As our men’s group dives into the book of Colossians, we’ve come across the end of chapter 1 where the preeminence of Jesus Christ is declared over all creation, and over the church. This prompted me to look into what the Bible says about the church. Of course, the whole New Testament is about the church in a great sense. Nevertheless, this article focuses particularly in all the instances in which the original Greek word ‘ekklesia’ –which is translated into English “church”, is used in the New Testament. (click here to see the list of verses)
First of all, I found that that word ‘ekklesia’ is used about 112 times, of which only 4 times it refers to a civil assembly of people other than a church or body of believers. (see: Acts 7:38; 19:32; 19:39; 19:41).
The local church.
Second, I found that of the 112 appearances of ‘ekklesia’, about 85 of them refer to a local church (understood as a body of believers that meet in a home or city, much like saying First Baptist Somewhereville or Nowhereville Community Church). Of those 85 instances, many are historical recounts, or directed to specific local churches of that time –some may argue, with some application perhaps to the local churches today. Nevertheless, of those 85, there are only about 28 occasions that clearly are instructions to local churches today, we find topics addressed such as dealing with Christians who refuse to repent, giving, proper exercise of gifts of the Spirit, male-female roles, enduring in the faith, conduct, dealing with differences of opinion, prayer, and leadership and feeding the Word of God to the believers, (see verses here). Consider what these 28 verses are about and -especially, what they are NOT about.
The global church
On the other hand, we find 36 instances where the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ is used as it relates to the global church, or sometimes called by theologians, the invisible church, not a local organization, but the combination of all true believers in the world. Here I am defining true Christians as those who accept and believe the core doctrines of orthodox historical Christianity (that Jesus is God in a human body, that He lived, died to pay for the penalty of sin of those who believe by grace alone through faith alone; and rose again bodily, ascended to the father, and will comeback one day). Those who believe in this gospel would be the global church –the body of Christ. When we look at these 36 passages about the church as the global body of believers, we find that they discuss issues such as the unity of all believers as one, our identity as holy, separated unto God, the respect, care and proper attitude towards the global church as the body of Christ, the centrality and preeminence of Christ as the head, the glory honor, faithfulness and subjection that believers owe to Christ, the love, priority and supreme concern of God for His people’s well being, and the importance of ‘membership’ into the global church. (see verses here)
Now, perhaps a side to side comparison may help us to see more clearly the differences between the focus and emphasis of the local church, vs the global church:
Perhaps you noticed the same thing I did. When it comes to the local church, most of the emphasis seems to be in conduct and organization. On the contrary, the verses that deal with the global church focus more on identity, respect, loyalty, and the supremacy of Christ over all.
The principle that this seems to show concerns me and convicts me greatly, as it seems to me that more often than not we seem to be more concerned and more militant for our local church’s identity, respect to, loyalty, and ‘supremacy’. Conversely, we sometimes seem to care more for the proper conduct and organization of other Christians, as opposed to our local church. In reality, maybe we should be more militant for identity, respect towards, loyalty to, and the ‘supremacy’ of the global church -the body of Christ, and less dogmatic about a church brand, church name or church denomination. Likewise, we might want to look more into the conduct and organization of our own local church.
Indeed, we seem to pay more attention to what are good reasons to leave, and what are bad reasons to leave a local church (to go to another one), and not so much if someone may be leaving the faith altogether.
Often, although we say our ‘mission’ is to “make disciples [of Jesus]”, we actually seem to demonstrate with our actions, time and money, that we care more for our particular brand of Christianity or church name –what I often call ‘church franchising’. When a local church ‘vision’ (which is often and wrongly justified by Prov 29:18) is taken to the level that hurts the people -the body of Christ, for the sake of human strategies, we may be getting away from accomplishing God’s mission to make disciples of Christ.
Although I recognize that this is not an exhaustive study and that the issue may not be very easily identified, we might do well in considering whether or not there may be some truth to it, even if in the slightest sense. I could be completely wrong… But what if…
Maybe we need to get back to finding out what the Bible teaches about local church dealings and abide to it, and give less credence to human and brand-marketing business-like strategies. Church might deal with people and money, but church is not a business, at least I don’t think God thinks that way.
Maybe we need to rethink how we view the local church in light of what is said and especially what is not said about it in the scriptures.
No local church is perfect, and as they say “if you find it, don’t join it or you will ruin it”. Nevertheless, maybe we need to rethink how we view the global church -the body of believers, and give to it the preeminence, respect and allegiance it demands and deserves. Likewise, maybe we need to rethink and refocus how we see, and almost worship, local churches and church brands. After all, among local churches, there is more that we have in common than what we differ. It is noteworthy to realize that historically, it has been when those walls of separation between denominations and local names have come down, that God has brought revival to communities across the land.