According To The Scriptures
ChurchAlthough the subject of this chapter has been addressed well by a few other writers, it seems that the facts of the matter are not widely known. Furthermore, those facts have been neglected by some and, with increasing frequency, they are being blatantly ignored, apparently with the attitude that man has come up with a better plan than God's plan. In I Timothy 3:14-15, Paul said:
If it is our desire to know the truth, it should be beyond dispute that we should want to know where to find it. The purpose of a "pillar and ground" is to hold something up. If one thing is holding up another thing, we should expect both of those things to be found together. With "the church of the living God" being "the pillar and ground of the truth," it must be admitted that it is important that we know the true definition of "church." It must also follow, that when a "church" quits holding up the truth, it is no longer the same kind of "church" spoken of in these verses (a "church of the living God"). In pursuit of truth, we have no choice but to use God's definition of the word and reject men's definitions, ammendments, and appendages.
Some attention to definition is necessary for, and basic to, effectively communicating the intent of the pages to follow. Much of the false doctrine preached today has been perpetrated and advanced by falsely defining the word translated in The King James Version of the Bible as "church." For these reasons, and those listed above, I will attempt a brief overview of the subject. To borrow some words from Buell H. Kazee in The Church and the Ordinances:
Webster's Dictionary (1978) gives the following definition:
Encyclopedia Britannica (1957) gives the following :
The World Book Encyclopedia (1985) has this entry:
It is seen from these sources that the word "church" has accumulated quite a few different meanings and uses. If it is our aim to know the meaning of Jesus' teachings and of the inspired Word of God, we must look beyond the accumulation of man-made definitions. It is certain that some of these meanings were not used in the Bible because those meanings were not developed or used until a much later date.
The Greek word for church is kuplakov, as noted in the above quotation from Encyclopedia Britannica, transliterated kuriakos. Reference to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible reveals that that word occurs only two times in the Greek New Testament. The first occurrence is in I Corinthians 11:20, and is translated "Lord's," referring to "the Lord's supper." The second occurrence is in Revelation 1:10, and is again translated correctly as "Lord's," there referring to "the Lord's day." Strong's "Dictionary of the Greek Testament" (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible) gives this definition to kuriakos (Strong's word number 2960):
The word "church," or "churches," however, is used numerous (114) times in the King James Version. In I Peter 5:13 the word was added by the translators, as is indicated by its appearing in italics. In Acts 19:37, "robbers of churches" is used to translate hierosulos, which Strong's "Dictionary of the Greek Testament" defines as "a temple-despoiler." A quick look in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible shows that in each of the other one hundred-twelve cases (as well as in the subscriptions to the books of Romans, II Timothy, and Titus), "church" or "churches" is used to translate the Greek word ekklesia in the singular or plural.
In order to properly understand the intended meaning of a word, it is necessary to know the meaning or uses of the word at the time and place the user of the word spoke or wrote the word. In The Meaning Of Ecclesia In The New Testament, Edward H. Overbey listed the following, in his chapter titled "ECCLESIA IN THE CLASSICAL GREEK":
It is clear from those sources that an ekklesia was an assembly of persons called together for a purpose, autonomous, independent, and a democracy. Notice, also, that an ekklesia was a definitely municipal body. I know of no source that would indicate a different use of the word prior to or during the writing of the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit has blessed us with the inspiring of the record and description of a Greek ekklesia in Acts 19. There, the word ekklesia was properly translated by the translators of the King James Version as "assembly" (in verses 32, 39, and 41). Notice, also, from Acts 19, that an ekklesia can be either a lawful one or an unlawful one. Acts 7:38 speaks of "the church in the wilderness." That ekklesia in the wilderness is not to be confused with the one Jesus said He would build. We have no more justification for equating that ekklesia in the wilderness with the one Jesus built than we do to equate the ekklesia in Acts 19 with the one Jesus built.
King James' translators, however, substituted "church" for ekklesia in Matthew 16:18, and in all one-hundred-eleven other occurences of the word in the New Testament. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "I will build my ekklesia." He may have spoken in Aramaic, but the New Testament was written in Greek, which as World Book Encyclopedia says, "was widely spoken during the time of Jesus." Jesus did not indicate or give any reason to believe, there or any where else, that He was giving a new or different meaning to the word. He used the adjective "my" to distinguish it from any other, and used the word ekklesia in the generic sense, like God did with the word "man," in Genesis 1:26, when He said, "Let us make man." Jesus did not make any modification to, or give any new meaning to the word ekklesia in Matthew 16:18, or any place else. If He had, He would have told us. The Holy Spirit did not give a new or different meaning to the word as He inspired the rest of the New Testament. If He had, He would have told us. That there is confusion about this matter is undeniable, but we can be certain that the confusion is the work of man and the Devil because God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33).
In The Christian Ecclesia, F.J.A. Hort wrote:
In 1526 William Tyndale was the first to translate the New Testament from the Greek into English. Tyndale translated ekklesia with "congregation."
Myles Coverdale translated the entire Bible from the original languages, and it was printed in 1535. Coverdale translated ekklesia with "congregation."
The Great Bible, first printed in 1538 and last in 1569, was known also as the Cromwell Bible, the Cranmer Bible, the Whitechurch Bible, and the Chained Bible. (A Brief History of English Bible Translations by Laurence M. Vance) That Bible also translated ekklesia with "congregation."
In 1604 King James appointed fifty-four men to translate the Bible. Although it was resolved:
Two of the fifteen rules given the translators by King James stated:
When we use ekklesia, "assembly," or "congregation" in studying the New Testament, it removes a lot of the "hocus-pocus" and mysticism that man has concocted. I prefer the word "congregation," and have chosen to use it in the pages to follow. It is only when using the proper definition of ekklesia, as here given, that we can interpret the New Testament with true consistency. I realize that that will be considered by many as an unreasonably strong and bigoted statement, but I propose to support it shortly.
Before continuing, it should also be noted that although ekklesia is properly translated "assembly" in Acts 19, it is not to be assumed that all occurrences of the word assembly in the King James Version of the New Testament is from ekklesia. There are two other occurrences of "assembly" in the King James Version of the New Testament. In Hebrews 12:23, "general assembly" is used to translate paneguris, which Strong's "Dictionary of the Greek Testament" defines as:
Word number 3956 is defined:
It is often taught that "the general assembly" and the "church of the firstborn," in Hebrews 12:23, are one and the same, but it looks to me like that there are two different words used there to speak of two different things.
In its context, what is being said is, "ye are come unto . . . the general assembly and church of the firstborn." Let me make an illustration. I live in Annville, Kentucky, which is very rural. Suppose I have a new neighbor who is accustomed to the conveniences of a big city, and becomes discouraged in adapting to a strange environment. I might say to the person, "you have come to the commonwealth of Kentucky and the city of Annville, which are the best part of the world. By that statement, I do not mean that the commonwealth of Kentucky and the city of Annville are the same thing. You can be in Kentucky and not be in Annville, but you cannot be in the Annville that I am talking about and not be in Kentucky. A person can be saved by God's grace and not be a member of one of the Lord's congregations. The people being addressed in Hebrews 12, were being told in verse 23, that they were both. That "the firstborn," spoken of in this verse is Jesus, is seen by reference to Matthew 1:25, Luke 2:7, Romans 8:29, and Collosians 1:15 and 18.
The other occurrence of "assembly" in the King James Version of the New Testament is in James 2:2. The Greek word translated there is sunagoge, which Strong's "Dictionary of the Greek Testament" defines as:
A careful study of each of the occurrences of the word "church" in the King James Version of the New Testament, other than those already considered here, will reveal that there is no indication of a new or different meaning being given to ekklesia. In each of these cases, the word ekklesia was used to refer to a certain congregation (or congregations, using the plural form), or was used in a generic sense, and sometimes both.
The last eighteen times ekklesia is used in the New Testament, it was spoken by Jesus. In Revelation 2:1 He was speaking of "the church of Ephesus," in verse 8 of "the church in Smyrna," in verse 12 of "the church in Pergamos," in verse 18 of "the church in Thyatira," in Revelation 3:1 of "the church in Sardis," in verse 7 of "the church in Philadelphia," and in verse 14 of "the church of the Laodiceans." In Revelation 1:11, He used the plural form in saying, "the seven churches which are in Asia," and then listed each of the names again.
Jesus used ekklesia in its plural form in Revelation 1:20, 2:7, 11, 17, 23, 29, 3:6, 13, 22, and 22:16. It is important to notice that in the last half of the final chapter of the Bible (Revelation 22:16), Jesus used the plural form of ekklesia. If He had built a "universal church" He would not have used the plural form, and I believe He would have used some other word like paneguris.
It is often mistakenly assumed or alleged that since "the church" of Christ is "the body" of Christ (Colossians 1:18), that the Bible teaches some sort of "universal church." I believe that not only does the Bible not support it, but in fact says much to contradict it. Both terms, "the church," and "the body," are used generically there (Colossians 1:18) as well as in Ephesians 5. In Ephesians 5:23 "the church" and "the body" are used in the generic sense, just as "the husband" and "the wife" are used, in the same verse.
Going back to the Greek, we find that the word translated "body" is soma. Strong's "Dictionary of the Greek Testament" defines soma as, "the body (as a sound whole), used in a very wide application, lit. or fig." The word "body" is translated from soma in all but two occurrences, in the New Testament. One has nothing to do with this subject, but to show the precision of the Greek language, and the precision with which it was used in the writing of the Bible, let us briefly consider it, also. In Acts 19:11-12 the King James version says:
The word from which "body" was translated, in verse 12, is chros which means "the body (properly its surface or skin)" [Strong's "Dictionary of the Greek Testament"].
The other occurrence of the word "body" in the King James Version of the New Testament is in Ephesians 3:6. The word used in that verse is sussomos instead of soma. Strong defines sussomos as "of a joint body." The "Greek-English New Testament Lexicon" in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by George R. Berry defines sussomos as:
What was being taught in Ephesians 3:6, I believe, was that it is proper for Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians, having the same salvation, to be members of the same congregation.
In I Corinthians 12:14-17, "the body," or "the whole body," is spoken of six times, undisputably in reference to a human body. Those verses do not imply that every foot, hand, ear, or eye in the world are all part of one mystical body, and such an interpretation would be foolish. It is just as unreasonable to interpret the use of the term "the body" in the rest of the chapter to imply that every saved person (or even every saved and baptized person) in the world make up some mystical body. To make such an interpretation it is necessary to change the meaning of ekklesia, which we have no authorization to do. Such an erroneous interpretation necessitates even giving a new definition to the word body. We would not speak of two rivers as being one body of water, even though each may have fresh water, run down-hill, and eventually flow into the same ocean. The same is true in each case in which an ekklesia is spoken of as a body. Commenting on I Corinthians 12, in The Meaning of Ecclesia in the New Testament, Edward H. Overbey says:
Each congregation is a body, and, if it is one of the Lord's congregations, it is one of His bodies. Each of His congregations or bodies is to be a fully functioning, self contained, independent, and complete unit or body, with Him as its head. Each body is to be just as complete as if it were the only one in existence.
In trying to prop up a "universal church" theory it has often been taught that "the kingdom of heaven" and "the kingdom of God" are synonymous with "church." There is no need for such confusion because not only are the words different, the Bible also says some very different things about each.
When one false doctrine is invented, another one must eventually be invented to support it. This is a demonstration of what I have often heard, that, "if you tell a lie, you'll have to tell another to prop it up."
In III John 9 we have record of "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence." It was probably people like Diotrephes who later on developed a hierarchical system within some of the apostate congregations. As is always the case with such a system, those at the top, like "the angels which kept not their first estate" (Jude 6), expanded their territory by developing a hierarchy among many apostate congregations. The invention of a "universal church" concept was needed in order to justify the hierarchical system.
Most of the leaders of professing Christianity today find it necessary to defend a "universal church" concept in order to justify the existence of their congregations, associations, and/or hierarchies because they are so different to the New Testament definition of Jesus' kind of congregation.
It is also noticed that not only do many try to make "the kingdom of heaven" and "the kingdom of God" synonomous with each other, and with Christ's ekklesia or congregation, but try to equate what we may call "the family of God" or all who are saved with them as well. That being the case let us first consider some of the differences in "the family of God" and Jesus' kind of congregation.
In Psalm 3:8, David said, "Salvation belongeth unto the LORD." In Jonah 2:9, Jonah said, "Salvation is of the LORD." Paul, teaching of the sovereignty of God, said in Romans 9:16:
It is by faith in Christ that we are saved, and not only did God have to provide the Saviour, if we were to be saved, we are not even able to believe by faith unless God also gives us that faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 explains:
Romans 11:6 says:
Anything that man can provide is to be considered works. Baptism, for example, being a work, does not obtain or help obtain salvation. As I Peter 3:21 explains, baptism is:
How could anyone have a good conscience toward God, knowing that he had not yet completed an act thought to be necessary to the obtaining of his salvation?
If the above scriptures mean anything, we must conclude that entrance into the family of God is not dependent upon baptism. The New Testament does, however, clearly teach the requirement of profession of salvation by grace and a baptism declaring the same in a figure, for entrance into the Lord's kind of congregation.
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gave instruction concerning what to do "if thy brother shall trespass against thee."
If "the church" includes all who are saved, or, as some would insist, all who are saved and baptized, how could we tell anything to "the church?" Most of us could not afford the postage or the phone bill incurred in telling anything to such a "church," even if we could locate and identify all its members. The instructions continue in verse 17:
Those instructions, as well as many others in the New Testament, teach that the Lord's congregations are to exclude members who cannot be reconciled or who walk disorderly. In I Corinthians 5, Paul wrote concerning a member who was guilty of fornication. In verse 7, Paul instructed the congregation to "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened." In verse 9 he wrote:
In verse 11 he said:
In verse 13 he plainly said:
II Thessalonians 3 teaches the same thing. It is very clear that the Lord's congregations have not only the authority, but also the responsibility, to exclude members from His congregations. It is a part of the command of "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Neither the Lord's congregations nor anyone else has ever been given the power or the instruction to exclude anyone from the family of God. Romans 8:33 says:
In John 14:2 Jesus gave a promise to His first congregation, as representative of all His congregations. He said:
Notice that He said that there are (already) many mansions, but added:
There were already many mansions in His Father's house for all who are saved, but Jesus has gone to prepare a special place for His bride, the faithful and obedient from among His congregations.
These differences should be enough to show that the "family of God" is not the same thing as the Lord's ekklesia. Similar differences are also readily apparent of the "kingdom of heaven" and the "kingdom of God," when compared to the Lord's ekklesia.
Just as there are clear and definite differences in the family of God and Jesus' kind of ekklesia, His congregations or bodies, it is also to be noticed that there are many and similar differences between the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, and Jesus' congregations which are His ekklesias.
It seems that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are most often thought to be synonymous, but it is to be admitted that two different words were used by Jesus. Out of love and respect for truth, we must not take it upon ourselves to equate the two. While both will be spoken of here, it is not with the intention to use the two terms interchangeably.
First it is to be noted that a kingdom of any description is by definition a monarchy, the domain of a ruler or king (king-domain). That being the case, any kingdom must be something other than the kind of congregation Jesus said that He would build, because, as pointed out earlier, it is a democracy. Also, as already noted, the Lord's congregations have the authority and the obligation to exclude disorderly members, but such authorization has not been given concerning the kingdom of heaven nor the kingdom of God. In fact the Lord's congregations have no authority over those who "followeth not us" (Mark 9:38-39 and Luke 9:49-50). The Lord's congregations are not to "forbid" or to exercise rule or control over any other group, organization, or government, nor are His congregations to be controlled by others or to unionize with them. Many appostate and spurious congregations and organizations of professing Christendom have tried to advance their doctrines by force and persecution, but the Lord's congregations do not. Members of the Lord's kind of congregations have in fact been the true champions and defenders of religious freedom in every century. Ecclesiastical separation is a must for the Lord's congregations. In Matthew 15:13-14, Jesus said:
One need only read the first two-thirds of the first book of the New Testament to see that there are problems presented by trying to equate the kingdom of heaven with the Lord's kind of ekklesia. To make the two synonymous is to have Matthew 18:15-17, which clearly teaches the resposibility of discipline in the Lord's congregations, contradicting the teaching of the parable of the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. The Lord's congregations are not given the responsibility of gathering the tares out of the kingdom of heaven, but to keep themselves, as a body of Christ, pure. These differences demonstrate why, as I stated earlier, that we cannot interpret the New Testament with true consistency while using the definitions given these terms under a "universal church" theory. It was previously shown that the Lord's congregations are likened to and spoken of as a body, but such reference is never made of a kingdom in the New Testament, nor would it be sensible to speak of any kingdom as a body. It was also shown the absurdity of obeying Jesus' instruction in Matthew 18:17 to "tell it to the church," if "the church" includes all the saved, or all who are saved and baptized, or even all of a certain denomination. The costs of postage, phone calls, travel, time, etc., would make it a physical impossibility to obey such an instruction. I John 5:3 says:
The same applies here as well. Neither the kingdom of heaven, nor the kingdom of God, can be synonymous with ekklesia.
When one gives new and different meanings to God's words, additional false doctrine and lies are required to support it, and must ultimately lead to the rejection of the entire Bible.
It was shown earlier that all who are saved, the family of God, being saved solely by God's grace, are eternally saved. That being so, no one can be cast out of the family of God. The same cannot be said about the kingdom of heaven, because in Matthew 13:42, and again in verse 50, as well as in other places, we read of some being cast out of the kingdom of heaven and "into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." The family of God and the kingdom of heaven cannot be the same. To make them so is to invent a false doctrine which contradicts every aspect of the doctrines of grace. The God of the Bible is completely sovereign. To teach of or believe in a God that is only a little bit sovereign is to teach of or believe in a different god. The salvation of the Bible is by grace and through faith in Christ. To teach or believe that that salvation must be in some way supplemented is to teach of or believe in another "Christ" and another gospel. Think about it.
Although there are several statements in the Bible about the kingdom of heaven that are very similar to statements made concerning the kingdom of God, there are also some very clear and definite differences. If there is even one difference, then we must say that they are different. Jesus used some very similar parables in teaching about each, but a closer look will show some differences. We may use some very similar terms, examples, and illustrations to explain or describe our state government and our federal government, but the two are definitely not the same. For example, a lot could be said about the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch of government that could apply to both our state and the United States, but that does not make them the same thing. A presidential candidate may win an election by a landslide in our state, yet lose his bid for the presidency of the United States.
Concerning the kingdom of heaven in the parable of the tares and the parable of the net, in Matthew 13, we read of people being gathered out or cast out, but we do not read of anyone being cast out of the kingdom of God. First, lest there be any misunderstanding, the kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom in heaven, but the kingdom of heaven. Of the parable of the tares, Jesus said:
Of the parable of the net, Jesus said:
In Matthew 8:11-12, Jesus said:
Luke 13:28-29 sounds very similar, in speaking of the kingdom of God, but a careful comparison shows them to be different.
The previous verses from Matthew 8 and Matthew 13, leave no doubt but that people will be cast out of the kingdom of heaven. Although Luke 13:28 could be interpreted as saying the same thing about the kingdom of God, I believe that those spoken of as "thrust out" in this verse are those to be "gathered out" and "cast out" of the kingdom of heaven, having thought that they were part of the kingdom of God, yet, in truth, will have never actually been in the kingdom of God. I believe this interpretation is supported and clarified by a comparison of the following verses. In the parable of the talents, in Matthew 25:29-30, Jesus said:
In the parable of the pounds, in Luke 19:26-27, Jesus said:
Jesus also made similar statements in Matthew 13:12 and Mark 4:25. In Luke 8:17-18, Jesus explained the taking from those who hath not, with these words:
It is clear that what is to be taken away is what the people only think they have.
The desired objective here is not to see if a verse can be made to say something different, but to know the true interpretation. Any interpretation must be consistent with every verse of the rest of the Bible if it is to be accepted as truth. If Luke 13:28 was the only mention made in the Bible of the kingdom of God, we might be hard pressed for solid ground to distinguish between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, but much is said about each, and it is important that we not make one verse contradict any other.
Consider the following survey. Matthew 3:1-2 says:
Immediately after Jesus' baptism and His forty days of temptation in the wilderness, according to Matthew 4:17:
In Matthew 10, we find Jesus sending out the twelve, and in verse 7 he said:
Then in Matthew 11, John was in prison, and Jesus said in verse 12:
Now look at what Mark said about the change at that point in Mark 1:14-15:
From that time, the kingdom of heaven is spoken of differently.
Notice that in Matthew 11:12, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven being taken by force. The kingdom of God cannot be, has not been, and will never be taken by force or any other way, by the violent or anyone else.
Careful comparison and consideration of the various parables and statements concerning the kingdom of heaven reveals that the kingdom of heaven refers to all who profess Christianity. It includes not only those trusting in Christ alone, but also those who profess to trust in Christ in the various dilutions and mixtures of the denominations. It includes he that hath, and he that only thinketh he hath. That is why there are bad fish and tares to be gathered out and burned. It includes those who are in the kingdom of God, and those who only claim to be, or only think they are in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven is presently visible in that we can observe the many professions of Christianity, the "many wonderful works" done in Christ's name, and the prophesying in His name, but we cannot always tell the tares from the wheat.
The kingdom of God is not presently visible to the natural man. In Luke 17: 20, Jesus said, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation." In John 3:3, Jesus said:
In Luke 9:27, Jesus said:
In Mark 9:1, Jesus said:
In John 17:1-2, as that promise was about to be fulfilled, Jesus prayed:
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus had risen, demonstrated His power over death:
In Romans 1:16, Paul said:
In I Corinthians 4:19-20, Paul said:
In Philippians 3:8-11, Paul again speaks of the power of Christ's resurrection:
I Peter 1:3-5 speaks of God's ability to keep us by that same power:
Hebrews 2:14-15 says:
Now read about the end, when Jesus "shall have delivered up the kingdom to God" in I Corinthians 15:20-28.
Jesus "must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet." When the tares and bad fish have been gathered out of the kingdom of heaven, and death has not only been conquered, but destroyed, the "wheat" that will have been gathered out of the kingdom of heaven will be "delivered up" as the kingdom of God (verse 24). Then the kingdom of God will be fully visible, as described in Revelation 12:10-11.
It is of extreme importance that we not give new and different meanings to God's words. When that is done, it leads to a "domino effect" of twisting and changing the rest of the Bible, and the labeling of many verses and chapters as "difficult passages" because they just don't fit in to the man-made doctrines. It is difficult to poke a square doctrine into a round hole. As a result, there are more truths that have been abandoned than have been preserved among most of the professors of Christianity.