Unique in position and privilege, exceptional in opportunity and responsibility, the church is a living institution ordained by God, purchased by the blood of Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the past six weeks, we have done little more than provide a whirlwind tour of some of the names by which God designates this unique entity. We will conclude this brief overview with an equally inadequate glance at the foundational term for this entity, namely, the church.
The term itself. The Greek word translated as “church” is ekklesia, from a prefix meaning out of and a root meaning a calling. In its basic sense, then, the church is not to be confused with a building or with an organization. Rather, it is an entity, an organism, a body consisting of members, each of whom has been individually “called out” from sin and the world by the baptism of the Spirit of God and forever separated from hell and damnation and unto God and righteousness.
The term, thus, emphasizes the fact that the true church is “the operation of God” (Col. 2:12); it is constituted by His work, not according to man’s efforts. It is His entity, not man’s organization. It is He who calls lost souls out of sin and the world. It is He who imparts eternal life to the helpless and spiritually dead. The church lives through the power of His energizing Spirit and not through some humanly constituted means. The term emphasizes the separate nature of the church. It is in the world but not of the world. It is neither a fraternal organization nor a charity organized for the purpose of dispensing material aid and the alleviation of material problems. Its inception, its purpose, and its end are all spiritual. Therefore, it is called out of the world that it may glorify God by being a light to the world, honoring God by proclaiming Him and His salvation from sin through Jesus Christ. In short, the term emphasizes that the church is not a human institution serving perceived human needs, but the creation of God, called and separated for His divine glory and His holy purpose.
The scope of the term. The term serves to designate both localized bodies of true believers who worship and serve together in one place and the invisible body, the universal church, made up of all Spirit-indwelt New Testament saints from the time of the apostles through today and until the return of Christ. The first use of the term (Matt. 16:18) is a declaration by Christ that it is His church and that He will build it. The second use (Matt. 18:17) reveals that one of its primary functions is that of maintaining order and discipline. That, together with the commands to preach the gospel to the lost (II Cor. 5:20) and to edify the flock through preaching sound doctrine (II Tim. 4:2), provides a trustworthy outline of the role and purpose of the church.
Paul, in his epistle to the church as Ephesus, offers this marvelous summary of the church. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens 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 corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22). The church has been constituted “the household of God,” a “holy temple in the Lord,” and a “habitation of God through the Spirit.” Those who have been saved by faith in the vicarious death of Christ are the glorious dwelling place of God Himself. What grace! What love! What fellowship! What privilege!
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