Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“And I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my ekklesia,
and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.”
The word “church” comes from the Greek word kuriakon, which is a word that was never used by Jesus or any of his apostles. Literally, kuriakon means “a lord’s house”. It refers to a building made by human hands and dedicated to worship of a deity. And since the word “church” refers to any building used for worship, Islamic mosques qualify to be called “churches”, temples where Jews or Buddhists worship are also “churches”, and of course, buildings used by Christians for their worship also qualify as “churches”.
At an early stage of the development of the religion of Christianity, someone replaced Jesus’ word for God’s called-out people (ekklesia) with the ancient Greek word for a building dedicated to the gods (kuriakon). The error became popular, and though Jesus and his apostles never used the word “church”, Christianity possessed enough military power to enforce the change. Thus, the use of “church” became standard. Dissenting voices were brutally silenced. In 1604, when King James ordered that a new translation of the Bible be made, he commanded his translators to translate ekklesia as “church”, in spite of those who wanted to translate ekklesia correctly. If the King had not commanded it, the word “church” might never have appeared in the King James Bible, and had that been the case, King James would have lost the support of powerful churchmen.
William Tyndall was murdered by churchmen because he translated the Bible into the English language. Part of the reason he was so hated by Christian leaders was that he refused to use the word “church” in his translation. Though the Greek word ekklesia is found in the New Testament well over one hundred times, Tyndall never translated it as “church”. He knew that “church” is not what ekklesia means. “Church” was a heathen term that had nothing to do with the grace of God; it was imposed on the Scriptures by Christian churchmen.
“Ekklesia”, the word used in the New Testament for the community of believers, means “called-out ones”, “congregation”, or “assembly”. It refers to the people whom God has called out of darkness into light. It perfectly describes the people of the LORD, those called by God out of every culture and race into the kingdom of His dear Son, Jesus. God foretold of these called-out people when He spoke through Hosea (1:10): “It shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, that it shall be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God.’ ”
On earth, God dwells only in the hearts of His ekklesia. In fact, the Almighty scoffed at the idea that men could build Him an earthly building. He demanded, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth, my footstool. Where is this house that you would build for me?” (Isa. 66:1). It was after confessing this simple, precious truth that the young Stephen was stoned to death by the enraged elders of Israel. And it still provokes proud men to tell them that churches are not holy buildings and that “church” has nothing to do with Jesus. There are no holy buildings on this planet, for God, said Stephen before his death, “does not dwell in temples made with hands.” (Acts 7:48).
Anyone who has received God’s Spirit has become the dwelling place of God. “Do you not know”, asked Paul, “that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit that is in you?” (1Cor. 6:19). When we receive the Spirit, both the Father and the Son enter into our hearts (Jn. 14:23), and it is the presence of God, through His Spirit, which is what makes a person holy.
Yes, there are holy places on this earth, but those places are people, the people whose bodies have been made holy by the entrance of God’s Spirit. United in love and faith, the saints are shaped by Jesus into a living temple. Their bodies become the place, the only place on earth, where acceptable worship is offered to the Creator. From these people alone, God accepts sacrifices of praise, offerings of love, and oblations of humility. Peter wrote, “You, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God though Jesus Christ” (1Pet. 2:5).
Don’t you want to be a part of this? You can be. All that God requires is obedient faith in Jesus. You, too, can be a holy place on earth where God dwells by His Spirit.
The assembly of God’s saints has no name. It is just that, the assembly of saints. We do find that the New Testament writers deemed it helpful at times when speaking of the congregation of the Lord to use descriptive titles such as Mount Zion (Heb. 12:22), God’s building (1Cor. 3:9), the household of God (Eph. 2:19), the assembly of God (Acts 20:28), the body of Christ (1Cor. 10:16), God’s family (Eph. 3:15), and many others.
But searching for a title for God’s people should consume little of our attention, compared to that spent in making certain we belong to it.
Moved by the Spirit of prophecy, the Psalmist declared, “Of Zion it shall be said, ‘This man was born in her.’ And the highest Himself shall establish her. The LORD shall note, when He writes up the people, that ‘This man was born there’ ” (Ps. 87:5, 6). From this, we see that one must be born into the family of God because it is a family, not an organization. In the Old Testament, it was by a natural birth that a person became one of God’s people; in the New Testament, it is by a spiritual birth. This is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:3–7). In the following three verses, Paul reveals the mystery concerning God’s chosen way for people to become members of God’s family:
1Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body.”
Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Romans 6:3: “Do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
These three scriptures state clearly that one becomes a member of God’s family by baptism. The only question is, “Which baptism?” Is it a baptism with water or is it Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit? The question is conclusively answered in the verse from 1Corinthians: “By one Spirit were we all baptized into one body.”
Regardless of how religious a person is, if he has not received Jesus’ baptism, he is not born again, and so, he is not yet in God’s family. As Paul wrote, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). The only people who belong to God are Spirit-baptized people; no one else is a child of God, though the door is still open for “whosever will”.
Some who enter into God’s family prove afterwards to be unfaithful to Christ. Therefore, the body of Christ, as a whole, is not perfect. Nor was it perfect in the days of the apostles. Ananias and his wife Sapphira, for example, were anything but exemplary children of God. So, from its beginning, the family of God has contained both wise and foolish saints. However, Jesus promised to purge God’s family of unworthy members before his return (Mt. 13:36–43); therefore, we must watch and pray, for God is no respecter of persons.
In his Parable of The Sower, Jesus spoke of the danger of becoming unfruitful because of “the cares of this world” and “the deceitfulness of riches”. How many we see in this condition! He also spoke of the obedient children of God, saying that they would understand and would bring forth fruit. Thank God for these precious, faithful saints, though they be few in number! Take heed to your soul, my friend. We are still in the age when the body of Christ contains both wise and foolish believers. But, thanks be to God, the end is drawing near.
My brother, my sister – you who have been born of the Spirit of God – is your garment still spotless? Are you yet among those who “have not defiled their garments” ? Or is your robe like the robes of those believers James described as “moth eaten”? Make your answer to God, and write us if this message has been a blessing to you.