The Back Page – The Church

The Back Page

The Church

“Church” translates a Greek word meaning “an assembly of people,” whether a regularly summoned
legislative body (as in Acts 19:39), a casual gathering (as in Acts 19:32, 40), or a community with shared
beliefs. The Greek Old Testament uses ekklēsia in this third sense for the nation Israel (e.g., Deut 31:30),
often to translate the Hebrew word qāhāl. It is possible that Christians began to describe themselves by
means of the term ekklēsia in order to affirm their continuity with Israel (through using a term found in
Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures), and to allay any suspicion, especially in political circles,
that Christians were a disorderly group.
At any rate, even though ekklēsia was used for Israel, the New Testament church is not somehow an
extension of that nation. The church is not some kind of “spiritual Israel.” It is something new. Jesus
implied its newness when he said, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18). Paul writes that the church—
Jews and Gentiles together in one body—was unknown before his time (Eph 3). True, Old Testament
Israel was an assembly (qāhāl, ekklēsia), but it was not the New Testament church. The church is not the
new Israel. 1 Cor 10:32 implies that there are three groups today—Jews, Greeks, and church of God.
The church is important in God’s over-all program, as was and still is the nation of Israel (though in
another way and for different purposes). We are called the Body of Christ (the way in which he is present
and functions in the world today), the Bride of Christ (very dear and forever joined to him), the pillar and
foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). God bought the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28); Christ will
cleanse it till it has no stain or wrinkle or blemish (Eph 5:27). God’s manifold wisdom will be made
known in the heavenly realms through the church (Eph 3:10). Paul speaks several times with awe of
God’s grace to him because he had dared to persecute the church of God (Acts 22:4; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13;
Phil 3:6).
A rather high calling that we would be included in such an assembly, don’t you think? Should we
not seek to learn how to properly care for and conduct ourselves in this, God’s church?

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