JESUS AND THE CHURCH (ECCLESIAN)
The physical Churches all anchor their reason for being on Jesus’ promise to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loose in heaven” (Mt. 16:18-19). In reality, the binding is similar to a union between a man and a woman.
In the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea God is the husband and Israel the wife. Paul continued in the same tradition. The relationship between a husband and wife was similar to the followers of Christ to their Lord (Eph. 5:22-33). The same principles that hold a marriage together also sustain the church. Just as in marriage a man and a woman become one body (Mt. 19:4-6), the members of a church become one body in Christ (Ro. 12:5; I Cor. 12:27). The people of God were the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). According to Paul, the union between Christ and his followers as been consummated by baptism (I Cor. 12:13) and communion is a reaffirmation of the union between Christ and his people (I Cor. 11:26). There is a hitch. The communion is a mind – refresher of a promise Jesus made that He would return and then consummate the union (Jn. 14:1-3). According to Luke, Jesus made this promise at his last meal, “For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (22:18).
In The Parable of the Ten Virgins, the marriage between the bridegroom and the virgins is still in the making or in preparation. The five wise were ready to join the groom when he returned and five were not (Mt. 25:1-13). Being virgins or promised to be married, they were expected to keep themselves prepared for their betrothed. Oil represented the brides promise to be faithful and pure. It was the lack of it that excluded them from getting married. And it is a warning for all of us not to let our guard down. John the Baptist identified Jesus as the bridegroom of the bride. For a short time, the people heard his voice and celebrated (Jn. 3:29; Mk. 2:19). At the present, the bridegroom is no longer with the bride because he was taken away from her (Mk. 2:20). He is with the Father and the bride is on earth getting ready for his reappearance, “Hallelujah, for our Lord God Almighty reigns! Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given her to wear” (Rev. 19:6-8). In the final scene, the adorned bride is the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven (Rev. 21:9-10). The people in it are the saints that died for the lamb or the groom while on earth and they shall reign with Christ for a millennium. The others were not raised to life until the end of that millennium and faced judgment (Rev. 20: 4-6).
Jesus had that kind of insight into the future and that was why he prepared his disciples to save as many as they could for him. Peter and his key had a short lifespan. Both, the bound and the loose ended up in heaven. James replaced him in Jerusalem and Paul in the Gentile world. He did take charge on Pentecost and was coerced to open the door into the kingdom of heaven for Cornelius and the Gentiles. When the Gospels came out, his leadership was limited and modified. The Gospel of Matthew has Jesus commission all the apostles to go into the world and make disciples (Mt. 28:16-20). John Zebedee was more favorable towards Peter and recorded that Jesus did make him the leader of ten disciples. John himself appears as not included (Jn. 21:15-24). Earlier, however, all eleven disciples were commissioned. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (Jn. 20:21-23).
The word “church” (ecclesian) by itself means a gathering of people that agree in believing in Jesus as their Christ. This idea was consistent with the kingdom not being of the world but being within man. With regard to the number of people, Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20). He began meeting in synagogues or schools similar to community halls. When his life was threatened in Nazareth, He began meeting in homes and outdoors (Lk. 4:16-30; Mt. 5:1). In fact, Jesus began his ministry in Simon Peter’s home (Lk. 4:38-44). He held a meeting in Zacchaeus’ home (Lk. 19:1-10) and He held his last meeting with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem (Lk. 22:7-13). When Jesus sent out his disciples, He instructed them to find friendly homes in towns where they could meet and spread the good news (Mt. 10:11-14). Jesus told a Samaritan woman: “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” “God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”(Jn.4: 21-24).
Jesus was not against worshipping in synagogues, the Temple or on a mountain, but against what they had become. In addition to being places of business, they localized and nationalized God. To be near God one had to be in or on one of these places. That idea has perpetuated itself throughout history. Far too many still believe that God is attached buildings and statutes. The time had come when God no longer would be tied to a Temple or a State or a religious building that could be carried off into captivity and be defiled. Now, God would be worshiped anywhere where two or three like-minded people met. No longer will an ecclesia (a gathering) be localized or nationalized, but it will be individualized and universalized. All men and women will have access without intermediaries. The ecclesia will not be a military but a spiritual or moral force. It will sprout like seed and spread like yeast (Mt.13: 31-33). It will be as precious as a treasure and as priceless as a pearl (Mt.13: 44-45). And it will be like a net full of all kinds of fish (Mt.13: 47). All men will be drawn unto it and not even the forces of hell will prevail against it (Jn.12: 32; Mt.16: 18). Above all, Christ’s ecclesia (people) was not of this world (Jn.18: 36). And that is why they will have one prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt.6: 10). The ecclesia is God’s kingdom on earth. Each member has God’s direction imprinted in their hearts and on their minds by God’s Spirit (Jn. 14:26). They no longer need to be told what is right and what is wrong or be watched when they perform their tasks in this world. They are good and faithful stewards and servants in the world (Lk. 16:10-12; Mt. 25:21-23).
The disciples followed their teacher’s advice and hung out in the upper room or in the open in Galilee by the sea. On Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus and their followers had assembled in a large house that shook when the Holy Spirit arrived. The outpouring of the Spirit attracted attention and the house became too small. After that event, the followers of Jesus met at the Temple for prayer. Again, they grew too large and more leaders and assistance was required. Wealthy followers were led to believe that their stay on earth would be of a short duration. Christ was on his way to take them up and they would no longer need their properties. They began to sell their holdings and shared the proceeds (Ac. 2-6). The delay of Christ’s return began to cause hardships in supplies, accommodations and sanitations for the new movement. Herod the king began to dispose of the leaders and the Christians began to move out into the world as Jesus had told them to do in the first place (Ac. 8,12). Stoning Stephen hastened the dispersion and the spreading of the Christian message (Ac. 7). They began to pop up in Samaria, in Antioch, in Joppa, in Caesarea and other places. The first missionaries were not Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Mark or Timothy (Ac. 13) but Philip, Peter and John Zebedee (Ac. 8). Philip met the Ethiopian and led him to Christ while Peter and John dealt with a sorcerer in Samaria. Next, we find Peter in Joppa with Tabitha being restored to life. They were meeting in her home. When he was invited to go to Cornelius’ home, he stayed in the home of Simon the tanner. Peter’s second most significant experience with the Holy Spirit was in Cornelius’ home in Caesarea (Ac. 9-10).
The Christians in Antioch were the first to send out missionaries. Paul, Barnabas and John Mark were commissioned and not coerced to go. They began preaching in synagogues and then the opposition drove them into homes and outdoors. Their entire first ministry was held in synagogues. On Paul’s second round trip with Silas and Timothy, the synagogues closed and they met with Lydia by the sea and with a Jailer in his home (Ac. 16). In Athens Paul’s attempt to impress the intellectuals took place outdoors (Ac. 17) and in Corinth, he made his last attempt in a synagogue. He stayed and preached next door in the home of Titius Justus, the leader of the synagogue. That mission became his best and most troubling experience at the same time. Priscilla and Aquila who were forced to leave Rome became Paul’s friends and partners and so did the illustrious Apollos (Ac. 18). Ephesus was Paul’s escape from a lion’s den. Christians had impacted the city and aroused Demetrius a goldsmith to lead a riot in defense of the goddess Artemis. A city clerk quieted the crowd and friends of Paul kept him from being harmed (Ac. 19). In Troas, Paul met with the Christians in an upper room where Eutychus fell out of the window; he met briefly with Christians in Ephesus outdoors and returned to Jerusalem (Ac. 20). Paul was arrested in the Temple, was imprisoned and transferred to Caesarea where he was kept under guard in Herod’s palace. Then he was taken to Rome where he was held prisoner in a home and allowed to witness freely (Ac. 21-28).
During the first two hundred years, Christians gathered in small groups in homes as commanded by Jesus. They increased in numbers and larger buildings were needed. By the end of 200 A.D. they began to construct basilicas. These were rectangular structures divided into seating areas and aisles. The buildings had flat roofs like all the other buildings. One end was extended for additional semi-circular space. These meeting places were inconspicuous and called “House of God” or “Ecclesisia.” People began to regard these places where Christ was located. The physical structure became the symbol of God’s presence among man. With the acceptance of Christianity, the leaders began to build buildings with arches, domes and steeples. The higher in rank the clergy rose the larger their cathedrals became and so did their power to administer salvation. The clergy usurped the promises of Christ and set themselves up as mediators. It has become a struggle to separate personal faith from buildings that have been regarded as Houses of God or Churches. The temple Jesus felt most comfortable is the human body. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). Jesus himself became the object of worship. “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” Jn. 5:23). He offered himself to the people when he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19). The new temple was the risen Christ and object of worship (Jn. 3:14).