Category Archives: The Ecclesia

What is a Christian?

bible“Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28)

A Christian is a person who intelligently believes that he is by nature a sinner, that by Divine grace Jesus Christ the Righteous died for his sins and that through faith in the atoning blood and obedience to the Redeemer’s -teachings he has become “a New Creature in Christ Jesus.”  For such, “Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.”  Such New Creatures are separate and distinct from all other members of the race.  Instead of earthly aims, ambitions and hopes, theirs are Heavenly.

Getting Into Christ’s Body

It is not sufficient that these should make the proper start of faith in Christ and full consecration to do God’s will and not their own wills.  It is incumbent upon them, after having made such a start and after having been begotten of the Holy Spirit, that they shall grow in grace, knowledge and love. (2 Peter 3:18)  This is styled “putting on Christ”; that is to say, adding the graces of character which God will accept and reward with association with the Lord Jesus Christ in His Kingdom.  For these God has made provision of spiritual food in the Bible–“meat in due season for the Household of Faith.” (Matthew 24:45)  These are represented as at first “babes in Christ,” requiring “the milk of the Word,” but if faithful gradually attaining full stature–“strong in the Lord and the power of His might.”

Such spirit-begotten Christians must needs “fight a good fight”–not with others, but with themselves–overcoming the weaknesses and besetments of their own fallen flesh, the allurements of their environment and the wiles of the Adversary.  Such as are faithful in these respects are Scripturally styled “overcomers,” “the very Elect.”  The promise to them is that they shall have part in the Chief, or best, Resurrection, and thereafter be no longer humans, but spirit beings of the highest order–“partakers of the Divine nature.”  These in death are “sown in weakness,” “in dishonor,” human beings, but are raised from the dead “in glory,” “in power,” spirit beings. I Corinthians 15:43.

Jesus’ promise to these overcomers reads, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne, even as I overcame and am set down with My Father in His Throne” — “I will give him power over the nations, etc.  Again He says, “Blessed and holy are all those who have part in the Chief Resurrection: on such the Second Death hath no power, but they shall be priests unto God and unto Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Rev. 3:21; 2:26; 20:6

All Jesus’ teachings are applicable to this special class; namely, those who become His disciples, His followers, His pupils.  He did not assume to be a Teacher of the world, but merely of those who leave the world, sacrificing all to become His disciples.  To these He said, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”  Again, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.”  The great Teacher did not include the nominal church as His disciples, but rather counted them in with the world.  In evidence of this, we note the fact that the world which persecuted Him was the Jewish nation, professedly God’s consecrated people; and that those who have persecuted the followers of Jesus have like-wise been nominally people of God, but really of the world.

Duties, Rights and Privileges of Christians

These are the Christians addressed by the Master, saying, “I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other, also.  And if any man shall sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Matthew 5:39-42.

The thought of non-resistance is here, yet not to the extreme degree supposed by some.  The turning of the other cheek, as illustrated by Jesus’ own conduct, was a figurative expression, signifying the willingness to have both cheeks smitten rather than to do injury to another.  Christians are to be law-abiding, whether they consider the laws just or unjust.  If, therefore, the law deprive them of a coat, they are to yield it up.  If it go still further and deprive them of their cloak, they are still to be non-resistant to the law, but submit to it with good grace, knowing that hereunto they are called.

Be it noted that neither the coat nor the cloak was to be given up upon demand merely, but only after the law, justly or unjustly, had so decreed.  Similarly with respect to the compulsory walking of a mile; the Christian is not to submit himself to every whim of everybody; but, seeking to do the will of God, he is to go about his own business, unless the opposition to him amount to a compelling.  And this compelling, under ordinary circumstances, would mean a legal compelling; for the protection of the laws of the land in which he lives may be sought to protect his rights and liberties, as St. Paul appealed to governors and kings.

Christians Live for the Future

Christians are to love their enemies in the same sense that God loves the world–sympathetically.  They are not to love their enemies in the same affectionate love and tenderness, such as they bestow upon their families, friends and lovable persons.  Their love for their enemies, as defined by Jesus, should be such as would lead them to feed their bitterest enemy if he were hungry, to clothe him if he were naked.  They should not pray against their enemies but for their enemies in the sense of wishing, desiring for them enlightenment and true wisdom, which would turn them from being enemies and evil-doers, to make of them followers of Jesus or, at least, well-doers.

Christians are not to lay up for themselves treasures on earth; for they renounced the earth and all hopes of a future life upon earth.  Their walk in the footsteps of Jesus signifies that as He cast aside earthly ambitions, hopes and aims, so would they, taking instead the Heavenly ambitions, hopes and aims.  In other words, they live for the future.  This will not hinder them from the ordinary pursuits of life to the extent that may be necessary in “providing things honest in the sight of all men”–in providing for their families, etc.  But, with these Christians, any over-plus above life’s necessities represents so much opportunity for serving the Lord and His cause; and in so doing these are laying up treasure in Heaven–a future reward.

This does not signify that they must live “from hand to mouth” nor that, if they have possessions, they must riotously distribute these to others.  On the contrary, they are to seek in all things to have the mind of the Lord-to do God’s will.  God’s mind is a sound mind; and these Christians, in seeking to do God’s will, are said to have “the spirit of a sound mind.”  This dictates that they should live wisely and economically.

Christian Stewardship and Citizenship

To these Christians, everything that comes to them or that they possess by nature is considered a thing of God, because in becoming followers of Christ they make a full consecration of their wills–their all–to God.  Hence from that moment forward these Christians are stewards of God’s mercies-stewards of their time, their talents, their influence, their property, their all.  According to the way they use their stewardship, investing their talents to the Master’s praise, will be His commendation of them, as represented in the parable.  Whether many talents are possessed or few, the commendation is to those who have done well, have been good and faithful in the use of their talents, not for self-aggrandizement or show, or worldly accumulations of treasure, but faithful in the service of God, showing forth God’s praises in the assisting of others and themselves to the knowing and doing of the Divine will.

Christians are to “lend, hoping for nothing in return,” and not, as the world, merely to be willing to do good and to lend to those who would do as much or more in return.  Christians are thus to illustrate the fact that they are children of the Highest, that they have been begotten of God, that they have His Holy Spirit and disposition, and that it is shining out more and more in their words and conduct as they grow in the character-likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians are not to go to war.  Their fight is not to be with carnal weapons, but with “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”  They have the most powerful weapon known in the world for their warfare.  This does not signify that they may not put bolts and bars upon their doors to prevent robbery.  It does not signify that they may not call for police protection; for this is a thing they pay for in taxation and are entitled to according to the laws of the world.  They may not claim of their own nation anything than an alien might not claim; but they may claim all that an alien may claim.  Indeed, Christians are styled aliens, stranger, foreigners, so far as the present government of the world is concerned.  Their citizenship, according to the Bible, is the Heavenly one, which they will fully enter into when they shall have shared the Chief Resurrection.

No Christian Nations

The Bible knows nothing of Christian nations or of a Christian world.  The Bible puts the Christian as separate and distinct from the world and from all nations.  Christians are a nation, or people, by themselves, in the same sense that the Jews are a nation, or people, by themselves.  “Ye are a Royal Priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people”–a people for a purpose. (I Peter 2:9)  The term Christian nation comes from a serious doctrinal error which crept into the Church about 800 A.D.  At that time, Pope Leo III began to recognize as Christian nations all the nations which recognized his Pontificate.  The custom has prevailed and is still in vogue amongst Protestants and Catholics; but it is wholly unscriptural.

A Christian conscripted to the army or the navy would be “subject to the powers that be,” and obeying the Master’s words would go, as in Math. 5:41, “Whosoever shall compel thee to go.”  The Christian compelled to enter the army or the navy might properly request service as a noncombatant in the Quartermaster’s Department or in the Hospital Department; but, if required to kill, he is to obey God rather than man, and not kill.  He may comply with his orders to the extent of going into the trenches and being shot at, but no further.

Is it urged that such a view of Christianity would wreck our present civilization?  We reply that nothing in the Bible implies that our civilization is Christian or that the Lord ever expected it to be Christian.  God’s time for saving the world from its sin and weakness has not yet come.  The present is merely the time for calling, finding, testing and delivering the Elect.  The Elect, when glorified, will constitute Messiah’s Kingdom, and with Him will be empowered fully with spiritual control for the government of the entire world.

Then will come the time for the enlightenment and uplift and blessing of the whole world of mankind–the non-elects.  Theirs will not be a blessing of the same kind that the Elect will secure, but a blessing which they will appreciate equally.  The world’s blessing and salvation will not signify a change of nature from human to Spirit, but a Restitution to human perfection. (Acts 3:19-23)

What are today styled “Christian nations” are in the Bible styled “kingdoms of this world”; and their complete disintegration is Scripturally outlined as incidental to the establishment of God’s glorious Kingdom under Messiah, for which we pray, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, even as in Heaven.”

Some may wonder how it ever came to pass that all the people of civilized lands are enumerated as Christians–except Jews and professed infidels.  Statistics tell us that all the inhabitants of Italy are Christian; that more than ninety-nine per cent of the population of Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, etc., are Christians; and that the total number of Christians thus reckoned is nearly five hundred millions.  Surely it is time that intelligent people realize that some great mistake has been made and that more than ninety-nine per cent of these “Christians” make no pretense of being followers of Jesus.

The error arose in the now long ago, when Pope Leo III, recognized a king as a Christian king and his kingdom as a Christian kingdom, he recognized that king’s subjects as Christian.  There we have the matter in a nut-shell.  The whole thing was a mistake.  The king was not a Christian, did not know the meaning of Christianity and was not taught it.  His kingdom was not a Christian kingdom, and his people were not Christians.

Meantime, here and there, obscured to the world, there have been true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in every denomination.  They have been out of accord generally with the great leaders of the church systems as well as with the political leaders of the world.  It has been true of them as the Apostle wrote: “The world knoweth us not, even as it knew Him not.” (I John 3:I)  The world does not yet know, understand or appreciate that the Church of Christ is not to be found in any of the professed churches of various names–Roman, English, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. The Church of Christ is composed exclusively of those who have made covenant with the Lord through faith in the precious blood, who have been accepted of the Lord by the begetting of the Holy Spirit, and who are seeking to walk to the best of their ability in the footsteps of Jesus. I Peter 2:21.

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

The theory that Christians only are saved from eternal torture has had much to do with the error of counting all civilized people Christians.  The creeds save Christians only–Jews, Mohammedans, heathen, all go to Hell, to roast eternally.  Roman Catholics provide a Second Chance for members of their church, in Purgatory; and many Protestants hold to a Second Chance for the heathen who have never heard of Christ.  All the while, however, the Bible declares for only one chance, but that a full one for every member of the human family.

The only chance offered during this Gospel Age is the opportunity of becoming a member of the Church–a true follower of Jesus.  Such are to get the Heavenly inheritance, but not until the Resurrection.  The remainder of the world will be offered an earthly future; and this offer will begin with the establishment of Messiah’s Kingdom of a thousand years.

The Bible nowhere teaches that either saints or sinners pass to a conscious condition at death.  The Bible declares that they all “sleep,” and that the awakening time will be at the Second Coming of the Redeemer to establish His Kingdom.  The Fist Resurrection will be the Church, and subsequently “every man in his own order.”  When once the fact is grasped that the Bible Hell is the grave–Sheol, Hades–then all is plain.

The great Divinely arranged Purgatory, to last a thousand years, will be glorious.  All the heathen and the ignorant, superstitious millions of Christendom, who were taught to call themselves Christians, but who knew that they were not, will have the opportunity of coming to a knowledge of the true God and of His gracious provision for them.

Do the Scriptures Say Not to Forsake the Assembling of Ourselves?

Being-the-Church“And let us not forsake the fellowship that we have among ourselves as the manner of some is: but let us exhort one another and that so much the more because ye see that the day draweth nigh.”  – Hebrews 10:25  (Tyndale)
First of all, it is essential that we understand the meaning of the word “church” as it is used in our English Bibles. Before tackling Hebrews 10:25, we are going to lay some groundwork in advance, these comments, while being historically and biblically derived, are not meant to suggest that Christians should not meet together, share fellowship, pray or preach the Word of God. If that is the conclusion someone makes from these comments, then they have misinterpreted what has been stated here.

My desire is to embrace God’s truth (not just for truth’s sake, but because I love Him and desire to grow evermore close to Him) and I, quite honestly, do not care if the traditions of men (even my own) are offended by His truth. If a person is honest, they will have to admit that when flesh is confronted by the Spirit of the Living God and the truth of Scripture it often resists submission and humility. But my response to that conviction of Christ and His Word must be to repent and yield, otherwise I only end up hardening my heart and increasing in stubbornness as well as blindness. I want to see clearly with spiritual eyes and walk full in the grace and liberty of Jesus Christ whose precious blood was shed for me.

We Christians tend to throw around a lot of terminologies as well as operate under a lot of religious mindsets that are, quite honestly, the primary product of human tradition and not biblical design. This is not to suggest that all organization is “evil” but sometimes it is counterproductive to true and essential spiritual growth. Sometimes our traditions can make God’s Word to seemingly have no affect and can even move us to actually reject His commands. Jesus Himself noted this reality. Just as we read in Mark 7:5, so are there “Pharisees” today who are asking the question of those who refuse to follow erroneous traditions at the expense of biblical truth: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders?” You know well, I’m sure, Jesus’ bold reply:

Mark 7:6-9 – He told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is empty, because they teach human rules as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your own tradition!”

Before I can answer the question of what I believe Hebrews 10:25 specifically has in mind concerning “assembling”, I feel it is important to look closer at what “assembly” is all about in the body of Christ as Scripture presents it. Too many Christians have been raised with a traditionally-inspired definition of some of these terms and this has served to make them embrace many Biblically-inaccurate concepts. First I would like to look closer at the popular concept of the word “church”as it is understood today in comparison and contrast with the biblical meaning.

The Greek word for “church” is “ecclesia” and, according to its most basic context, it means “assembly”. It is a combination of two separate words (ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling” – from kaleo, “to call”) meaning “a calling from out of.” This coincides with the Lord’s directive, which Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of (notice how God describes His temple):

2 Corinthians 6:16-18 – And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For WE are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from them and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

Truly God has called us out of the world unto Himself – into His Assembly. This is the “Church” (according to its true biblical meaning)! We, indeed, are the “called out ones“. However, even the word “church” itself is really a poor term to use if we want to be technically accurate about things. The word church has no literal derivative in the original text of Scripture. It was added by translators hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.  Believe it or not, neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever used it with respect to God’s people!  The English word “church” is presumed to come from a Greek word that, also itself, is never even used one time in all of Scripture! Here we have an example of translators modifying the text to make it seem to align better with the religious tradition of men rather than trying to convey the literal intended meaning. The word “church” naturally tends to draw the reader’s thoughts to religious structure and form rather than organic spiritual life.  When the King James Version of the Bible was created, James actually instructed the translators (through a bishop by the name of Robert Bancroft) not to change the word “church” to reflect its actual meaning (something William Tyndale had already done in his translation of the New Testament years before). This truly is not a conspiracy theory, this is documented history!  The Bishop, with the King’s approval, devised 15 rules which the translators were ordered to abide by in their development of what has come to be known as “the Authorized Version”, one of which was this rule not to tamper with the old ecclesiastical terms (i.e. church). Again, this is historical fact.

“The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation, etc.” (A Brief History of English Bible Translations by Dr. Laurence M. Vance)

Many have reasonably presumed that the conveyed purpose for the King’s Bible was to establish a trustworthy translation of God’s Word in the people’s language so that they would no longer be subjected to the religious manipulation wrought by the Roman papacy.  While this purpose was indeed conveyed by a number of proponents of the work, I find it especially ironic that the very same authors of this work also sought to manipulate the masses by limiting the common man’s understanding of the text in specific places, thus compounding the notion of essential religious centrality; i.e. the mindset that presumes the establishment of organized religion (and its hierarchy of leaders) is intended to be embraced as the most dominant, essential feature of Christianity (when, in fact, it really has nothing to do with it at all).

In case someone might presume otherwise, it should be stated that the King Jame’s Version of the Bible was not the first English translation.  The Bible had already been translated into English in previous times.  In fact most of the KJV was copied exclusively from prior English translations.  It is a well known fact among many scholars that King James was not a fan of the Bible translation most popular in his day known as the Geneva Bible. There were two major reasons for this. One, because of the Geneva Bible’s Calvinistic leanings and, two, the Geneva Bible had marginal notes to help explain certain texts and some of these notes challenged his view of what he believed to be the divine right of kings to govern the church and stand as its head. James saw the Geneva Bible as a threat to his lordship over the church and this no doubt fueled much of his ambition to create a Bible version that was officially “authorized” by the king himself.

“‘I profess,’ he said, ‘I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst.’” (The Geneva Bible: The Forgotten Translation by Gary DeMar)

As an interesting side note, even the first pilgrims who came to America did not come toting King James Bibles but read and preferred the Geneva Bible! (Gary DeMar’s book also talks about this) If you’re interested in more of the details surrounding the King James Version of the Bible, I heartily recommend the excellent book “The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy” by George Davis, Michael Clark and Kirk Pearson (also available free online: download it here).  James also used William Tyndale’s version heavily (which is where most of the poetic styling of the KJV comes from), but replaced virtually every reference to organic fellowship and horizontal leadership (as the original language of the Greek presents) and instead kept the old ecclesiastical terminology.

In all honesty, it could very well be argued that the word “church” should not even appear in the Bible. But rather than getting into an enormous discussion over the word we are accustomed to using and not likely to see change any time soon, I will instead emphasize the actual biblical meaning of ecclesia. I am convinced that there is not that much problem with use of the word “church” so long as we clearly comprehend its intended meaning and use in Scripture. So, for the rest of this letter, I will continue to use the word “Church” appealing to the reader’s understanding that it is the “ecclesia” of God that I have in mind and I will clarify my use of the term when I am referring to “church” as the human-devised structures and programs of organized religion and institutional Christianity.

THE SINGULARITY OF THE ECCLESIA
In every case where we see this word “church” used in reference to believers, it is speaking of the Lord’s Church (his ek-klesis or ecclesia). There are not many brides of Christ, there are not many bodies of Christ… There is only one. Paul spoke concerning the Church with such incredible singularity. Additionally, we never see this word “ecclesia” used in terms of an organization or a building or a denomination – it always, ALWAYS, is a direct reference to the people of God, born into His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. Paul wrote many letters to many people in different locations, but he spoke a singular message of there being only ONE BODY, which is the Lord’s Church. Therefore, in my humble opinion, it is not accurate to say that Paul necessarily wrote letters to “churches” but rather to the Church (Ecclesia) represented in a given city. Though our English translations of the Bible virtually every use the word “churches” (plural), the Greek remains “ecclesia” singular! The only exception to this rule is when the author is speaking to communities of believers within a massive region (e.g. the “churches” in Asia). This can be difficult to grasp for many because of the damage that has already been done with the common understanding of the meaning of the word church. There were seven cities in Asia, each one with a single, united community of believers in each city. Therefore the Scripture says, “to the churches in Asia”. This is a plural referencing a singular (for lack of a better way to describe it). Again, ONE body of Christ but identified as present in each city. It is vital to understand these are NOT denominations (for even the very word denomination indicates division). There is no division in the true Church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10)! So what is meant by there being one representation of the Lord’s Church in every city? Again, I am not suggesting this even means one gathering place in each city. We are talking about a spiritual dynamic. It would be the same as saying that if you left Seattle and entered into Portland, you would then be among the Christians in that city. You haven’t left the body of Christ or the Ecclesia/Church by leaving Seattle, but you are simply now among the body of Christ within another town. It matters not whether you visit some designated structure or meeting place because the word “Church” (as it is used in Scripture) has nothing to do with a place, a building or an organization. It ONLY and ALWAYS has reference to PEOPLE.

This, I believe, is a most significant fact to regard. Observe the following passages concerning the “oneness” of the Body (the church). Notice how SINGULAR these terms are in every group Paul preached to.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all ONE BODY, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.

Ephesians 5:29-30 – No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the Church. And we are his body.

Colossians 1:18 – Christ is the head of the Church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything.

Romans 12:4-5 – Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of His ONE BODY, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all ONE BODY in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.

Ephesians 1:21-23 – Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else in this world or in the world to come. And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the Church. And the Church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence.

Ephesians 4:15-16 – Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the Church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

The verses (like those mentioned above) are numerous and exceptionally clear! While as one body we have many parts, those individual parts are not defined by attendance of or joining some other separate church organization.  Those “parts” are not “other church organizations“.  When someone speaks of getting one’s self into a church, what exactly are they suggesting? Are they suggesting that there is more than one church a person needs to “get into”? The biblical fact is that once a person is joined to Christ he is a full participating member of the Church (the Ecclesia of God); which is the body of Christ. There is nothing else he need join. There is nothing else he can join. There are “parts” but only ONE Church – and organizations are not those “parts”, neither are religious buildings  those parts – PEOPLE ARE THOSE PARTS.

CHURCH (ECCLESIA) IS NOT A BUILDING MADE WITH HANDS

We have already mentioned this next detail briefly, but allow me to expand on it a bit further. Scholars agree that our English word, church, actually is derived from a Greek term that is never once used at all in the Bible! The Greek word which corresponds with the English word “church” is “kuriakon” (meaning “the lord or master of a property” also simply “the lord’s house”). Kuriakon is a derivative of “kuriakos” (meaning “of, or belonging to a lord, master, etc.”). The latter (kuriakos) is used twice in the Bible – but NEVER as a definition of the Lord’s Assembly (examples of use: 1 Corinthians 11:20; Revelations 1:10)! The word “church” (or rather “kuriakon”) was typically used in reference to things belonging to the Roman Emperor in early times. Eventually, Christians adopted the word and applied it to their temples, but in the first and second century, Christians did not engage in the practice of building temples because such was unanimously considered idolatry; the very practice of pagans. This is 100% documented fact! The following quotations are excerpts from early Christian writings:

“The Word, prohibiting all sacrifices and the building of temples, indicates that the Almighty is not contained in anything.” – Clement of Alexandria (195 A.D.)

“We refuse to build lifeless temples to the Giver of all life… Our bodies are the temple of God. If anyone defiles the temple of God by lust or sin, he will himself be destroyed for acting impiously towards the true temple. Of all the temples spoken of in this sense, the best and most excellent was the pure and holy body of our Savior Jesus Christ… He said to them, ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again. This He said of the temple of His body.’… When they reproach us for not deeming it necessary to worship the divine Being by raising lifeless temples, we set before them our temples.” (meaning, of course, the “temple” of their bodies) – Origen (248 A.D.)

“You mistakenly think we conceal what we worship since we have no temples or altars. Yet how can anyone make an image of God? Man himself is the image of God. How can anyone build a temple to Him, when the whole world can’t contain Him? Even I, a mere human, travel far and wide. So how can anyone shut up the majesty of so great a Person within one small building? Isn’t it better for Him to be dedicated in our minds and consecrated in our innermost hearts – rather than in a building?” – Mark Felix in “Octavius” (2nd Century A.D.)

“You say that we build no temples [to the gods] and do not worship their images… Well, what greater honor or dignity could we ascribe to them than that we put them in the same position as the Head and Lord of the universe! …Do we honor Him with shrines and by building temples?” – Arnobius (305 A.D.)

“It remains for me to tell you about the temple, how these wretched men who had been deceived put their trust in the building, as though it were God’s house, and not in God who made them. For almost like the gentiles they ‘made him holy’ in the temple. But know what the Lord said in nullifying the temple: ‘Who has measured the sky with a span, or the land with his hand? Haven’t I?,’ says Yahweh. ‘The sky is my throne and the land is the footstool for my feet. What kind of house will you build for me? Or what will be my resting place?’ Know that their hope is worthless… Now let’s ask whether there is any temple of God. There is, in the place where he himself declares to make and complete it. For it is written, ‘And it will happen, when the week is complete, that God’s temple will be built gloriously in the name of Yahweh.’ Therefore, I find that there is a temple. So how will it be built in the name of Yahweh? Know that before we trusted in God, the dwellings of our hearts were corrupt and weak, like ‘a temple truly built by hands.’ For it was full of idolatry and was a house of spirit beings, because we did whatever was opposed to God. But it will be built in the name of Yahweh. So pay attention that the temple of Yahweh will be built gloriously, and know by what means that will be. In receiving the forgiveness of our sins and trusting in the name of the Lord we became new, created again, as from the beginning. For this reason God lives truly in our houses within us. How? The message of his trust, the calling of his promise, the wisdom of the tenets, the precepts of the teaching, he himself prophesies in us, he himself lives in us, opening the door of the temple for us who had been in bondage to death. This is the mouth of wisdom, having given us repentance, leading us to the incorruptible temple… This is the spiritual temple of the Lord.” – The Letter of Barnabas; Chapter 16 (96-100 A.D.)

“(You) being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope, while your faith was the means by which you ascended, and your love the way which led up to God. Ye, therefore, as well as all your fellow-travelers, are God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, in whom also I exult that I have been thought worthy, by means of this Epistle, to converse and rejoice with you, because with respect to your Christian life ye love nothing but God only.” – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians; Chapter 9 (30-107 A.D.).

“Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as our God, which indeed He is, and will manifest Himself before our faces. Wherefore we justly love Him.” – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians; Chapter 15 (30-107 A.D.).

“Rusticus, the perfect, said, ‘Where do you assemble?’ Justin Martyr replied, ‘Where each one chooses and is able. Do you imagine that we all meet in the very same place?’” – Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs (160 A.D.)

“We assemble together with the same quietness with which we live as individuals.” – Mark Minucius Felix (200 A.D.)

“For where there are three persons – even if they are laity – there is a church.” – Tertullian (212 A.D.)

[Pagan Antagonist:] “They [the Christians] despise the temples as dead houses… They laugh at sacred things.” – Mark Minucius Felix (200 A.D.) NOTE: Felix was a Roman lawyer that converted to Christianity and wrote one of the finest apologies of early Christianity in the form of a dialogue between a Christian and a pagan; hence, this quote is intended to be a pagan’s expressed agitation with the Christian’s perspective on things.

Thanks to the influence of the Greeks and the Romans (and eventually the Roman Catholic Church), we now have church buildings and they have become so adopted as a part of our religious culture that we actually have deceived ourselves to think they are necessary and biblical. We falsely presume that true spiritual growth and fellowship cannot transpire without one of these “churches.” We even end up presuming that our religiously dedicated “church” buildings and programs are equivalent to the Church Christ shed His blood for! In fact, we treat both as one and the same!

I cannot tell you the times I’ve heard preachers and pastors remark how that (they say) “many people today claim Christ and yet do not even attend church even though Jesus Christ purchased it with his own blood!” Do you see the confusion in that concept; the mixing of attendance to a religious building and/or meeting with the spiritual idea of the body of Christ? To the religious church-goer, both are essentially the same thing; if you don’t attend religious meetings at a physical “church building” then you are somehow rejecting (or at least minimalizing) the Church that Jesus gave His life for! Essentially, you have preachers and pastors who are telling people that Jesus shed His blood for a religious organization and a man made building! This is an amazing deception! We might ask ourselves, “if the early ecclesia thrived and spread like wild fire throughout the world without church buildings and programs, how is it we have come to believe that we can now do nothing without them?”

Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897) says, “There is no clear instance of its (ecclesia) being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.”

Ecclesia, by stark contrast, bears no connotation whatsoever of an earthy building, temple or shrine. In the 16th Century, men of God like William Tyndale (Greek scholar and translator of the first printed English Bible) knew it and did not translate “ekklesia” as “church”… They (the religious leaders of his day) called him a heretic and burned him at the stake all because he translated the Scriptures straight from Greek and Hebrew into terms that more closely identified with their original meanings.

The Christians in the earliest centuries understood what it meant to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:13-18) as we discussed earlier. There was a cost to count that few of us can even compare to; for they gave their very lives for the truth.

As Christians we have been called out by God into His royal Assembly; His family. I personally think it is no coincidence that ecclesia has this very thought in mind. It makes perfect sense! For not only has God, in His Word, shown that we have been called out from among the world, but also even the RELIGIOUS world! In Jesus’ (and the apostles’) day it was the religious world of Judaism. Judaism was the epitome of organized religion. It was filled with rules, rituals, ceremonies and observance of holy days and religious meetings. God called His people to come out from that camp and to be joined with Christ. In fact, there is a prophecy in Isaiah where God showed His utter disgust for man’s religious worship (which had become lip service and going through the motions but void of any sincere heart). Israel had become so self-deceived with their religious worship rituals that they actually believed they were righteous because of them. Sound familiar? I think the same problem abounds today! This passage is rather interesting in the Message Bible:

Isaiah 1:12-17 – When you come before me, who ever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that– all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings– meetings, meetings, meetings–I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. GO HOME and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.

Isn’t it funny that God wasn’t interested in their “assembling” while they continued to simply perform religion and still sin. He sends them home! Go take care of business! Let your life speak louder than your mouth! Stand up for the homeless and the defenseless! People ought to be your concern! It reminds me of what James said.

James 1:27 – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In similar fashion, while many people today have been taught that “giving” is actuated by donating percentages of their money to church organizations (which is resource primarily wasted on buildings rather than meeting the financial needs of actual people as was common in the early Church), the Scripture presents no such design. In fact, Jesus Himself clearly told His followers how to give to Him… Surprisingly enough, He never told them to get “plugged-in” to a good “church” and start tithing. Rather he said the following:

Matthew 25:34-40 – Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.” Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

God’s Word sounds a loud call to all of those who are His that we are not to be about the business of building and concerning ourselves with earthly cities (religious centers and temples) here on earth (as the Jews did), but to keep our eyes peeled for the city yet to come. That’s where it’s at! That’s where we are to store up our treasures.

Hebrews 13:8-16 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be turned away by different strange teachings, because it is good for your hearts to be made strong by grace, and not by meats, which were of no profit to those who took so much trouble over them. We have an altar from which those priests who are servants in the Tent may not take food. For the bodies of the beasts whose blood is taken into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin are burned outside the circle of the tents. For this reason Jesus was put to death outside the walls, so that he might make the people holy by his blood. Let us then go out to him outside the circle of the tents (i.e. outside the walls), taking his shame on ourselves. For here we have no fixed resting-place, but our search is for the one which is to come. Let us then make offerings of praise to God at all times through him, that is to say, the fruit of lips giving witness to his name. But go on doing good and giving to others, because God is well-pleased with such offerings.

I find it interesting again that God does not call us to have large worship services but to live a life of worship – that worship being trademarked with ACTION. The offering He desires is praise at ALL TIMES (not just a Sunday sing song) and that primarily to be actuated through our doing good and being generous to others who are in need. The time for sitting in pews and thinking this is somehow “fellowship” or that it constitutes “being assembled” is long over. God is merciful in our stages of ignorance and is patient as we grow. He is so good and so faithful to continue to lovingly guide us and pour out His blessings on us, even when while we sometimes ignorantly remained engrossed in traditions that do more to slow that process of growth that aide it.

Many church believers remain in a seemingly perpetual state of babyhood, always dependent on “leaders” to teach them, hear from God for them, do the work of evangelizing the lost for them, entertain them, counsel and encourage them, help them in crisis, and direct practically their every move. So many Christians divide themselves according to favored leaders they admire and who give them that sense of security they lack. This dependence on men is a natural byproduct the church system produces. Ironically, it’s not just a byproduct… it’s also the fuel that keeps it running. It is designed to foster spiritually immature children and keep them that way (just enough truth and freedom to keep them happy and pacified). If it fails in this task, the system will crumble for lack of support. It needs these immature foster children as much as they think they need it. But Christ never intended His people to be treated this way. He wants them to move beyond immaturity and grow up into mature men and women of God who rest confident in the leadership of the Holy Spirit more than men and programs. He wants them to find their security in Him alone, not in men and religious programs.

When Christians follow the path of denominationalism and churchianity, they become blinded to their own condition and they fall prey to the danger of actually embracing a worldly mindset that cleverly creeps in through the guise of spirituality. This is not all that different from what the apostle Paul warned the believers in Corinth about:

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 – Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to mature Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn’t handle anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I prefer Apollos,” aren’t you acting like those who are not Christians?

Remember how Jesus also told the woman at the well that the day was coming when men would not need to go to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God and that would have no concern for places of worship but that the true worshipers would lead a life of worship, in spirit and in truth. Once again, the Message version of the Bible communicates this passage quite well:

John 4:23-24 – (Jesus said) “But the time is coming–it has, in fact, come–when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself–Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

But what has the church organization done today? It has made “worship” a song service that must be actuated routinely in an officially designated building, once a week, and led by professional musicians. The organization has carried over the types and shadows of Old Covenant Levitical priesthood and placed before believers “worship leaders” who mediate and perform and supposedly lead people into the throne room of God. But where is such concept ever found in the New Testament? Do we really need a modern system of Levites, an elite class, to lead people into God’s throne room? I thought we were afforded the right to come boldly before his throne freely because of Christ’s work.

Hebrews 4:14-16 – Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

No man on earth can “lead us” in worship. Being led is something that transpires only through direct communication with the Father. And as we’ve already seen in the Word, “worship” is not a song style – it is how we live our lives before Him. I have no problems with song services in and of themselves. It’s a total blast to be in a room with a collective of believers in Christ, singing our hearts out to Jesus. That is wonderful, but there is no mandate for such organization on worship in the Scripture. In fact, the New Testament never describes worship at all in the context of a song service in some weekly meeting. Again, worship is a lifestyle and this importance is far too often overlooked. All of these elements of “the program” deceive people to think that they are fulfilling the Lord’s desires by cramming all of these things into a 2 hour church service each week. People instinctively get themselves into a mode that “if I just do this faithfully every week, it covers all the bases, God is pleased, I’m doing my duty, I am “assembling” as the Bible says, and I’m growing spiritually.” It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking our righteousness is based on and maintained by works and things like church attendance. That is why I believe organized religion is so dangerously deceptive. The same was true in the first century. Paul was stunned that these believers who had experienced such great freedom and joy in Christ, were now turning back to religious practice. They still believed in Jesus. They still wanted to follow God, but they had allowed themselves to move away from the simplicity of their devotion to Christ and were replacing it, little by little, with religious observation.

Galatians 3:1-5 – You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough. Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up! Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?

So many good, church attending folks look at passages like the previous one and they shake their heads and say, “those foolish Jews.” Or they look at other groups, like the Roman Catholics, and say, “now they’re really religious, but not us, we understand…. We speak in tongues and dance and have powerful worship services and our pastor preaches lively sermons that are culturally relevant…” I think there are going to be many like the church of Laodicea (Revelations 3:14-22) who thought they had their mud together, but really were leaving Jesus on the outside. So many Christians today have their lives centered around the elements of organized religion and Christ is secondary. The worst part is, they actually are convinced that simply meeting each week with other Christians equals what the Word means when it talks about “being assembled together.” But the program is so compelling that so many of these sincere Christian folk honestly don’t have a clue what’s happening to them. I think that’s what was happening to the Galatians and when Paul saw this he could only respond by saying, “who has bewitched you?” A similar concern was raised by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians Christians, who were being persuaded away from simple devotion to Christ by the compelling words of certain church leaders (whom Paul sarcastically calls “super apostles”) – and again we see the singular terms he uses concerning them all (a single virgin espoused to ONE husband):

2 Corinthians 11:2-3 – For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

It is foolishness to think that most Christians aren’t likely to get distracted by such things but the Scripture tells us that even the great apostle Peter, who walked with Christ in the flesh, compromised the truth and yielded to organized religion and was rebuked by Paul before the assembly!

Galatians 2:11 – Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line.

Galatians 2:13-21 – Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade. But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?” We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.” We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it–and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.

The book of Hebrews talks about a separation from the old religion of Judaism and a drawing unto Christ alone. This was a hard message for the Jews to hear because Judaism was their whole life and their whole perceived connection with God. In their minds submitting to the practice of organized religion was godliness (and new Christians were also being swept right into this religious influence). But the author places his message in no uncertain terms, “you must leave that camp and join yourself to Jesus Christ, even if it means you bear His reproach.” Reproach by whom? Whom do you suppose, given the context of that passage? Who was it that rejected Christ and called Him a blasphemer? Was it not the religious Jews? The sinners even invited Him into their homes, but the religious cast Him out.

We do not have a city or a building on this earth that represents the Lord’s Temple. Anyone who teaches such does not teach the truth. Our “temple” is holy; it is comprised of God’s people. Our city is not of this world and is not represented by a physical building of wood and stone, so why bother with trying to build one here? It may be time that we take another look at the early Christian believers, to see what they embraced. It is time we seek to refresh our understanding of the Ecclesia of God; that it is not defined by a building or a religious program. We must leave all that old religion behind and passionately follow Him. It may mean that we won’t be so popular among the religious community. We may be misunderstood or even rejected completely. But we can take comfort, knowing that so was Christ and we can share in His blessing because we have left all to follow Him.

Hebrews 13:12-14 (GW) – That is why Jesus suffered outside the gates of Jerusalem. He suffered to make the people holy with His own blood. So we must go to Him outside the camp and endure the insults He endured. We don’t have a permanent city here on earth, but we are looking for the city that we will have in the future.

I do want to look closer at the reference of Hebrews 10:25, but I wanted to lay a strong foundation for this word “church” (ecclesia) as it is rendered and understood in the original languages and how the apostles and Christ Himself detested organized religion, considering it an obstacle to faith. It is a fact that the early Christians knew nothing of church the way we know it today. They were a community of believers and they interacted with each other as a family not as members of some religious organization. They didn’t build institutions of worship and Christian education. They didn’t congregate to hear one guy preach at them for an hour. There were no liturgies in their gatherings. Their meetings were informal and everyone participated (in fact there was so much participation that sometimes their meetings together led to some disorder, which Paul lovingly helped them restore focus without squashing their zealousness to minister to one another). Their lives centered around Christ not around their meetings. They were a body who built up one another, person to person, on the faith of Jesus Christ. This is so important to understand because their concept of meeting together and their concept of the Church was virtually 180 degrees apart from what we consider the church and fellowship today. When we first realize this, it brings passages like Hebrews 10:25 that have been so abused and removed from context into proper light. I thank God that He did not say any of the things that most folks suggest in that verse. He did NOT say to make sure you attend a good church organization every Sunday. He did say, however, to not forsake the assembling of ourselves – or as one scholar translated this “the episynagogue of one another” (epi-synagogue refers, in concept, to a “Christian” version of the Jewish synagogue or meeting), so this scholar meant to convey the idea that this “gathering” is satisfied, not according to a literal meeting place as was the case with the Jewish synagogue, but rather that this is spiritually qualified by the nature of our mutual fellowship in Christ (thus the “episynagogue of one another”). There are at least two important aspects here that must be regarded. The first I will emphasize by quoting the passage in its complete context. Note that the author here is not talking to some little church organization but to the entire body of Christ; which includes all of the called out ones!

Hebrews 10:14-25 – For by that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy. And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. First he says, “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts so they will understand them, and I will write them on their minds so they will obey them.” Then he adds, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” Now when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.

Didn’t Jesus say that when as few as two or three come together He would be there with them? (Matthew 18:20) Many Christians have even twisted this verse and changed the word “three” to “more” to justify their massive meetings. They say, “whenever two or more are gathered.” The text, however, speaks in very intimate terms. Think about this in the natural… How easy is it to gather with just a few friends and be united together in purpose and conversation. It gets very difficult, however, the larger the number grows. What most people would feel comfortable sharing amidst a couple of close brothers or sisters in Christ, the same would not likely be willing to tell a crowd of people. Perhaps when Jesus said “two or three” He simply meant “at least that many”. I don’t want to presume too much. I’m just making an observation here. Another brother (Neil Girrard) actually shared this thought with me and I found it interesting. Anyway, it makes simple sense; especially when we consider what is clearly known about the early believers – they frequently met together in their homes and shared meals together. It’s pretty hard to cram 5,000 people in a small room, especially around a dinner table. 😉

Even the early Church father Tertulian (late second century A.D.) acknowledged that even if just two or three come together, there is the church present (i.e. a representation of the body of Christ). So “a church” is not described by a building and a program BUT BY PEOPLE! This is critical to understand because you can’t have it any other way.  The Church is not both a people and a building (for Scripture provides no such definition).  You can’t tell people they need to get into a church so that they will be “assembled” because it’s misleading. People typically understand that this means they must find some organization to join (or at least attend regularly). Whether you have said it or not, this implies also that attendance and membership in this organization somehow validates their faith (because real Christians go to church). If we say such things, we impose a legalism that God’s Word never imposes and we begin to center our lives around something that God’s Word never tells us to center them on.  By all means encourage fellowship with other believers (pray together, sing together, share the life of Christ together), but we should not tell people to get signed up in religious organizations (for the sake of fellowship). When we encourage that we do so without any authority of Scripture.

The author of Hebrews is not prescribing formula or ritual in the passage we are discussing. He is not commanding “church” attendance (the way many today presume) or even weekly meetings (though he is not forbidding weekly meeting either – and the purpose of this article is NOT to suggest that there is anything inherently wrong with that activity). The book of Hebrews involves reference to the prophecy about the coming destruction of the Temple. Persecution was at the “doorstep” of the body of Christ. The author warns and encourages them, “brothers and sisters, you are about to go through some rough times. Don’t forget HIM who has called you and HE who leads you. Stick together! Stay strong and encourage one another.”

Notice something else here… The passage in Hebrews 10:25 says to exhort one another (i.e as it refers to this assembling) “even more” as you see the day approaching (the definition of the Greek text confirms this as the words “even more” or “much more” means with greater frequency”).  Why would the author say “even more” unless it was such that they did not meet all that frequently? Simple logic tells us that he was encouraging them to pull closer together and encourage each other more and more as the days got more difficult. What you end up with here is actually more evidence that Christians did not meet for “church services” or even so-called “fellowship” on a regular basis any more than you can extract any notion that this is somehow what this passage prescribes! “Exhort one another even more” does not mean “schedule more church services and make sure everyone religiously attends them.” Exhort (according to its definition in the original Greek) means – “to call to one’s side, to speak to, to encourage and comfort”. Clearly this is possible on any number of levels without necessitating the exorbitant waste of financial resource in a building and a weekly program (let alone scores of rituals, liturgies, and other traditional religious practices – virtually all of which are not identified anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures). This “exhorting even more” could transpire very simply through letters, phone conversations, or in person. It is simply IMPOSSIBLE to conclude from these passages of Scripture that “not forsaking the assembling” has anything to do with scheduling and imposing a requisite of weekly “church” attendance on believers in Christ (let alone putting pressure on folks to “give” and finance such things).

At the very least, as we just observed, this was a special call to encourage the believers to get together because rough times were on the horizon, but the call is as simple as it was stated. One just cannot infer weekly organized “church” meetings with this passage. To do so is dishonest and a misuse of Scripture. When we do things like this (no matter how good our intentions might be), we remove the simplicity and profoundness of the family characteristic of the body of Christ and we force organization and cold, dead institutional religion into it.  We also imply and impose an unbiblical mandate on (and division from) those who genuinely love the Lord and might even want to fellowship with us, but who are essentially pushed away by this “thing” that has taken the place of Christ Jesus residing at the center of any relationships that might occur.

By pressing into a passage 1,700 years of pagan-inspired religious tradition (which, sadly, has influenced the Christian Church but has no ground in the Gospel) a division is made among Believers that God has not sanctioned and it is, in this author’s opinion, a component of the spirit of anti-Christ!  Sorry to have to put it so bluntly, but there you have it.  Thank God that most of the early Christian Church, and even many of the reformers and great theologians of times past, rightly defined the word “church” as it appears in Scripture – leaving out all the traditional nonsense that has been added to it. What has become of Christians today that they are more willing to accept the false definitions of tradition (and hold those as essential doctrine over others) rather than the simplistic and absolutely clear design of Scripture? And who are these men in the pulpits that see fit to excuse themselves from biblical realities and invest their own religious bias on zero authority of Scripture?

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (re: Church) says, “by the church, is meant, not an edifice of wood, stones, &c. but an assembly, and congregation of men; …the elect of God, the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven; and especially such of them as were to be gathered in, and built on Christ, from among the Jews and Gentiles. The materials of this building are such, as are by nature no better, or more fit for it, than others: these stones originally lie in the same quarry with others; they are singled out, and separated from the rest, according to the sovereign will of God, by powerful and efficacious grace; and are broken and hewn by the Spirit of God, generally speaking, under the ministry of the word, and are, by him, made living stones; and being holy and spiritual persons, are built up a spiritual house: and these are the only persons which make up the true and invisible church of Christ…”

People’s New Testament Commentary says, “…the church, the spiritual temple, formed of living stones, and built upon the rock. So is every confessor of Christ.”

Milt Rodriguez (The Rebuilder Gazette; Volume 37, June 24, 2003) – “The New Testament is very clear in pointing out the fact that the Temple or House of the Lord in the Old Testament was a shadow or forerunner of something much greater. ‘You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ – 1 Peter 2:5. The word ‘House’ literally means ‘household.’ This implies the ‘dwellers’ who actually live inside the building; in other words, the family of God. The house of God is the Ecclesia, the Body of Christ, the City of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Bride of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ. I am not speaking about a building, organization, denomination, association, or any other dead thing. I am speaking of the living, breathing Body of Christ. The organic expression of Jesus Christ on this earth is what we are sorely lacking. This is what God wants to rebuild. Do you have a heart for this?”

1 Peter 2:2-5 – “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Consider also “the assembly” which the author of Hebrews is directly referring to:

Hebrews 12:23 – “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…”

Acts 7:48-49 – “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest?”

Acts 17:24 – “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.

Hebrews 9:11 – “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building…”

1 Corinthians 3:9 – “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 – “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”

2 Corinthians 6:16b – “…for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Revelation 21:3 – “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.’”

Ephesians 2:18-22 – “It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father. So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God. You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit.”

Note that in the preceding passage (and the one in 1 Corinthians 3:9) the term “building” is used metaphorically to describe the united body of Christ, who Himself is the foundation, the very cornerstone, of the Church. Note also that it is Christ Himself who is responsible to hold all of us together and cause us to grow and mature into that which He has desired. What is the responsibility of apostles and prophets in this “building”? Their role is to set people’s attention upon Christ! The foundation they lay is not a moral system of religion (or some kind of religious establishment), but it is Christ the Lord. This is immensely significant!

In my personal studies reading through the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I noticed how consistently the “Church” is identified SPECIFICALLY as “the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ which is IN His Saints.” For nearly 200 years after Calvary, God’s people were not confused about what the Lord’s Church (Ecclesia) really is – and they never defined it in terms of a building or religious program! (and, as we noted early on in this letter – they never even defined it as “church” at all)

Though it may be uncomfortable, I feel I must reiterate that the religious organization that people today refer to as “the church” is merely an establishment of man, built by human hands, maintained by human effort and employed by human agendas and schedules and, difficult as it might be to swallow, human authority structures.  This “system” is not once defined anywhere in the Word of God as being something that makes you any more or less a part of the body of Christ Jesus! It is wrong to judge a brother or sister in Christ who is not a “member” of a “church.” That does not in the least invalidate their standing with God and their validity as a member of the Lord’s true Church! Nor is it any indication of their level of spiritual maturity! Does someone want to join an organization or religious club? Fine, but NEVER elevate that organization over the body of Christ and then make it an idol by calling it His Church. Does someone want to belong to some denominational church? Ok, but they should not turn their nose up at those who don’t “worship” the system (or that don’t worship at the system) or regard it as being God’s prized invention and special interest. We had all better start regarding God’s people as the precious jewels they are regardless of what organization they may or may not belong to.  And, no, I am not talking about some kind of new age Christian unity where all faiths are represented as one (just in case someone might take this way out of context).  But I am certainly saying that we had better learn to properly discern the Body of Christ and STOP calling institutional religion “Christianity”.

Christians in many institutional churches often tend to look at each other and pass judgment because they esteem this organizational thing as being so vital to their Christian experience. Friends, we need to approach our Christianity from a relational aspect; relationship with Christ, a life centered around Him, and a love sparked by His grace and His presence in our lives and the experiential knowledge of who He really is and all that He has done for us. Second to this being enthralled with Christ, we must become relationally-minded towards one another, NOT INSTITUTIONALLY MINDED! A meeting, in and of itself, is not evil, and I am not suggesting that.  Organization also has its place.  It is good for saints to meet together (especially as the Spirit of God draws Believers together in assembly) and the Scripture confirms that we should not neglect to do so (Hebrews 10:25), but are we engaging in the right kind of meeting; the meeting that we see exampled in Scripture? Do we realize that it only takes 2 or 3 simply gathered in agreement (Matthew 18:20) to constitute a meeting where the Lord’s presence is manifested? Do we realize that this may occur with spontaneity as the Spirit moves and does not even need to be scheduled as some kind of weekly regiment?  Do we understand that “church” is not a building, not an organization, not an institution, not a program, not a “ministry,” not a scheduled meeting with list of required rituals and a liturgy that need be performed routinely, but CHURCH IS WHO WE ARE TOGETHER!!! THE BODY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST!!!  You know, a lot of times, Christians say they believe this… yet they continue to emphasize things that are not the least bit essential.  They say, “we’re all about Jesus,” but they still feel this need to advertise their “brand”.  They say, “we don’t mind if you’re a person who doesn’t like church or that doesn’t attend one, we love you and welcome you because our lives our connected to Christ,” but then they continue to go on about “our church” this and “our church” that (employing all kinds of methods to advertise their brand of church and why it’s different, better, or whatever and why you need to get involved with them), making it very apparent that “church” remains at the center (or at least very near the center) of their conversation and experience.

To a person who really is not interested in the whole program of religion (i.e. “church world”), the tactic of a church organization to suggest they are “the church for folks who don’t like church”, is laughable and completely unappealing…  In fact, the mere fact that an organization would advertise itself that way, is like placing a flashing neon sign on it saying, “we are exactly what you’re not looking for, because everything is about church for us!”  This is not something that probably a lot of folks will understand who enjoy their institutional brand of churchianity.  To the person who loves the idea of being a part of a “non-churchy church that doesn’t care if you don’t go to church or like church but really ought to come to their church because their church is not like any other church“, they will not likely understand why a follower of Jesus that doesn’t center their life around church could not be at least a little bit interested in what they have to offer.  The reason is, we are not looking for fellowship with a religious program (for most of us have done that and, quite frankly, are done with that)…  but we DO want to enjoy the fellowship that exists in Christ among our family in God… if they will allow it.  Sadly, many who claim to be part of the Body of Christ are not often willing to engage in extended fellowship with members of the Body of Christ who may reside outside the confines of their religious environment.  If this does ever occur, it is generally an awkward environment; as one person is silently “concerned” about the other person who is not in church, while the other person (who doesn’t attend church) is feeling the weight of that unspoken “concern” and trying to maneuver around the Christianese they no longer speak and no longer relate to.  So, even when both people try to enjoy fellowship without worrying about “church”, very often church still inserts itself because it has become so much a part of the churched-person’s thinking and activity and they have not learned how to function without it.

By the same token, quite often the person who no longer participates in institutional church activity, finds it incredibly difficult to know how to navigate around the church person’s thinking and conversation, since they no longer identify with that.  This can be especially difficult if a person’s exodus from “church world” was due to spiritual abuse, wounds from other Christians or by leadership, doctrinal error or some other action (as they may tend to presume these negative things are a normal part of everything bearing the label of “church”).  Whether “in church” or “out of church”, so often the devil uses this very thing (i.e. “church”) to drive division among members of Christ’s body.  I do think it’s very important to remember that the influential mindset of “churchianity” has infected and damaged so many people (many without their even realizing it yet) and that applies to both those within and without religious institutions (since many, if not most, who are “out of church” once were “in church” and still deal with the effects of that long-term programming that occurred).  Though the “out of church” person may have made it their emphasis to detach from churchianity, they may be failing by making “out of church” an emphasis at all.  Christ alone must be the emphasis!  We must allow the grace of God to rule our hearts and we must continue to tune our hearts to the voice of the Spirit of God.  As we learn to listen to the Spirit of God and as we allow the Love of God to transform us, He will lead us through each encounter and He can help us overcome the obstacle of “church” (even the very concern about “church”) so that we see with new eyes.  What I am saying is that even those of us who believe we have been freed from churchianity, can fall into the trap of thinking we have “arrived” and can become as much of an obstacle to the work of the Spirit as those we believe are bound within the mindset of churchianity.  All of us, whether “in church” or “out of church” must come to the realization of what the Lord’s Church really and truly is and we MUST regard one another accordingly!  If we can do that and if we each can submit to the Spirit of God and respond in the Love of God, then I believe the right kind of Christian unity can begin to emerge and devil will be dealt some heavy blows!

I’m taking some time on this because I believe it is so important that we get our eyes back on the pure Christianity we see modeled by the early Believers in Scripture.  As we begin to be moved by their example, which was to live IN the fellowship of Christ DAILY, we will stop spending so much focus on all distractions from that truth!  All of us need to come to a better understanding of what the fellowship of Christ is.  All of us need to come to a greater revelation of what the Assembly is!  As the Holy Spirit guides us into the desire of the Father and as we submit to that desire, we will continue to shed any and every old mindset that is not from Him.  As we begin to really see that the biblical concept of assembly has, really, NOTHING to do with organized religion or institutional churchianity – then we will stop dividing up the body of Christ with that unholy blade.  Would to God that we would allow the Spirit of God to purge the errors from our thinking and truly unite us together in Him.  Would to God that would stop trying so hard to figure out how to “have church” and just realize that we, who follow Christ, ARE THE CHURCH!  Instead of trying to schedule God into a static weekly routine, maybe we should just flush the routine and give Him our whole lives to move us as He so desires.  Maybe instead of wasting time with things like “worship practice” to prepare for a weekly performance, we should actual make worship a practice of our daily lives; one that comes wholly from a place of sincerity and truth before God.  Maybe instead of centering our attentions on the “weekly sermon monologue”, where we suppose this is how we are to be “spiritually fed”, maybe we ought rather to begin speaking to one another, as the Bible indicates, by teaching and helping one another with songs of praise and holy words, making melody to God with grace in our hearts (Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16).  Instead of some kind of routine drop-in-the-bucket style of “giving” where pastors announce that it’s “time to give tithes and offerings” (something never uttered by anyone in the New Testament Church), we out to finally come to the understanding that Christ is to be our motivation wholly in all things… especially giving!  It cannot be regimented by some church routine.  It cannot be mandated by some legalistic practice.  True giving must be actuated of complete freewill and by direction of the Holy Spirit and the motivation of God’s love working in our hearts.  This kind of giving marked the behavior of the first century Christians.  If flowed genuinely and freely out of their hearts because of God’s work in them, not because there was some rule to perform it on Sunday.

2 Corinthians 8:5 – This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives.

Christians must stop thinking of “giving” only in terms of something they put in an offering plate at a religious service (as a component of “church practice”).  Giving, as taught by Christ and His apostles, never involved the maintenance of religious organization and the financing of professional leadership paradigms.  Rather gifts were given (both financial and of material possessions) to care for the real physical needs of other people (and, yes, sometimes that included apostolic workers).  In fact, the apostles and pastors were generally only involved with collecting these things when the need arose to carry them to the people of other cities that were struggling and for whom the gifts were collected.  There is simply no example of the kind of so-called “giving” we observe in today’s so-called “churches”.  It is abundantly clear from Scripture that the apostles taught plainly that giving was a matter that each person decided on their own and according to their relationship with the Lord and love for one another.  It really is to be that simple!

2 Corinthians 9:7-10Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give.   God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.  The Scriptures say, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.”   God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need.

2 Corinthians 8:12-15Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.  Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality.  Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.  As the Scriptures say, “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.”

My point is that so much of what passes for “the assembly” today (i.e. church as we know it), is not really the kind of assembling the Scripture refers to at all.  All the things that religious man has added and used as part of his definition of “church” is a definition entirely foreign to that given by Scripture; of the Lord and His apostles.

I hope I’ve been clear enough in stating that I do not hold that there is necessarily anything wrong with attending or belonging to a club or some organization, just don’t call it “the House of the Lord” and PLEASE don’t call it “the Church”. If you like where you are and think all of this stuff is just too radical, that’s fine, stay put and pursue the Lord with all your heart, just please don’t judge and reject other Christians who choose to “meet” in other ways or that don’t choose to “join” a “church” at all. I know that God is merciful and He is able to deal in each of our lives with grace, patience and love. I spent better than 30 years of my life in the institutional church and believed a lot of stupid things, but God still penetrated through all of that and touched my heart. He led me along by His grace and He fed me, nurtured me and changed my life. He poured out his renewing power in my life and filled my home with His manifest presence. Whether in “church” or out of “church” the standard set by Jesus of Spirit and Truth still applies to us all. God is looking into our innermost being for sincerity – not religion. Because my heart of hearts has been set on Him, the institutional church wasn’t a complete obstacle and God still connected me with true and sincere saints within that system to provide an element of communion together for a season. I believe the same is true for every one of His dear children. As much as I am weary of the routine called “church” and as much I believe it hinders spiritual growth in so many ways, I all the more believe that God is faithful and He is so amazing and good and He can touch people’s live inside. I would be lost if this wasn’t true about God! If God waited until we got everything perfect, we’d all be dead with no hope of touching him. But just because God is merciful to our shortcomings and longsuffering, kind and forgiving, doesn’t mean we should use that mercy as a license to remain in sin, ignorance and stagnation when we come to a knowledge of the truth and experience the revelation of the Lord; that He is more than religion and He has more than our human attempts to orchestrate religious activity can possibly offer. With all my heart I believe there is higher road! I am seeking to ride on it! I want to learn how to fit into God’s more excellent way. At the very least I know that I will never place something so insignificant as an institution of religion in between my relationship with God and with other believers.

Finally, I wish to convey that there appears to be a broader reference concerning “assembling” in the Hebrews 10 passage. It seems, judging by the context, that the “assembling” in discussion is not merely some endeavor to get together, but is a more serious and eternal matter. The whole lead up to verse 25 speaks about our coming to Christ and verse 26, immediately after the “assembling” passage, starts warning us not to apostatize from the Faith. It would seem to me that the more pertinent reference in this passage is to not forsake the assembling together in terms of apostatizing from the truth! Every reference in the passage speaks in terms that indicative of the entire body of Christ – not some small group here and there. In this letter I have emphasized assembly in the broadest spiritual sense but also referred to the small gathering. I am compelled, however, to presume that this passage in Hebrews has little to do with “meetings” together at all (though, understand, I am not suggesting that it condemns them either).  The one might compliment the other, but “meetings” in an of themselves is NOT what this passage has in mind and I believe that should be clear by this point.

The more we realize what the biblical definition of Church is (i.e. the “Assembly” of Christ), the harder it becomes to fit the modern concept of it into the text.  I know from one conversation I had with an institutional pastor several years ago, that there is a natural fear among many religious leaders in churches (including the man I spoke to) of these kinds of concepts, because they may tend to unravel the mummy that has been in existence for so long.  When you start embracing the liberty of the Spirit and return to the notion of Christ as Leader and Lord, then these other established pillars of religion begin to crack and give way.  While this sounds like a good thing to a free person, it can be a terrifying thought to the one who clings to the established religious order and depends upon its controls and perceived benefits.  But just as I used the analogy of unraveling a mummy, so do I believe that the more that people open their eyes to see the rotting carcass of religion that is wrapped inside, the less they will desire it and the more they will desire to see a true manifestation of the Lord’s Church the way He desires it!  Pastors, instead of trying to hold on to that which God has not desired, should instead be preaching and teaching that which He does desire!  Sadly, that’s not likely to occur so long as they believe this threatens their livelihood and positions of control and perceived authority.  Still, I am hopeful that there are some godly men and women out there who are willing to allow the Lord to open their eyes, soften their hearts, and change their course.  I hope and pray that many will begin to recognize what the Church is and to flee what it is not…  Not for the sake of merely leaving that old system behind, but for the sake of embracing everything God desires and to see His will and His kingdom established for the glory of God!!!

May God bless each of you as you continue to walk in the freedom He has given and the wonderful truth He has established!

The Oneness of the Divine Family

“I pray for them…which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” – Jno. 17:9,10.
THERE is a touching pathos in this prayer of our Lord for his disciples as he was about to leave them, which draws us very near to his loving heart; especially when he adds, “Neither pray I for these alone [then present with him], but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one – I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” – Verses 20-23.

As we come to consider this beautiful expression of the Lord’s sentiments with reference to the Church, we catch a glimpse of the glory of the blessed oneness of the divine family. It is a oneness of purpose, a oneness of confidence, a oneness of sympathy, a oneness of love a oneness of honor, and a oneness of mutual possession. This oneness our Lord described as already existing between himself and the Father, but so far as his disciples are concerned it was and still is only prospective; and its full accomplishment is the ideal goal toward which we are taught to aspire.

But let us study this exemplified oneness more closely that we may be enabled the more fully to enter into it. In the first place we notice that the one purpose which is common to both the Father and the Son is the Father’s purpose, which was gradually revealed to the Son in due time and order, whose it also became by adoption. Since Jesus himself said, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” only (Mark 13:32), it is manifest that the revelation of that plan to him was a gradual one; and that he was led into the knowledge of its various features as they became due to be worked out through his instrumentality. Thus he was allowed to grow in knowledge; and thus, too, he was spared the sad spectacle of subsequent trouble which also lay along the pathway of the divine plan. Thus, while he joyfully worked out the grand plan of creation (John 1:3; Prov. 8:22-31), he probably knew nothing of God’s purpose for the subsequent permission of evil and the necessity for the great work of redemption. Before he came to that test of faith in God his confidence in his almighty power, wisdom and love had been firmly established by the experiences of the past. For centuries he had seen his mighty works, marked his wondrous wisdom and experienced his tender love. Could he doubt him, then, when another feature of his plan made manifest the great work of redemption and restitution, and gave to him the privilege of undertaking this work also, for the joy that the Father set before him? No; doubtless he did not at first realize the depths of humiliation and sorrow through which he must pass; but, step by step, along the painful way of humiliation and suffering, his faith in the Father, founded upon his previous experimental knowledge, sustained him, as it is written – “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” – Isa. 53:11.

We next notice between the Father and the Son a beautiful oneness of confidence. The Son trusted the Father fully – at first, because it was easy and natural. Created in the likeness of God, trust in the Being who brought him into existence was spontaneous, and experience served but to develop and establish it. And the Father trusted the Son fully – first, because he recognized in him the inherent principles of righteousness and truth and filial loyalty which he himself had given him; and, as the course of time and experience developed and the more firmly established his Son in righteousness, his confidence in him became firmly established. And so strong was the Father’s confidence in the subsequent fidelity of his beloved Son, that he did not hesitate to declare the results of his faithfulness thousands of years before he even began the work of redemption. He even declared all the special features of the work, by the mouth of his holy prophets at various intervals for four thousand years before he began the work. And still he declares that the work shall in due time be gloriously accomplished. How wonderful and how beautiful is this mutual confidence!

We further notice a oneness of sympathy between the Father and the Son. The Son glories in the Father’s plan, saying, “I delight to do thy will, O my God.” He delighted in it because he discovered therein the worthy features of his Father’s glorious character; and though his faith may have been temporarily tested by the permission of evil, his knowledge of God’s character and resources, and of the depth of his wisdom did not permit him to doubt, but held him still in loving trust in his infinite goodness and grace, and, therefore, in readiness to acquiesce fully in the measures proposed for the final triumph of righteousness and truth.

And the Father was likewise in loving sympathy with the Son, not permitting him to be tried above what he was able to bear; and not leaving him to bear any trial alone, but always granting him the light of his countenance and a joyful sense of admiring approval (John 11:42; Matt. 3:17), except when, for our sakes, he permitted him for a moment to feel that he was forsaken; when, in the anguish of his soul, he cried out at this unusual experience, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Now, mark the oneness of love manifested. In every act we have already noted we have seen it expressed. It was mutual love that delighted to manifest and express mutual confidence, that gloried in the same loving and benevolent purposes, that sympathized fully with each other’s thoughts and feelings, and that delighted in the close and blessed relationship of Father and Son. The Father did not treat the Son as a servant and hide his purposes from him; but delighted to take him into his confidence in so far as his wisdom and prudence dictated – i.e., as the truth became meat in due season to him. And, in turn, the Son did not serve the Father as a hireling, but as a son with a common interest. The Father declared, “This is my beloved Son;” and the Son said, “I delight to do thy will.”

How blessed the fellowship! It was a fellowship of joy and a fellowship of suffering – of joy in a common anticipation of the future glory; and of suffering in mutual participation of the preliminary trials to secure that end. The Son suffered in his humiliation and his dying agony; and the Father suffered in giving his only begotten Son – an intensity of suffering which the loving, yearning hearts of devoted parents can best imagine and appreciate.

There was further a recognized oneness of possessions clearly expressed by our Lord, who declared, “All things that the Father hath are mine.” (John 16:15.) And the Apostle says, God hath appointed the Son the “heir of all things,” and hath “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” – Heb. 1:1,2; Eph. 1:20,21.

And, lastly, we notice a oneness of honor. In honor each seems to prefer the other. The Father says: Let all men honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. (John 5:23.) God has made him the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, and exalted him to his own right hand, to the chief seat of power in his kingdom, giving him all power in heaven and in earth. – Heb. 1:2,3; Matt. 28:18.

In the work of creation he has set him forth in great prominence and glory, saying, “Without him was not anything made that was made.” In the work of redemption and restitution God has set him forth so prominently that his name is the theme on every tongue, almost to the eclipse of the Father’s own glory, who of necessity is himself greater than the Son (1 Cor. 15:27), and to whom the glory pre-eminently belongs, as the Son also declares, saying, “My Father is greater than I;” and again, “I can of mine own self do nothing;” “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” – John 5:30; 14:10,28.

The Son’s corresponding anxiety to glorify the Father is most marked in the instance when, realizing that he was approaching the dreadful hour of his dying agony he exclaimed, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name” – even at this cost to me. (John 12:27,28.) Again we hear him say, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” (John 17:1.) And when the great work of redemption and restitution is accomplished, we see him delivering up the Kingdom to God, the Father, and subjecting himself to his further direction, that Jehovah himself may be universally recognized as all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24,28.) And we, like him, may surely trust that his purposes for the ages to follow will but the further express and emphasize the same lines of his glorious character – his justice, his wisdom, his love and his power.

Glorious oneness! who could suggest an improvement to its wondrous beauty and completeness? But the wonder and joy increase when we learn that it is also our privilege to come into this same blessed oneness with God. What! we inquire – the very same oneness as above described? Yes; undoubtedly it is our privilege to enter into the very same relationship and privileges and blessings. To this end consider the exceeding great and precious promises and see that it is ours to have the same oneness with God – of purpose, of confidence, of sympathy, of love, of honor and of possession.

The same plan of God is presented to and adopted by us, and we also are invited to become coworkers with God in carrying it out (2 Cor. 6:1); and in so doing we are counted in with Christ Jesus as filling up the measure of the sufferings of the anointed body necessary to the accomplishment of that plan. Our heavenly Father also similarly manifests his confidence in us – in the loyalty of our hearts toward him and in the sincerity of our consecration to him – even though he recognizes our inherent weaknesses and our inability to carry out fully our own determinations. But, notwithstanding this, so great is his confidence in our sincerity and integrity of heart, that, on our profession of faith and consecration, he fully accepts us as his sons and heirs, supplementing our weaknesses and shortcomings with the all-sufficient merit of our Redeemer, in whom we humbly trust. And not only so, but as sons, honored and beloved, he makes known to us, also, his secret counsels, which others cannot know (Matt. 13:11), and invites us to confide in him as children, and to speak to him freely of all that concerns us, in full assurance of his loving interest, even in our smallest affairs. (Psa. 103:13,14.) And then he commits a portion of his great work to us. He gives us certain talents, certain portions of his goods, and tells us to invest them for him according to our best judgment as to the profitableness of the results, not dictating all the minutiae of the management as to hireling servants, but merely submitting to us the general principles which should govern us. Thus, for instance, he gives us his plan as to the work in hand, with such general directions as, not to cast our pearls before swine; to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves; to give meat in due season; to do good to all men as we have opportunity, but especially to the household of faith; and to observe the times and seasons, and the character of the work in each – seed-sowing in the spring, and reaping in the harvest time; etc., etc. Thus with general directions he sends us forth – not like machines, to do a monotonous treadmill service, but as intelligent beings, to use our brains as well as our hands and feet. So he counsels us to “study” to show ourselves workmen approved, and to consider and think, and not to be “as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.” (Psa. 32:9.) Then, according to our zeal and faithfulness, not only in the use of our hands, but also of our brains, in the Lord’s service, his confidence in us increases and we are entrusted with more and more of his goods and given a corresponding sense of our heavenly Father’s approval. And the mutual confidence and fellowship of purpose and work, draw our hearts closer and closer to the heart of the Eternal, and the joyful realization of sonship and mutual interest and confidence and sympathy fills our hearts.

We are also assured of the same love from our heavenly Father which he exercises toward our Lord Jesus. The statement seems almost startling; but yet, hearken to our Lord’s prayer – “I pray for them …that they may be one…that they may be made perfect in one…that the world may know that thou hast…loved them as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:20-23.) In amazement we inquire, How can this be? Our Lord Jesus was always in perfect harmony with the Father; a son who gloriously reflected his likeness; but it has not been so with us: we were sinners and had nothing in us worthy of love. Yes, but we have been washed and cleansed, and, however imperfect our earthen vessels may still be, our hearts are perfect in his sight who is able to read the heart. And, as he sees us with a perfect heart – a perfect purpose and intention – striving to overcome the weaknesses and disabilities of our imperfect flesh, and with painful, yet determined, effort to do his will, and humbly trusting in the provisions which he has made for our redemption from the fall, God recognizes in us that which is worthy of his love. And so our Lord Jesus gives us clearly to understand that the Father loves us, even as he loved the Son.

And not only is this equality of the Father’s love for us as for Christ Jesus thus declared, but it is also manifested; for we are called to be joint-heirs with his Son, and partakers of his glory; and even as all things are his, they are also said to be ours. – Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:21-23.

While such is the oneness between the heavenly Father and all his anointed sons, it is blessed also to mark the same oneness between Christ Jesus and his anointed brethren. The Lord Jesus does not selfishly grasp all the glory and seek to retain it for himself, but the rather with admiration he contemplates their acquired worthiness and says, They “are mine and I am glorified in them” (John 17:10); and he would have them all bound up together with himself in the Father’s love. He would also have them with him, beholding and sharing the glory which the Father had given him from the foundation of the world – the glory of his mighty creative works, with all the other evidences of his Father’s love. – John 17:22-24.

Thus all the divine family are bound together in one bond of love and fellowship and confidence and sympathy and harmony and common interest; and the honor and glory of one are the honor and glory of all. The Lord’s prayer abounds with petitions for this oneness. Mark the expression (verse 21) – “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee” [thy spirit or disposition and purposes and aim being common to us all]. Hence, he would have us adopt the same Father’s spirit, aim and purpose, and devote all our powers with zeal and faithfulness to the accomplishment of the Father’s will. Amen, so let it be.

 

Is Meeting in Homes Biblical?

Mega-Churches-in-the-U.SThere are numerous examples in the Bible where we see Christian meeting in homes, but yet there is not one single example in the Bible where we see Christians meeting in any kind of building that was specially built for any church related reason, let alone for their comfort and convenience. There is also not a single example anywhere in the Bible of Christians renting or building even modest buildings for church meetings, let alone huge palatial facilities, ornate cathedrals or sprawling multi-building “campuses”.

Regardless of all the clever justifications and excuses for church buildings that we constantly hear from pulpits across the land, these structures are not only unnecessary; they are unbiblical, wasteful and highly problematic. Yet astonishingly, it seems the average pastor’s number one priority is to pressure church members into raising funds for building related initiatives.

Not only is it Biblical (yes Biblical!) to meet in homes, it is actually unbiblical to burden any congregation with the initial and on-going expenses of a purpose-built church building, be it a rental, lease, mortgage or out-right purchase. Such is not only exploitation and abuse, but is also not according to the clear church traditions found in the Bible. This extremely popular and widespread practice is a direct violation of the simple no cost traditions that we have been given, wonderfully uncomplicated traditions that are not open to tampering and revision.

Yet astonishingly, all this considered, today’s widespread practice of renting or building buildings for church meetings is not only assumed to be a true Bible-based tradition of the church, it is taught as if it is pure biblical truth. This practice is packaged as if it were a biblical doctrine that is to be upheld as virtually the most important tradition of Christianity, even more important than genuine Christ-ordained traditions of worship, prayer, Bible study and simple fellowship. Not only is the false tradition of building church buildings totally incorrect, it is an outright lie. No such doctrine exists in the Bible.

Additionally, we do not see church buildings coming on the scene until around 300 AD when Constantine started this whole building mess. This was centuries after the Christian Church began. But I do not want to make history the subject here. Many authors have written excellent materials on this informative topic. My focus is the biblical view.

What The Bible Says…

House-to-House Not Facility-to-Facility

That being said, let’s begin by taking a look at the many Scriptures that refer to churches meeting in homes:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2 KJV  [Notice they happened to be sitting in a house, not in pews in a theater-like lecture hall.]

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple [a preexisting Jewish structure not a purpose built church building], and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart… Acts 2:46

And daily in the temple [a preexisting Jewish structure not a purpose built church building], and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Acts 5:42

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Acts 8:3 [This is likely referring to both an assault upon actual house churches and an assault upon other church members in other houses where church meetings may not have been held.]

20. And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly [meaning openly to the public socially – this does not mean in a public building], and from house to house, 21. Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:20-21

3. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4. Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. Rom 16:3-5

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 1 Cor 16:9

Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. Col 4:15

And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in your house: Philemon 1:2

These last four passages are greetings to house churches; twice to one church in particular and yet we do not see one single greeting anywhere in the Bible that was sent to churches that met in specially built church buildings. Why? There were no such buildings.

More of What The Bible Says…

The Church is a People Not a Building 

The Bible irrefutably establishes that the church is a people not an architectural structure or series of brick and mortar buildings. In the Greek we see that the word “church” (ecclesia / ekklesia) means a called out people. When we read this word in context, we see that it more specifically means a called out people of God, and even more specifically a people of Christ. Accordingly, the church is not to be thought of or referred to as a facility or even as a meeting place.

The early church as recorded in the Bible didn’t care about erecting buildings. That was not their mission. Making disciples was their mission. And so the church was once accurately known exactly as the Bible describes, as a people of Christ.  However, centuries of manmade traditions have obviously altered how most people view the church.

Sadly today it seems that the average person, believer and unbeliever alike, thinks of a church as a meeting place rather than a people of Christ. This degradation in thinking marks a massive departure from the traditions that were handed down to us from the Apostles.

We Must Not Alter the Traditions Given

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught whether by word, or our epistle. 2Thess 2:15

The Bible commands that we are to hold fast to the traditions that were handed down to us. This means that we are not to alter or add to those traditions. We know that an original Apostle is speaking here and referring to himself and other original Apostles when he says “whether by word, or our epistle.”

Altering biblical church traditions also alters underlying doctrine and therefore actually changes what the Bible teaches. So messing with these traditions is very dangerous stuff.

We Are God’s Temples

You would think with so much emphasis among Christians across the world on the building of church buildings, that certainly the Bible must teach this course of action somewhere. But not only does the Bible not teach this, the Bible teaches the exact opposite:

18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom you also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. Eph2:18-22

Could it be any clearer that we (Christians) are God’s building, that we are His habitation and His temple? If this were not enough proof, we see this same teaching in a number of different forms in several different places in the Bible. Here are some examples:

We find that the Spirit of the Lord no longer dwells in temples made by the hands of man (see Acts 7:48, Acts 17:24), and that we (Christians) are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19). We see that the Spirit of God Dwells in us (Rom 8:11). The Bible further states that we are God’s building and also that Christ is the foundation of that building. (See 1Cor 3:9-11). [Note: the word “building” here in the Greek means an architectural structure! So Christians themselves are God’s architectural structure, not bricks and stone. This means no purpose-built church buildings are necessary. No sanctuary needs to be created. We are God’s sanctuary!]

9 For we are laborers [co-workers or fellow workers] together with God: you are God’s husbandry [land that is cultivatable], you are God’s building [architectural structure]. 10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Cor 3: 9-11

So not only are we God’s building we are also his LAND for building upon! This verse alone puts to death the popular practice today of acquiring land and building church buildings.

In verse 10b we read, “…But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon.” So we are to take heed how we build upon the real buildings, which are God’s people. This shows we need to be very careful that we live, act, and serve others properly, which of course is a direct result of being careful that what we believe and teach is biblically accurate. But sadly most Christians act just like the world in so many ways (and astonishingly even more so than the world in some respects), and so exactly like earthly businessmen and entrepreneurs, Christians are incredibly preoccupied with building, maintaining and expanding commercial buildings, things that have nothing whatsoever to do with Biblical Christianity, with being a Christian and living a normal Christian life.

Earlier in this same verse we see that the Apostle Paul said that he laid (taught / revealed) the foundation, which is Christ and another built upon that. Nowhere do hear anything of Paul raising money to lay the foundation of a new church facility or others building upon that.

Let’s look at the rest of this chapter (1Cor 3:12-23):

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation [with] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble [straw]; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abides which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 16 Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; 23And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. 1Cor 3:12-23

There are countless Christians that are not only building on the wrong foundation; they are doing so with wood, hay and stubble, which will one day be burned up and exposed as worthless. Although these Christians are saved (all Christians are saved otherwise they would not be Christians), they will suffer loss of rewards in heaven for spending their lives building and supporting the kingdom of man rather than the kingdom of God. We see it is the wisdom of the world, which is foolishness that they are following and propagating. Not only do they do this, they glory in the men who are behind this error.

What we see from this and other passages is that the bottom-line overall is God is clearly not interested in bricks and mortar. He is interested in living stones.

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1Pet 2:5 (NASB)

Man however has an inordinate preoccupation with concrete and glass.

But Isn’t a House Still a Building?  

A common and somewhat clever argument against churches meeting in homes goes something like this: “But isn’t a house still a building built by the hands of man?” Yes it is, but we are not claiming that it is a special sanctuary or that God’s Spirit dwells within those walls. Not to mention, houses already exist. Everyone lives somewhere and there are no added costs to also meet at that same place as the church. And by common sense we know that someone’s “house” is wherever that they happen to live and consider to be their home. Obviously this could also be an apartment, condominium, town home, mobile home, etc. All these are acceptable meeting places.

What About Meeting in an Office or Warehouse?  

Once Christians start meeting as the church in a place where someone doesn’t also live, it seems that this is the exact point where problems quickly begin and rapidly compound. Anything less than a home (such as meeting at an office building, warehouse, business, etc.) is moving in a colder, more institutional and less intimate direction even if those spaces are believer-controlled and obtainable for free. This is partly because meeting in these kinds of “professional” spaces lacks the hospitality and intimacy of a home and this disconnection from close fellowship somehow almost always leads to a strange overall desire to rent or build a special facility and travel even farther down the wrong road to an even colder more institutional setting.

Of course it must be said that Christians who meet in a home yet lack understanding and self control still often have an inordinate desire to incorrectly use that home as a stepping stone to one day rent or build a building. This happens all the time. Regardless, the Bible commands us to make straight paths for our feet and to give no place to the devil. This means that we should not tempt ourselves. More on why professional spaces are not a good idea in an upcoming article.

But Didn’t the Early Church Also Meet in a Temple Building?

Yes they did and the larger size of the temple could accommodate multiple house churches meeting together to hear the original Apostles speak (more publicly) in a building that already existed. Multiple churches were able to make use of a Jewish facility that was apparently available to them without any charge or cost. However, as we saw from the list of Scriptures earlier in this article, individual churches were identified and associated with houses of specific people, not with the temple.

Some argue that since temples are not freely available today that we need to build Christian versions of them. This is not true. Time and again, the pattern that we see in the Bible is home assembly. Never once do we see any meetings conducted in specially built church buildings. So the lack of “temples” today is not a license to build them.

We should also keep in mind that the Apostles were special messengers who God was writing the New Testament through and who lived in a different time in history. The Bible is now complete and there are no such “capital A” Apostles today. The Apostles were also Jewish men who had access to the existing temple building.

Also, the church was brand new and was being formed at a rapid pace and so they conducted daily meetings in both the temples and homes. Not that daily home meetings wouldn’t be a good idea today, but daily meetings generally do not presently occur except maybe in some 3rd world countries and possibly some home assemblies. Nevertheless, we must ask: do even today’s modern Evangelical churches meet daily in their popular special church buildings that they commonly build? Almost never. These buildings typically remain vacant most of the week.

The following are where the temple building and houses are mentioned together:

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart… Acts 2:46

Further trying to justify their desire for a building, some may claim that this verse proves that church meetings were conducted in the temples and only eating, communion or the breaking bread in general was done house to house. This is not true as the following verse shows:

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they [the Apostles] ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Acts 5:42

Obviously there was much more going on in these houses than just eating.

Some Brief Closing Thoughts  

Regardless of all the empty rhetoric and constant urgent appeals for money that we endlessly hear “ad nauseam ad infinitum” from ambitious churchmen everywhere, church buildings are simply not necessary. In fact, they are actually huge unbiblical distractions and major time wasting and money wasting endeavors that open up a Pandora’s box of other problems.

Jehovah’s Organization

conventionThe organization of the church is clearly set forth in the Bible. Jesus is its Head, and it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the “chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20) In Ephesians 4:11 Paul informs us that the Lord has also supplied evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These have been valuable helpers, but none of them has been inspired in the sense of never making a mistake in expounding the Word of God.

These lesser servants in the church, given the general title of “elders,” are appointed by the local congregations of the Lord’s people. According to the Bible, these appointments are made by a vote of the congregation and not by a centralized authority, as in Papacy. In Acts 14:23, the word “ordained” is used in this connection, and it is translated from a Greek word which, according to Professor Young, means “to appoint by vote.”

In this end of the age, as in times past, a departure from this method of appointing local servants has led to unscriptural dictatorship among the people of God.

In the messages to the “seven churches,” recorded in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation (Revelation 2- 3), an “angel,” or special messenger, is mentioned in connection with each of the congregations named. In Luke 12:42- 44 a special servant is mentioned by Jesus, one whom the Lord would raise up when he returned for the purpose of dispensing “meat In due season” to the “household” of faith. —Mt 24:45-47 These various servants of the church have, in the Lord’s providence, been a rich blessing to the household of faith, and the proof that they have been the Lord’s choice has been the joy which the truths they taught have brought into the hearts and lives of the Lord’s people. None of them has in any sense been the successor of another like servant, but each has been raised up at the proper time to serve the church according to its needs at the time.

The special servant mentioned by Jesus who would be raised up to serve the household of faith at the end of the age is obviously one individual who would be used by the Lord to serve the entire “household.” This servant is riot a class, or group, neither a society, or organization, for the very simple reason that he is mentioned in conjunction with fellow servants. If “that servant” is an organization, then it would be serving other organizations. If it were a class, then the other servants would also be classes, or groups.

The Greek word translated “ruler” in Jesus’ promise that a faithful steward would be made ruler to serve the “household” with “meat in due season” means to “set down” or to place. It does not imply that the faithful steward would rule his fellow servants or exercise lordship over them in any way. His only assignment was to serve his brethren with the “meat in due season,” which the Lord himself would provide through the written Word at the time of his return.

And what is this spiritual food which was served in “due season”? Throughout the Gospel Age the Lord’s people maintained their hopes of a heavenly reward. Truths pertaining to Christ’s return, the “harvest” which is the “end of the age,” the establishment and work of the kingdom were not vital to their needs. But when our Lord did return, these dispensational truths became essential “meat in due season.” During the age it was not the “due time” to proclaim the glorious kingdom hope of “restitution.” But when Christ returned, it was; and in order that this might be included in the witness work of the household of faith, this fundamental truth was restored, and the Lord’s faithful servants have been proclaiming it for almost a hundred years.

The determining of just whom the Lord has used as one or another of his special servants has not been a matter of interpretation or of saying arbitrarily that this or that one has been the Lord’s choice. Rather, it is a matter of discovering from the Bible the nature of the message that was due at any given time, and then noting whom the Lord used to deliver that message. Thus it is in connection with “that servant.” Pastor Russell was the one used to announce the presence of Christ, the work of harvest, the imminence of the kingdom, and the glorious hope of restitution for the world. For this he was hated by nominal churchianity. He was persecuted because he taught that the love and grace of Jehovah extended to the unrighteous dead and that they would be given an opportunity to obtain life when awakened from the sleep of death during the Millennium.

It was this loving message of the grace of Jehovah, this voice of God spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began, that helped to identify Pastor Russell as the one specially used at this end of the age as “that servant.” Obviously his fellow servants delight to proclaim the same glorious Gospel of love. To the extent that they have cooperated in the work of proclaiming this same message the Lord has blessed them—not by large numbers of followers, nor by establishing an imposing institution—but by giving them rejoicing hearts as they sacrifice their all in proclaiming the good news of the “restitution of all things.”

In view of the fact that Pastor Russell died So many years ago, some might ask if we should not now look for another special servant, either an individual or a society. No, this is not necessary, nor is it indicated in the Word of God. Jesus, the Head of the church, is its chief instructor, and we still depend upon the record of what he said more than nineteen centuries ago. New apostles were not needed for the church when the original twelve died. The writings of Paul and Peter and the others are just as vital to us today as they were to the Early Church.

And we still have the glorious message of present truth which that “faithful and wise servant” had found in the Word of God. This message, which continues to live in the hearts of God’s people, is the important consideration; and Brother Russell is still “that servant” to those who continue to rejoice in the doctrines which he had found in his study of the Bible.

Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses Organizational Structure like the Early Church?

raised-handsActually, there is no denominational church today that is structured like the Early Church.  The Early Watchtower actually was structured like the Early Church, but Rutherford changed that after Russell’s death.  Bible Students today still structure their congregations in this Biblical manner.

According to the Bible, the election of elders by Holy Spirit anointed congregational members was practiced in the Early Church.  The eventual elimination of this practice gradually led to Elders becoming the Lord’s of the Church, rather than its servants and it opened the way for the development of the Papal system which suppressed Christian liberty.

Paul and Barnabas went around to all the churches and conducted the election of Elders.  Acts 14: 23 (Weymouth) says, ”And in every Church, after prayer and fasting, they selected Elders by show of hands, and commended them to the Lord on whom their faith rested.  Other translations, like Rotherham and Young’s Literal translation say, “appointed to them by vote elders in every assembly.”    RVIC Revised Version Improved and Corrected says, “elected elders.”

Most translators confuse the reader by mis-translating the Greek word (Strong’s 5500) as”ordain.”  Yet the real meaning of the word cannot be hidden in 2 Corinthians  where Paul speaks of a brother who was elected by the churches to travel with him:  2 Cor 8:19 (Weymouth ) “… he is the one who was chosen by the vote of the Churches to travel with us…

In another example, we recall that the Apostles asked the Jerusalem Church to select seven deacons.  Acts 6:3 Weymouth says, “Therefore, brethren, pick out from among yourselves seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, and we will appoint them to undertake this duty.”  Certainly, no one would have challenged the Apostles had they exerted their influence to appoint deacons themselves.  Yet instead they humbly asked the Congregation to make this selection.

The Apostles never attempted to assert authoritative rule over the Congregations, even though Freedom and Christian Liberty in the Churches was so strong that it created great problems for the Apostles.

In 3 John 1 (Phillips), the Apostle John said, “9 I did write a letter to the church, but Diotrephes, who wants to be head of everything, does not recognise us!  10  If I do come to you, I shall not forget his actions nor the slanderous things he has said in spite against us. And it doesn’t stop there, for he refuses to welcome the brothers himself, and stops those who would like to do so—he even excommunicates them!

Is the JW Governing Body more like the Apostle John or Diotrephes?

Paul’s humility is very evident in his plea to the Corinthian brethren in 2 Cor10:1 (NKJV) where he says, ”Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ — who in presence am lowly among you…“

Paul did not try to force his will upon the Church.  He did not lord it over the Church, but in their presence was humble and lowly.

In 1 Thess 2 (NASV), Paul says, ”6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.

Speaking of himself and the other Apostles, Paul says in 1 Cor 4 (NKJV) ”11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world….”  Does the JW Governing Body live like Kings or like the Apostles?

Considering the humble condition and circumstance faced daily by the Apostles, we should feel privileged with even the lowliest of services for the Lord, the Truth and the brethren.

Paul lamented, 2 Tim 1:15 (NIV), ”You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes…”

2 Tim 4:16 (NAS), ”At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me...”

The Apostles suffered much in order to lead the Early Church by example, gentleness and love, even though they could have made things easy for themselves by implementing an iron rule.

The early church was able to resist the encroachments of power hungry leaders.  Rev 2:6 says of the first (Early) Church, “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”    The word Nicolans means “A conqueror or lord of the people.”  These are those who lord it over the Lord’s heritage. (1 Pet. 5:3)

Yet by the third Church period (Approx 311 to 700 AD), this oppressive influence began to take over the Church.  Rev 2:14, 15 (NKJV) “ But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam…  you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”  Yes, “while men [the apostles] slept [in death], the enemy [Satan] sowed tares [imitation Christians] amount the wheat [true Christians].” (Matt 13:25)

You can read more about how the Early Watchtower was structured like the early church from C.T. Russell’s own words here: 

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WHAT DO COMMENTARIES SAY?

Since Ordaining ministers is common practice in denominational churches, it would be amazing to find any of their authorities conceding that Strongs 5500 can be translated to “vote” or ”elect,” yet the historical definition of the word in early literature is so clear that it cannot be ignored.  The following commentators concede the meaning, yet some try to maneuver out of the concession by rationalizing that the meaning of the word was changed by the apostles.

BARNES NOTES
er. 23. And when they had ordained. ceirotonhsantev. The word ordain we now use in an ecclesiastical sense, to denote a setting apart to an office by the imposition of hands.  But it is evident that the word here is not employed in that sense.  That imposition of hands might have occurred in setting apart afterwards to this office is certainly possible, but it is not implied in the word employed here, and did not take place in the transaction to which this word refers. The word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament, {#2Co 8:19} where it is applied to Luke, and translated, “who was also chosen of the church, (i.e. appointed or elected by suffrage by the churches,) to travel with us,” etc. The verb properly denotes to stretch out the hand; and as it was customary to elect to office, or to vote, by stretching out or elevating the hand, so the word simply means to elect, appoint, or designate to any office. The word here refers simply to an election or appointment of the elders.  It is said, indeed, that Paul and Barnabas did this. But probably all that is meant by it is, that they presided in the assembly when the choice was made.  It does not mean that they appointed them without consulting the church; but it evidently means that they appointed them in the usual way of appointing officers, by the suffrages of the people. See Schleusner, and the notes of Doddridge and Calvin.

JFP – JAMIESON, FAUSSET & BROWN
Acts 14:23, 24. when they had ordained them elders—literally, “chosen by showof hands.” But as that would imply that this was done by the apostles’ own hands, many render the word, as in our version, “ordained.” Still, as there is no evidence in the New Testament that the word had then lost its proper meaning, as this is beyond doubt its meaning in #2Co 8:19, and as there is indisputable evidence that the concurrence of the people was required in all elections to sacred office in the earliest ages of the Church, it is perhaps better to understand the words to mean, “when they had made a choice of elders,” that is, superintended such choice on the part of the disciples.

THE PULPIT COMMENTARY
Appointed for them for ordained them, A.V.
(ceirotonhsantev); had believed for believed, A.V. The original meaning of ceirotonew is “to stretch out the hand,” and the substantive ceirotonia is used in the LXX of #Isa 58:9 for “the putting forth of the finger” of the A.V.  But the common meaning of the verb is “to vote by stretching out the hand” and hence “to elect” by a show of hands, {#2Co 8:19} or simply “to appoint,” without any reference to voting.  In the choice of an apostle the election was by lot, {#Ac 1:26} in the appointment of deacons the choice was by the people, how indicated we are not told; {#Ac 6:5} the question here, on which commentators disagree, is whether the use of the word ceirotonew indicates voting by the people, selection by the apostles, or simple creation or appointment. As ceirotonhsantev is predicated of Paul and Barnabas, it cannot possibly refer to voting by the people, who are included in the able, as those on whose behalf the ceirotonia was made. It seems simplest and most in accordance with the classical use of the word and its use (innoiv), #Ac 10:41 (prokeceirotonhme) to take it in the sense of creation or appointment (see Steph., ‘Thesaur.’).  There is no reference to the laying on of hands.  Elders. see #Ac 11:30, note; #Ac 20:17; and especiallyterov #Tit 1:5,7, where we see that presbu was synonymous with ejpiskopov.  From presbuterov is formed prestos, priest, in French prestre, pretre. Comp. #Ac 13:3, for fasting and prayer as accompaniments of ordination.  Hence in the Church ordinations are preceded by the Ember days. They commended them to the Lord. {comp. #Ac 20:32}  In ver. 26 the word used is paradedomenoi.

CALVIN’S COMMENTARIES
Had ordained by election. The Greek word ceirotonein doth signify to decree, or ordain a thing, by lifting up the hands, as they used to do in the assemblies of the people. Notwithstanding, the ecclesiastical writers do often use the word ceirotoneia, in another sense; to wit, for their [the] solemn rite of ordaining, which is called in Scripture laying on of hands. Furthermore, by this manner of speech is very excellently expressed the right way to ordain pastors. Paul and Barnabas are said to choose {2} elders. Do they this alone by their private office? {3} Nay, rather they suffer the matter to be decided by the consent of them all. {4} Therefore, in ordaining pastors the people had their free election, but lest there should any tumult arise, Paul and Barnabas sit as chief moderators. Thus must the decree of the council of Laodicea be understood, which forbiddeth that the people have liberty granted them to elect. {5}

J. A. ALEXANDER COMMENTARY
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed.  Besides these exhortations of instructions, they gave their converts a distinct organization as societies or churches. The meaning of the word ordained has been the subject of protracted and vehement dispute between Presbyterian and Episcopal interpreters. The latter grant that the original etymological import of the Greek word is to vote by stretching out the hand, but they contend that usage had so modified its meaning as to generate the secondary sense of choosing or appointing, without any reference to votes or popular election; and this they insist upon as the unquestionable use of the word here, where the act is predicated, not of the people but of Paul and Barnabas, who cannot be supposed to have voted for these elders with the outstretched hand.  Some go further and adopt the patristical usage of the word to denote imposition of hands, as the ordaining act; but this is commonly agreed to be an ecclesiastical usage of the word long posterior in date to the times of the Apostles. The opposite extreme is that of making the word here denote, directly and exclusively, the act of suffrage or election by the people.  To meet the objection, which has been already stated, that the act described is not that of the people, but of Paul and Barnabas, some modify this explanation of the term, so as to make it mean that Paul and Barnabas appointed or ordained the elders chosen by the people. The philological objection to this modification, that the same verb cannot denote both these processes at once, can only be removed by taking one step further and thus reaching the true mean between the opposite extremes. This middle ground is, that the verb itself, expressing as it clearly does the act of Paul and Barnabas, can only mean that they appointed or ordained these elders, without determining the mode of election or the form of ordination; but that the use of this particular expression, which originally signified the vote of an assembly, does suffice to justify us in supposing that the method of selection was the same as that recorded (not in #Ac 1:26, where the election was by lot and by direct divine authority, but) in #Ac 6:5,6, where it is explicitly recorded that the people chose the seven and the twelve ordained them.

JOHN GILL’S EXPOSITOR
Ver. 23. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, &c.] As soon as ever any number of disciples were made, or souls were converted to Christ in any place, they were at once formed, by the apostles, into a church state; and as the gifts, as well as the grace of the Holy Ghost, attended the ministry of the word, so among those that were converted, there were some that were honoured with ministerial gifts, qualifying them to preach the Gospel, and take upon them the care of the churches: these the apostles directed the churches to look out from among themselves, as in the case of deacons, an inferior office, who by joint suffrages declared their choice of them by the stretching out, or lifting up of their hands, as the word here used signifies, and not the imposition of them; and the apostles presiding in this affair, they were installed into the office of bishops, elders, or pastors over them; which expresses the great regard the apostles had to the order, as well as to the doctrine of the Gospel, and the concern they had for the welfare of souls converted under their ministry, by making a provision for them when they were gone.

CLARK’S COMMENTARY
Anciently, the choice or suffrage was called cheirotonia; for, when it was lawful for the multitude in their cities to choose their priests or bishops, they met together, and some chose one man, some another; but, that it might appear whose suffrage won, they say the electors did use ekteinein tav ceirav, to stretch forth their hands, and by their hands so stretched forth, or up, they were numbered who chose the one, and who the other; and him who was elected by the most suffrages they placed in the high priesthood. And from hence was the name cheirotonia taken, which the fathers of the councils are found to have used, calling their suffrage cheirotonia.’ St. Paul, {#2Co 8:19}, intimates that St. Luke was thus appointed to travel with him ceirotonhyeiv upo twn ekklhsiwn, who was chosen of the Churches.  Ignatius, in his epistle to the Philadelphians, uses the same term, prepon estin umin, wv ekklhsia yeou, ceirotonhsai episkopon, ye ought, as a Church of God, to choose your bishop.” Much more on this subject may be seen in Sir Norton Knatchbull, who contends that cheirotonia implies simply appointment or election, but not what he calls ordination by the imposition of hands. I believe the simple truth to be this, that in ancient times the people chose by the cheirotonia (lifting up of hands) their spiritual pastor; and the rulers of the Church, whether apostles or others, appointed that person to his office by the cheirothesia, or imposition of hands; and perhaps each of these was thought to be equally necessary: the Church agreeing in the election of the person; and the rulers of the Church appointing, by imposition of hands, the person thus elected. See note on “Ac 6:6″.

MATHIEW POOLE’S COMMENTARY
Acts 14:23. Ordained;  the word properly signifies a stretching out of the hand, such as was used when they gave their suffrages in the election of their magistrates, whereby was showed for whom they gave their voice; and afterwards it was commonly used for to constitute or appoint, or, as here, to ordain to any office or place; which might the rather be done by stretching out or laying on of the hands of the apostles, because by that means the Holy Ghost (or a power of working miracles) was frequently bestowed, #Ac 8:17,18, which in those times was necessary to authorize their doctrine to the infidel world.

PNT PEOPLE NEW TESTAMENT NOTES
And when they had ordained them elders. Observe (1) that elders were not appointed as soon as the churches were planted; time must be taken so as to know what men were fitted for the office; (2) that elders were not appointed to preside over a district, but “in every church”; (3) that there was a plurality; (4) that they were set apart with fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands. It is not here stated who selected the men, but from #Ac 6:6 we would infer that they were chosen by the church under the advice of the apostles.

COFFMAN’S COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE
Appointed…
Arguments based on this word which would require elders to be voted upon are not valid. As MacGreggor noted: The word ‘appointed’ means literally ‘chose by show of hands’ and, strictly speaking, should imply some form of popular voting.  But it had come to be used of choice in general without reference to the means.

WEYMOUTH:   selected elders by show of hands