned himself somewhere between the people and God!

And, please hear this - there really is no place for uni-directional speaking and meetings in the New Testament. Even when some traveling messenger arrives, his work, like everyone else's, is supposed to help bring out the truths God has already implanted in each one's hearts. There is no place for either local or traveling super-stars in the real body of Christ. The lecture format foisted upon the congregation by the pulpit-and-pew design of the "church" building is not to be found in the Scriptures and it certainly is not to be the consistent, regular feeding habits of the sheep. Oh, the confusion that is upon the people of God right now!

In the conclusion of the story in Acts, the city clerk eventually stands up and quiets the crowd. He tells them that any grievance between Demetrius and anyone else would have to be settled in the courts. And then he says to the people, "But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly (ekklesia)... And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly (ekklesia)." ( Acts 19:39 , 41; top ) Oh, what a different picture this is of the ekklesia than our modern notions of "church"!

We, as the body of Christ, need to hear from God what He thinks the body of Christ ought to be. Over the centuries, the people of Christ have been ravaged, robbed and deceived out of their rightful inheritance in Christ by many "church" practices. Chief among these are the divisiveness brought on by the various sects and denominations of "Christianity." From the time of the Roman Catholic "church" to the Lutheran "church" to the non-denominational "churches" of today, any group that puts any descriptive or distinctive word in front of or behind the word "church" is acting outside of God's plan and pattern for the ekklesia of Christ and is, in fact, divisively destructive to the body of Christ. The only type of words that are used in the New Testament to distinguish one ekklesia from another was the name of a city! There is absolutely no basis in Scripture for the notion of a "church of the sprinklers" meeting in a different place than the "church of the dunkers." There is no place for a "church of the pre-tribbers" snobbing their Christian brothers and meeting elsewhere than with the post-tribbers. There is no room for a "church of the dispensationalists" and the "church of the non- dispensationalists." There is not even room left in Scripture for a "non-denominational" denomination! In "my town" there is only the church, the ekklesia of "my town"! Period. There can only be one!

We have failed to recognize the importance that Christ Himself attached to the oneness of His body. It is by our oneness that the world will recognize that Christ came from the Father Jesus said in His prayer to the Father, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." ( Jn.17:20-21; top ) Note this carefully! What is it that will convince the world that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? When all those who claim to be His are one! We dare not trivialize this need for walking in the unity of the Spirit.

Those who continue to perpetuate their own distinctive "church" empires need not be looked upon as true leaders within the body of Christ. Though we dare not pass final judgment upon them as individuals ( Mt. 7:1; top ), we can easily see that their fruit of division and confusion qualifies them to be regarded as nothing but tares among the wheat, a classification of men whom Jesus Himself called "sons of the devil." ( Mt. 13:38-39; top ) If they choose to repent and forsake their divisive and confusing actions which destroy so many of the sheeps' lives, then we can receive them as true brothers in the Lord at that time. And indeed, we, the body of Christ, are eager to do so.

Only those leaders who recognize the inescapable unity of the body of Christ - and by recognize I do not mean speak of it as some appealing doctrine that tickles ears but rather those who actively promote and practice the total unity of all genuine believers in one locale - are the ones we need to listen to. All others claiming to be leaders in the body of Christ are merely deceivers. Don't be fooled.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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