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The Bible and the Church- Part 1
Church: The Misunderstood Word.
For everyone who wants to understand God's Word and His plan for today, there is a term that you need to know. That term is 'church.' This is one of those words which means more than most would think.
When we use the term church, many people think about a building where worshippers of God meet on a regular basis. To others, large powerful organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church, or the Church of England come to mind. Some may even think of a group of people who belong to a religious assembly as a church. But unless they are well versed in the Bible, few people on the street would know the biblical definition of the term.
The Greek word that is used in Scripture for church is the term ekklesia, which simply means "a called out assembly." In ancient Greek it referred to an assembly or a congregation of people. It was not originally used to refer to a religious assembly in the Greek speaking world, but usually to a political one.
This term was also used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to talk about the people of Israel. They too were a called out assembly of people. If you could read this text in Greek you'd see the term used some seventy times to translate the Hebrew word kahal.
I. The Local Church
When we see the term church in the New Testament, we need to distinguish between two major understandings of the word. Sometimes it is referring to local assemblies of believers in a particular area of the world. These local assemblies didn't meet in an elaborate building such as many of us do today. Rather some met in private homes or house churches. However, in the first century, due to persecution, Christians assembled any place that they could find, including open fields and the Catacombs, which were burial places. The church was not a building but the people who were assembled. It is this sense of the term that is meant in passages such as Romans 16:3-5 where Paul says:
"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus, 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. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
But there is another use of the word in the New Testament to which we must now turn. Sometimes it is referring to the Universal Church.
II. The Universal Church
The universal church is made up of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, both living and dead, who are saved by grace, through faith during this present age in which we are now living, commonly referred to as the Dispensation or Age of Grace.
Before this, God was dealing mainly with the people of Israel. The Lord had made promises to their forefather, Abraham that He would make him into a great nation and bless him and his offspring. And originally, Israel was to be the means whereby God would bless all the world (Genesis 12:3). Unfortunately, they failed miserably, which lead God to temporarily set them aside (Romans 9-11). It was because of this fall that God has begun the Church, also known as the Body of Christ. In this universal church God is placing both Jews and Gentiles alike. By the way, the term Gentiles, is used for everyone who is not Jewish. So God is no longer simply dealing with one nation, but with the whole world. (Ephesians 3:4-7; I Corinthians 12:13). He is saving a people for His name. And they are united under one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have only scratched the surface of this magnificent Bible word. But we've seen enough to know that the Church is at the very center of God's dealings with mankind today. When we are saved, we are not put on this earth to make it alone. We are all placed in a Body, the Church. We belong to each other, as Christians, and we all belong to the Lord. Sin, separated us from God and from one another. Salvation, brings us both fellowship with God and unifies us under one Head, Christ, and into one Body. And, it is through the Church, the Body of Christ, that God's plan of salvation is being offered to the world. Because of all of this and much more, we can all rejoice and say: "Thank God for the Church!"