Ekklesia

I Will Build My Church, Matthew 16:18

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Introduction

In responding to Peter’s confession, Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” We should not assume that we understand exactly what Jesus was going to build. There is great misunderstanding about what Jesus was going to build and when it would be built. So let’s spend this lesson discussing what Jesus built when he said that he would build his church.

Understanding Ekklesia

The word “church” was never used in the Greek New Testament. Jesus never used the word nor its Greek equivalent nor did the apostles ever use the Greek equivalent to our word “church.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Webster’s English Dictionary, the English word for “church” derives from the Greek word, kuriakos, meaning “house of the Lord.” Now, that does not necessarily mean a house “belonging to the Lord Jesus.” Rather, it applies to any lord, whether a landlord or lord of slaves, etc. There are two places where a derivative of this word is used: 1 Corinthians 11:20 “Lord’s Supper” (a supper belonging to the Lord) and Revelation 1:10 “the Lord’s Day” (a day belonging to the Lord). But “church” or “house of the Lord” (kuriakos), is not used in the N.T.

Now, of course, the word “church” is used over 100 times in the English New Testament and is derived from the Greek word ekklesia. This Greek word has no etymological relation to “church.”

Further, ekklesia does not mean “called out.” This is a tremendous word fallacy that has been hoisted on us for far too long. Now the argument is usually made like this: Ekklesia is a compound word. Ek means “out” and kaleo mean “to call.” Therefore ekklesia means “the called out.” You cannot do this in the Greek just as you cannot do this in English. For example, “strawberry” is a compound word. “Strawberry” means “straw” which is a plastic tool to drink liquid through and “berry” which is a fruit. Therefore, “strawberry” means liquid fruit sipped through a plastic tool. No.

In fact, ekklesia simply means “any group or assembly of people.” It is not a Christian word or a religious word. Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 41 are some instances where we see the word ekklesia used for just a group of assembled people. Any time you read the word for ekklesia you can substitute an assembly of people and it will fit just fine.

Further, we need to understand that ekklesia is a collective noun. That is, while the word is singular, it represents a plurality. Herd, flock, troop, team, family, and jury are other examples of collective nouns. You cannot have one sheep and have a herd. You cannot be one person and have a team. You cannot be single and be a jury.

Usage of Ekklesia

Ekklesia is used about 50 times in the LXX. One instance is Deuteronomy 9:10,

And the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the LORD had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly (ekklesia).

Another instance is in Deuteronomy 4:10,

…how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me,  “Gather (ekklesia) the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear  me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.”

Because we have learned to over-emphasize an allegiance to a location, a building, and a local group, we have used the church as the means to draw people in. The message is, “Look what our church does! Look at the day-care, the school, the music, the entertainment, the fellowship! Don’t you want all of that?” It is like a club advertisement. Contrast this to the N.T. teaching:

Jesus used ekklesia only twice, both in the book of Matthew (16:18; 15:17). I’m not suggesting Jesus thought the whole idea of a called out group of people was unimportant or was to be minimized, but it certainly was not his primary message. Jesus would build and is building his group of saved people, but that is not the primary message.

Further, though Luke repeatedly uses ekklesia in Acts, it is never once used in any of the recorded gospel sermons preached to unbelievers. In other words, we never see Paul or Peter preaching to the people about the importance of coming into the ekklesia. Nor do they extol the church as the place to be if one wants to be saved. But how many times today do we hear people talking about the importance of getting in the church in order to be saved?

Again, I am not suggesting there was no mention of the ekklesia or that God’s saved group of people were unimportant. We are talking about the way ekklesia was used. The mention of ekklesia was always as a result of preaching the gospel and never as that which would be used to draw people to Christ. In other words, the ekklesia or the people of God are not the message — they are not the gospel — they are the result of the preaching of the gospel. Christ is the gospel message, the result is ekklesia. We are the saved group of people because Jesus saved us. We are not important in and of ourselves. We are important only because Jesus built this group of people, saving them from their sins.

Another mistake today resulting from misunderstanding is seeing the church as an institution — something we “get in” in order to be saved. No, the ekklesia is just saved people. Often, the church is spoken of as if it were that Jesus created a box and all who get in the box will be saved. But the church is not an institution in those terms. Again, the church is not something one gets into to be saved. The church are those who have obeyed Jesus, are pronounced justified, and are therefore saved. The church is not the saving mechanism, but the result of salvation.

Another mistake is seeing the ekklesia as a collection of churches. Obviously, if ekklesia is called out people, then it is not a collection of churches. This has led people to have some kind of allegiance to a sign that states exactly the same thing on every church that is similar in it teaching. Thus, there has emerged an allegiance to a collection of churches that are supposed to present themselves as a united front before the world.

Another mistake is speaking of “falling away from the church.” Again, we see where the emphasis in allegiance is. We should more accurately speak of a person falling away from the Lord. Because of their falling away from the Lord, the Lord will remove them from His ekklesia.

The Relationship of the Church to the Kingdom

We have frequently been taught by brethren that the church and the kingdom are synonymous terms. “When you read’kingdom,’ you are reading about the church.” It is important to recognize that the scriptures do not uphold this argument. This is not a hard fast rule for there are many places where “kingdom” and “church” are not synonymous. Let’s examine just a few instances.

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.(Matthew 13:41-42)

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:43)

Then the King will say to those on his right,’Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

These passages do not make sense if we place “kingdom” with the word “church.”

So what is the relationship between the kingdom and the church? I think the relationship can be understood in simple terms. When we talk about a kingdom is our language today, there are many things that are implied. To have a kingdom means that there is a king. A kingdom also has power, authority, and sovereignty. A kingdom also has territory. Finally, a kingdom has citizens or subjects. Language about the kingdom is very full. To speak of a kingdom refers to a king who has power, authority, and sovereignty over territory and over its subjects. The church, that is as we have learned, the saved people of God, are the kingdom. The church, the body of the saved, are the citizens of the kingdom of God. But when we read about the kingdom of God, the scriptures are not always speaking about the people. Sometimes the scriptures speak about the rule of God. Sometimes they speak of its power and authority. Sometimes they speak of the territory of the kingdom of God. Sometimes the scriptures speak of the people who are in the kingdom, which is the church. Therefore, when talking about the church, the body of the saved, you are talking about God’s kingdom. But when talking about God’s kingdom, the scriptures are not necessarily talking about the church. The church is only one facet to God’s kingdom.

What Did Jesus Build?

The conclusion to all this is that when it comes to our salvation and how that relates to the ekklesia, we need to know two things:

First, when Jesus said, “I will build My ekklesia” He was talking about one group of saved people. Therefore, it should be our first concern to be a member of God’s saved group. Acts 2:41, 47 tells us that when we are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, the Lord adds us to that group. 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that we are “baptized into one body.” So, when we obey the gospel, we are saved and the Lord adds us to all the other saved. This is our first concern.

But there is a second concern. God also spoke of local groups of Christians, local ekklesias. In Acts 9:26 Paul gave us the example that when we come into an area we ought to seek out the Christians there and join those disciples. In Hebrews 13:17 and 1 Peter 5:1-3 the apostles spoke of elders who are responsible for overseeing the souls that are among them. This tells us that when possible, every Christian needs to find a faithful group of Christians and then let it be known that they would like to become a member of that local ekklesia. This is done so that we maintain our salvation by doing together the things the Lord wants us to do together and by encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

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