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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

The history of the Church in the Apostolic Age may be treated under the following heads; (1) Sources, (2) Importance, (3) Name, (4) Origin, (5) Growth, (6) Conflict between Jewish and Gentile elements, (7) Character, (8) Relation to the State and other systems.

1. Sources. -Our sources of information are not nearly so full as we might wish, but some of them are excellent; and, although we are obliged to leave several important questions open, yet criticism enables us to secure solid and sure results. Our earliest sources are the Epistles of St. Paul, and the large majority of those which bear his name are now firmly established as his. Doubts still exist with regard to the Pastoral Epistles, but it is generally admitted that they contain portions which are by the Apostle, and at any rate they are evidence as to a period closely connected with his age. Hebrews, whoever wrote it, is evidence respecting a similar period. With the possible exception of 2 Peter, all the other Epistles and the Apocalypse are sources. More full of information than the Pauline Epistles, though later in date, is the Book of Acts, now firmly established as the work of St. Luke, the companion of St. Paul. Those who fully admit this differ considerably in their estimate of the value of Acts as a historical document, but the trend of criticism is in the direction of a high estimate rather than of a low one. Microscopic investigation and a number of recent discoveries show how accurate a writer St. Luke generally is. We have to lament tantalizing omissions much more often than to suspect serious inaccuracies. The Gospels give some help; for what they record explains many features in the Epistles and Acts.

Outside the NT, but within the 1st cent., we have the Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians and the Epistle of Barnabas, one representing Gentile and the other Jewish Christianity. Within the first three decades of the 2nd cent., we have the writings of three men whose lives overlapped those of some of the Apostles-Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias; and to the same period probably belongs the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve . Something of considerable value may also be obtained from two writers near the middle of the 2nd cent.-Hermas and Justin Martyr; and even so late as the last quarter of the cent. we can find apostolic traditions of great value in the writings of Irenaeus. From outside the Christian Church we have good material, especially respecting the great crisis of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, from the Jewish writer, Josephus; and also some important statements from the heathen writers, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, who were contemporary with Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp.

2. Importance. -The importance of the history of the Apostolic Church is very great, but it is sometimes misunderstood. The sources mentioned above tell us something about the beliefs, organization, and ritual of the first Christians; and they are all very simple. It is sometimes supposed that if we take these simple elements and close our eyes to later developments, we get the essence of Christianity, free from unessential forms, and that this constitutes the importance of the primitive Church. It is the model to which all Church reformers ought to look, with a view to restoring its simplicity. Two considerations show that this estimate is erroneous. Essence without form is unattainable. The Apostolic Church had forms which were the outcome of the conditions in which the Church existed. Some of those conditions changed very quickly, and the forms changed also. The restoration of the simplicity of the primitive forms will have little value or vitality unless we also restore the primitive conditions, and that is impossible. Secondly, the sources do not tell us the whole truth. On some important points we can obtain nothing better than degrees of probability because the evidence is so inadequate; on other points there is no evidence, and we have to fall back on pure conjecture. If it had been intended that all subsequent ages should take the Apostolic Church as a model, then we might reasonably expect that a complete description of it would have been preserved. A sketch which has to be gathered piecemeal from different sources, and which, when put together, is incomplete both in outline and in contents, cannot be made an authoritative example. ‘Christianity is not an archaeological puzzle’ (J. H. Ropes, Apostolic Age , London, 1906, p. 20).

Nevertheless, the importance of this age is real and great, ( a ) The spiritual essence of Christianity may be said to consist in the inner relation of each soul to God, to His Christ, and to His Spirit, and in the inner and outer relations of all believers to one another. In the first age of the Church this essence existed in such simple vigour that it gave reality and life to forms which had not yet had time to become mistaken for essentials. About the simplicity of these beginnings there is no doubt; it is an established fact; but that does not prove that this primitive simplicity is a binding authority for all ages. ( b ) This ago produced the NT-the group of writings which has had greater influence for good than any which the world has ever known: a group of writings which reflects the ideas and habits of that age and must be interpreted by a knowledge of those ideas and habits. ( c ) This age exhibits the first effects which the gospel produced upon Jew and Gentile-two very different soils, which might bear very different fruits. ( d ) It is the first stage in the complex development of the Church and the churches; and in order to understand that development, we must study its beginnings.

3. Name. -The name ‘Church’ is in itself strong evidence of the connexion between the Old Covenant and the New. In the OT, two different words are used to denote gatherings of the chosen people or their representatives- ‘çdhâh (Revised Version‘congregation’) and qâhâl (Revised Version‘assembly’). In the Septuagint, συναγωγή is the usual translation of ‘çdhâh , while qâhâl is commonly rendered ἐκκλησία. Both qâhâl and ἐκκλησία by their derivation indicate calling or summoning to a place of meeting; but ‘there is no foundation for the widely spread notion that ἐκκλησία means a people or a number of individual men called out of the world or mankind’ (F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia , London, 1897, p. 5). Qâhâl or ἐκκλησία is the more sacred term; it denotes the people in relation to Jahweh, especially in public worship. Perhaps for this very reason the less sacred term συναγωγή was more commonly used by the Jews in our Lord’s time, and probably influenced the first believers in adopting ἐκκλησία for Christian use. συναγωγή quickly went out of use for a Christian assembly ( James 2:2), except in sects which were more Jewish than Christian. Owing to the growing hostility of the Jews, it came to indicate opposition to the Church ( Revelation 2:9;  Revelation 3:9). ἐκκλησία, therefore, at once suggests the new people of God, the new Israel.

We do not know who so happily adopted the word for Christian use. It is not impossible that Christ Himself may have used it, for He sometimes spoke Greek. He used it or its equivalent in a Christian sense ( Matthew 16:18); but  Matthew 18:17, though capable of being transferred to Christians, must at the time when it was spoken have meant a Jewish assembly. St. Paul probably found the word already in use, and outside the Gospels it is very frequent in the NT. We find three uses of the term: the general body of believers ( Acts 5:11;  Acts 9:31;  Acts 12:1); the believers in a certain place ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1,  2 Thessalonians 1:1); an assembly for public worship ( 1 Corinthians 11:18;  1 Corinthians 14:19;  1 Corinthians 14:35). It had already become a technical term with strongly religious associations, which were partly borrowed from a Jewish ideal, but had been so enriched and transfigured as to indicate a body that was entirely new. The Jewish idea of a chosen people in relation to God received a fuller meaning, and to this was added the idea of a chosen people in relation to the Incarnate and Risen Son of God and to the Spirit of God. ἐκκλησία is nowhere used of heathen religious assemblies.

4. Origin. -Whether or no the Christian community owes its name of ‘Church’ (ἐκκλησία) to Christ, beyond reasonable doubt it owes its origin to Him. It is a strange misreading of plain facts to elevate St. Paul into the founder of the Christian Church. The theory that in Christianity, as in some other religions, there was a gradual deification of the founder, continues to be advocated, but it will not bear serious investigation. If St. Paul originated Christianity, who originated St. Paul? What was it that turned Saul the persecutor of the Church into Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ? It was the indelible conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, and that He had risen from the dead and conversed with him on the road to Damascus, that converted and ever afterwards controlled St. Paul. The conviction that the Messiah had been crucified, and had risen, and was now the Lord in heaven, was reached very quickly and surely by large numbers, who had good opportunities of ascertaining the truth and staked everything on the result. This conviction was based upon the experiences of those who were quite certain that the Risen Christ had appeared to them and conversed with them. Those appearances were realities, however we may explain them; they are among those things which prove themselves by their otherwise inexplicable results; and the convictions which they produced remain undestroyed and indestructible. It was upon them that the Apostolic Church was built. From the Risen Christ it had received the amazing commission to go forth and conquer the world; about that there was no doubt among those who joyously undertook this stupendous work. The apostles must have known whether Christ intended them to form a Church; and their view of His intention is shown by the fact that, immediately after His withdrawal from their sight, they set to work to construct one. If the new religion was to conquer the world, it must be both individualistic and social; it must provide for communion between each soul and God, and also for communion between its adherents. In other words, there must be a Church. Christ showed how this was to be done. He was not content with being an itinerant teacher, preaching to casual audiences. He selected a few disciples and trained them to be His helpers and His successors. It is manifest that He intended them to found a society; for although He gave few rules for its organization, yet He instituted two rites, one for admission to it and one for its preservation (W. Hobhouse, The Church and the World [ Bampton Lectures , London, 1910], p. 17ff.). ‘An isolated Christian’ is a contradiction, for every Christian is a member of Christ’s Body. In reference to the world Christians are ‘saints’ (ἅγιοι); in reference to one another they are ‘brethren’; in reference to Christ they are ‘members.’ In the original constitution of the human body God placed differently endowed members, and He has done the same in the original constitution of the Church ( 1 Corinthians 12:28). Both are in origin Divine, the product of the creative action of Father, Son, and Spirit.

5. Growth. -The growth of the Apostolic Church was very rapid. The first missionary efforts of the original believers were confined to Jerusalem and its immediate neighbourhood, and the converts were Palestinian or Hellenistic Jews who were living or sojourning in or near the capital. At first the Hellenists were in a minority, but this soon ceased to be the case. Persecution caused flight from Jerusalem, and then missionary effort was extended to Jews of the Dispersion and to Gentiles. At Antioch in Syria the momentous change was made to a mixed congregation containing both Jews and Christians. Then what had seemed even to the Jews themselves to be a mere Jewish sect became a universal Church ( Acts 11:19-26). As soon as it was seen that Judaism, in spite of all its OT glories, would never become a universal religion, missions to the heathen became a necessity. The first missionaries to the Gentiles, the men who took this momentous step of bringing the gospel to pagans, are for the most part unknown to us. Who won the first Gentile converts at Antioch? Who first took Christianity to Rome? Whoever they were, there had been a long and complex preparation for their work, which goes a considerable way towards explaining its success. This indeed was to be hoped for in accordance with Christ’s command ( Matthew 28:18,  Luke 24:47) and St. Peter’s Pentecostal promise ‘to all that are afar off’ ( Acts 2:39); but we can see some of the details which helped fulfilment.

The only thing which adequately explains the great expansion of Christianity in the 1st cent. is the fact of its Divine origin; but there were a number of causes which favoured its spread and more than counteracted the active opposition and other difficulties with which it had to contend.

( a ) The dispersion of the Jews in civilized countries secured a knowledge of monotheism and a sound moral code.

( b ) Roman law had become almost co-extensive with the civilized world. Tribal and national ideas, often irrational and debasing, had given place to principles of natural right and justice, Roman law, like the Mosaic Law, was a παιδαγωγός to lead men to Christ.

( c ) The splendid organization of the Roman Empire gave great facilities for travel and correspondence.

( d ) The dissolution of nationalities by Roman conquests prepared men’s minds for a religion which was not national but universal; and it is not impossible, in spite of the horror which the writer of the Apocalypse exhibits towards the worship of the Emperor, that that worship, which was nominally universal, sometimes prepared people for a worship of the Power to which they owed existence, and not merely fitful security and peace.

( e ) The Macedonian conquest had made men familiar with a type of civilization which seemed to be adaptable to the whole world, and had supplied a language which was still more adaptable. Greek was everywhere spoken in large towns, and in them converts were most likely to be found. Through the Septuagint, Greek was a Jewish as well as a pagan instrument of thought, and had become very flexible and simple, capable of expressing new ideas, and yet easily intelligible to plain men. Greek was the language of culture and of commerce even in Rome. It was also the sacred language of the world-wide worship of Isis. Hardly at any other period has the civilized world had a nearer approach to a universal language. The retention of a Greek liturgy in the Church of Rome for two centuries was due partly to the fact that the first missionaries taught in Greek and that the Greek Bible was used; partly to the desire to preserve the unity of the Church throughout the Empire. Its abandonment by the Roman Church prepared the way for the estrangement between East and West.

( f ) There was a wide-spread sense of moral corruption and spiritual need. ‘A great religious longing swept over the length and breadth of the empire. The scepticism of the age of enlightenment had become bankrupt’ (E. v. Dobschütz, Apostol. Age , Eng. translation, London, 1909, p. 39). The prevalent religions and philosophies had stimulated longings which they could not satisfy. Speculations about conscience, sin, and judgment to come, about the efficacy of sacrifices, and the possibility of forgiveness and of life after death, had prepared men for what Christianity had to offer. Even if the gospel had not been given, some religious change would have come. The gospel often awakened spiritual aspirations; more often it found them awake and satisfied them. It satisfied them because it possessed the characteristics of a universal religion-incomparable sublimity of doctrine, inexhaustible adaptability, and an origin that was recognizable as Divine. The Jew might be won by the conviction that the law was transfigured in the gospel and that prophecy was fulfilled in Christ and His Church. St. Peter began his Pentecostal address to the assembled Jews by pointing out that the outpouring of the Spirit was a fulfilment of Jewish prophecy ( Joel 2:28-31) and an inauguration of ‘the last days,’ which were to precede the coming of the Messiah in glory. But to the Gentile these considerations were not impressive. The great pagan world had to be won by the actual contents of Christianity, which were seen to be better than those of any religion that the world had thus far known. They were not only new, but ‘with authority’; and they stood the test of experience by bearing the wear and tear of life. Christianity was at once a mirror and a ‘mystery’; it reflected life so clearly and it suggested something much higher. It was a marvel of simplicity and richness. It was so plain that it could be told in a few words which might change the whole life. It was so varied and subtle that it could tax all the intellectual powers and excite the strongest feelings.

When the proconsul Saturninus said to the Scillitan Martyrs, ‘we also are religious people, and our religion is simple,’ one of the Christians, replied, ‘If you will grant me a quiet hearing, I will tell you the mystery of simplicity’ ( Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs [ Texts and Studies i. 2, 1891, p. 112]; cf.  1 Corinthians 2:7).

The number of Christians at the close of the 1st cent. is very uncertain. We read of a good many centres throughout the Empire; but we know little about the size of each of these local churches. In some the numbers were probably small. In Palestine they were numerous ( Acts 21:20).

( g ) The zeal and ability of the first missionaries were very great. We know the names of comparatively few of them, but we know some of the results of their work. The extension of the Church in the 2nd cent. is proof of the good work done in the 1st. In accordance with Christ’s directions ( Mark 6:7; cf.  Luke 10:1), these missionaries commonly worked in pairs (H. Latham, Pastor Pastorum , Cambridge, 1890, p. 296f.). St. Paul as a general rule had one companion, and probably seldom more; and his ability in planning missions is conspicuous. He selected Roman colonies, whore, as a Roman citizen, he would have rights, and where he would be likely to find Jews, and men of other religions, trading under the protection of Rome. A synagogue was at first the usual starting-point for a Christian mission. But very soon the Jews became too hostile; so far from listening to the preachers, they stirred up the heathen against them (T. R. Glover, The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire , London, 1909, ch. vi.).

It is impossible to say which of the forces which characterized Christianity contributed most to its success: its preaching of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, its lofty monotheism, its hope of immortality, its doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, its practical benevolence, its inward cohesion and unity. Each of these told, and we may be sure that their combined effect was great.

6. Conflict between Jewish and Gentile elements. -It is remarkable how soon this conflict in the Apostolic Church began. Not long after Christianity was born, it was severed from the nation which gave it birth, and, since the final destruction of Jerusalem, it has only in rare cases found a secure hold on Jewish soil. But it is not a just statement of the case to say that the Gentile Church first stripped Judaism of everything, the Scriptures included, and then left it by the wayside half dead; or that the daughter first robbed her mother, and then repudiated her. That is an inversion of the truth; it was the mother who drove out the daughter and then persistently blackened her character. As to the Scriptures, there has been no robbery, for both have possessed them. But the daughter has put them to far better account and has increased their value tenfold. Christianity did not come forward at first as a new religion aiming at ousting the Jews. Its Founder was the Jewish Messiah, the fulfilment of OT prophecies. It was the Jews who forced the opposition. The relation of Judaism to Christianity was, almost from the first, a hostile one. And, as it was the energetic Jew of Tarsus who led the first persecution of the Christians, so it was the Apostle of the Gentiles who caused the final separation of the Church from the Synagogue. In the Fourth Gospel, ‘the Jews’ are the opponents of the Christ. In the Apocalypse, they are ‘the synagogue of Satan’ ( Revelation 2:9;  Revelation 3:9; cf. Didache , 8). Barnabas goes still further: the Jews have never been in covenant with God (iv. 6-9, xiv. 1); the Jews are the sinners (xii. 10). Judaism is obsolete: the Christian Church has taken its place and succeeded to all its privileges, Hence the lofty enthusiasm of the first Christians, whose language often assumes a rhythmic strain when the Church is spoken of ( Ephesians 4:4,  Colossians 1:18,  1 Timothy 3:15,  Hebrews 12:22,  1 Peter 2:9,  Matthew 16:18). It was through the Christian Church that God filled the world with His Spirit; to it belonged the glorious future and the final triumph; for by it the religion of an exclusive nation had been transformed into a religion for the whole world.

It was inevitable that the Jews should resent such claims on the part of Christians, and especially of Gentile Christians; and the resentment became furious hostility when they saw the rapidity with which Christians made converts as compared with their own slowness in making proselytes here and there. Until the Maccabaean princes used force, not many had been made. Since then, religious aspirations had combined with interested motives to bring adherents to Judaism, and it was from these more serious proselytes that the Christian missionaries obtained much help. Under their roof both Jews and Gentiles could meet to hear the word of God ( Acts 18:7). Christianity could offer to a dissatisfied and earnest pagan all that Judaism could offer and a great deal more. Such inquirers after truth now ceased to seek admission to the Synagogue and joined the Church, and the downfall of Jerusalem accelerated this chance. The Jewish war of a.d. 66-70 was regarded by the Christians as a judgment for the murder of the Messiah, and also for the more recent murder in 62 of the Messiah’s brother, James the Just. That catastrophe destroyed both the centre of Jewish worship and also the Jews themselves as a nation. The loss of the Temple was to some extent mitigated by the system of synagogues, which had long been established. But that destruction, both in its immediate effect and in its far-reaching consequences, marks a crisis which has few parallels in history. Christianity felt both. The destruction of Jerusalem left the Gentile Churches, and especially the Church of Rome, without a rival, for the Jewish Church of Jerusalem sank into obscurity, and never recovered; nor did any other community of Jewish Christiana take its place. When a Christian community arose once more in the restored Jerusalem, it was a Gentile Church. Jewish Christianity was far on the road towards extinction. The Judaizing Christians persisted in regarding Judaism as the Divinely appointed universal religion, of which Christianity was only a special offshoot endowed with new powers. The Pauline view involved the hateful admission that the OT dispensation was relative and transitory. The Judaizers could not see that Christianity, although founded on the OT and realizing an OT ideal which had been seen but not reached by the prophets, was now independent of Judaism. Judaizing was a passing malady in the life of the Church, and had little influence on ecclesiastical development. The Judaizing Christians either gave up their Judaism or ceased to be Christian.

The Tübingen theory that the leading fact in the Apostolic Church was a struggle between St. Paul and the Twelve has been illuminating, but closer study of the evidence has shown that it is untenable. There were some differences, but there was no hostility, between St. Paul and the Twelve. The hostility was between St. Paul and the Judaizers, who claimed to represent the Twelve. It is possible that some of these Judaizing teachers had seen Christ during His ministry, and therefore said that they had a better right to the title of ‘apostle’ than he had. In the mis-called ‘Apostolic Council’ at Jerusalem, which was really a conference of apostles, elder brethren, and the whole Church of Jerusalem ( Acts 15:6;  Acts 15:12;  Acts 15:22-23), there was no conflict between the Twelve and St. Paul. St. Paul’s rebuke to St. Peter at Antioch ( Galatians 2:11-14) is no evidence of a difference of principle between them. St. Peter is blamed, not for having erroneous convictions, but for being unfaithful to true ones. He and St. Paul were entirely agreed that there was no need to make Gentile converts conform to the Mosaic Law; but St. Peter had been willing to make unworthy concessions to the prejudices of Jewish converts who were fresh from headquarters, by ceasing to eat with Gentile converts. He had perhaps argued that, as it was impossible to please both parties, it was better, for the moment, to keep on good terms with people from Jerusalem. He temporized in order to please the Judaizers.

‘But what it amounted to was that multitudes of baptized Gentile Christians, hitherto treated on terms of perfect equality, were now to be practically exhibited as unfit company for the circumcised Apostles of the Lord who died for them.… Such conduct, though in form it was not an expulsion of the Gentile converts, but only a self-withdrawal from their company, was in effect a summons to them to become Jews if they wished to remain in the fullest sense Christians. St. Paul does not tell us how the dispute ended: but he continued on excellent terms with the Jerusalem Apostles’ (F. J. A. Hort. Judaistic Christianity , Cambridge, 1894, pp. 78, 79).

The leading facts in the history of the Apostolic Church are-the freedom won for Gentile converts, the consequent expansion of Christianity and Christendom, and the transfer of the Christian centre from Palestine to Europe. When the Apostolic Age began, the Church was overwhelmingly Jewish; before it ended, the Church was overwhelmingly Gentile. Owing mainly to the influence of St. Paul-‘a Hebrew of Hebrews’-whose Jewish birth and training moulded his thoughts and language, but never induced him to sacrifice the freedom of the gospel to the bondage of the law, the break with Judaism became absolute, and, as Gentile converts increased, the restrictions of Judaism were almost forgotten. The Judaizing Christians, especially after the second destruction of Jerusalem under Hadrian, drew further and further away from the Church, and ceased to influence its development.

7. Character. -The character of the Apostolic Church is not one that can be sketched in a few strokes. Simple as it was in form, it had varied and delicate characteristics. By its foundation in Jerusalem, which even the heathen regarded as no mean city, Christianity became, what it continued to be in the main for some centuries, a city-religion, a religion nearly all the adherents of which lived in large centres of population. It was in such centres that the first missionaries worked. For eighteen years or more ( Galatians 1:18;  Galatians 2:1) Jerusalem continued to be the headquarters of at least some of the Twelve; but even before the conversion of St. Paul there were Christians at Samaria ( Acts 8:14), Damascus (9:19), and Antioch (11:20), which soon eclipsed Jerusalem as the Christian metropolis.

It has been pointed out already that the Church is necessarily social in character; and it resembles other societies, especially those which have a political or moral aim, in requiring self-denying loyalty from its members. But it differs from other societies in claiming to be universal. The morality which it inculcates is not for any one nation or class, but for the whole of mankind. In the very small amount of legislation which Christ promulgated, He made it quite clear that in the Kingdom social interests are to prevail rather than private interests; and also that all men have a right to enter the society and ought to be invited to join it. The Church, therefore, is a commonwealth open to all the world. Every human being may find a place in it; and all those who belong to it will find that they have entered a vast family, in which all the members are brethren and have the obligations of brethren to promote one another’s well-being both of body and soul. This form of a free brotherhood was essential to a universal religion; and the proof of its superiority to other brotherhoods lay in its being suitable to all sorts and conditions of men. It prescribed conduct which can be recognized as binding on all; and, far more fully than any other system, it supplied to all what the soul of each individual craved. The name ‘disciples’ did not last long as a name for all Christians; the name ‘brethren’ took its place. St. Paul does not speak of Christians as ‘disciples’; that word came to be restricted to those who had been the personal disciples of Christ. He speaks of them as ‘brethren,’ a term in harmony with the Christians’ ‘enthusiasm of humanity,’ an enthusiasm which set no bounds to its affection, but gave to every individual, however degraded, full recognition. The mere fact of being a baptized believer gave an absolute claim to loving consideration from all the rest. This brotherhood of Christians was easily recognized by the heathen.

Lucian ( Death of Peregrinus Proteus ) says: ‘It was imposed upon them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers from the moment that they are converted.… An adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who has seen the world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is soon made.’ By pretending to be a ‘brother’ he can get anything out of them.

There is a stronger bond thou that of belonging to one and the same society, commonwealth, and brotherhood. Seeing that the brotherhood implies that the Father of the family is God, there would seem to be nothing stronger than that. And yet there is: Christians are members of one Body, the Body of Christ, which is inspired by one Spirit. Just as no one did so much as St. Paul to free the new society from its cramping and stifling connexion with Judaism, so no one did so much as he to develop the idea of a free Christian Church, and of the relation of the Spirit to it. The local ἐκκλησία of believers is a temple in which God dwells by His Spirit; it is Christ’s Body, of which all become members by being baptized in one Spirit. No differences of rank or of spiritual endowments can destroy this fundamental unity, any more than the unity of a building or of the human body is destroyed by the complexity of its structure. In Ephesians, the Apostle looks forward to an ἐκκλησία, not local, but including all Christians that anywhere exist. The same Spirit dwells in each soul and makes the multitude of the faithful, irrespective of locality or condition, to be one (see Swete, The Holy Spirit in the NT , London, 1909, p. 308). From the ideal point of view, there is only one Church, which is imperfectly, but effectively, represented and realized in the numerous organizations in Christendom. Not that Christendom is the whole of which they are the constituent parts-that is a way of looking at it which is not found in the Apostolic Church, and it may easily be misleading. The more accurate view is to regard each member of a Christian organization as a member of the universal Church. The Church consists of duly qualified individuals; the intermediate groups may be convenient or inevitable, but they are not essential.

Separate organizations, or local churches, came into existence because bodies of Christians arose at different plates and increased. These bodies were independent, no one local church being in subjection to another. The congregations at Ephesus, Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth, etc., were independent of one another and of the earlier churches of Antioch and Jerusalem. Their chief bond of union was that of the gospel and of membership in Christ. Besides this, the churches just named had the tie of being the product of one and the same founder; and, as children of the same spiritual father, they were in a special sense ‘brethren,’ St. Paul appeals to this fact and to their relationship to other churches. But, although he teaches that a church in need has claims upon the liberality of other churches, he nowhere gives one church authority over others. Nevertheless, even in apostolic times, congregations in the same district appear to have been regarded as connected groups, and it is possible that the congregation in the provincial capital had some sort of initiative in virtue of the importance of the city where they dwelt. Thus, we have ‘the churches of Galatia; ( 1 Corinthians 16:1,  Galatians 1:1), ‘the churches of Asia’ ( 1 Corinthians 16:19), ‘the churches of Judaea ’ ( Galatians 1:22), ‘the seven churches of Asia’ ( Revelation 1:4). In this way there arose between the local city church and the universal Church an organization which may he called the provincial Church (A. Harnack, Constitution and Law of the Church , Eng. translation, London, 1910, p. 160).

Besides these close ties of relationship and membership, the first Christians were held together by unity of creed. It is true that primitive Christianity was an enthusiasm rather than a creed; but there was a creed. It may be summed up in two strong convictions, one negative and the other positive. The negative one united the Christians with the Jews; the positive one was the chief cause of separation between the two. Both Jew and Christian declared with equal emphasis that the gods of the heathen were no-gods ( Deuteronomy 32:17,  1 Corinthians 10:20): they were Shçdim , nullities. But the Divine nature of the Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen Son of God was what the Christian affirmed as confidently and constantly as the Jew denied it. Here no compromise was possible. The Divinity of the Crucified, which is such a difficulty to modern thought, appears to have caused little difficulty to the first Christians. It has been suggested that familiarity with polytheistic ideas helped them to believe in the Divinity of the Son. Possibly; but, on the other hand, their rejection of polytheism was absolute, and they died rather than make concessions. Heathen philosophers, who saw that polytheism was irrational, had a colourless theism which could make compromises with popular misbeliefs. Thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch could talk indifferently of God and gods, of the Divine Being and the deities; but for the early Christians that was impossible. They were not theologians, and they had only the rudiments of a creed; but they were quite clear about the necessity of worshipping God and His Christ, and about the folly and wickedness of worshipping men or idols. Hence, with all their simplicity of doctrine they had deep convictions which formed a strong bond of union. The heathen mysteries had something of the same kind.

P. Gardner has pointed out three common characteristics, all of which bring them into line with Christianity: rites of purification, rites of communion with some deity, and means of securing happiness in the other world. He holds that the Christian mystery of which St. Paul speaks is ‘the existence or a spiritual bond holding together a society in union with a spiritual lord with whom the society had communion, and from whom they received in the present life safety from sin and defilement, and in the world to come life everlasting’ ( The Religious Experience of St. Paul , London, 1911, p. 79).

8. Relation to the State and other systems. -The question of the relation of the Church to the State was only beginning to arise towards the end of the apostolic period. The Church was developing its organization for its own purposes, without thinking of producing a power which might rival and oppose the State. The State had not yet become aware of any Christian organization, and it dealt with Christians as eccentrics, who sometimes became a public nuisance. The Jews were tolerated, less because they were not offensive to the Roman Government than because it was inexpedient to persecute them; and so long as Christians were regarded as a Jewish sect, they shared the immunity of the Jews and were generally unmolested. When the difference between Jews and Christians became manifest-and the Jews often pointed it out-Christians were persecuted whenever the temper of the magistrates or of the mob made it expedient to persecute. The State was intolerant on principle; it allowed no other corporation either inside or outside itself. While it freely permitted a variety of cults, it insisted on every citizen taking part in the State religion, especially in the worship of the Emperor. It was here that the Church came into complete and deadly collision with the Roman Empire, as the Apocalypse again and again shows. Nero was not fond of being styled a god; it seemed to imply that he was about to be translated from earth by death, and he preferred popularity during this life to worship after it was over. Domitian had no such feeling. He was not popular, and could not make himself so; but he could make his subjects worship him; and in the provinces, especially in the province of Asia, where Emperors were not often seen, but where the benefits of good government were felt, subjects were very willing to render Divine honours to the power that blessed them. Domitian began the formal letters which his procurators had to issue for him with the words: ‘Our Lord and God orders this to be done’ (Suet. Dom . 13). Festivals for the worship of the Emperor were often held by the magistrates at places in which there were Christians, e.g. at Ephesus, Sardis, Smyrna, and Philadelphia; and to refuse to take part in them was rebellion against the Government and blasphemy against the Augustus. Some magistrates were friendly, like the Asiarchs towards St. Paul ( Acts 19:31), but the possibilities of persecution for refusing to worship the Emperor or the local deities were so great that we may suspect that many attacks on Christians took place about which history records nothing (Swete, Apocalypse , London, 1907, Introd. ch. vii.; J. B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers , pt. i. vol. i. [1890] p. 104).

Even if this danger had not existed, the mere fact that the Church was a self-governing body, within the State- imperium in imperio -but not of it, was enough to bring it into collision with the Government. The attitude of the Church was as loyal as was possible. The apostles respected the civil power, even when represented by a Nero, as a Divinely appointed instrument for the preservation of order; but they could not allow it to interfere with their duty to Him who had ordained both the civil power and the Church. The Church was no leveller or democrat in the modern sense of those terms. Rulers are to be respected by subjects, masters by slaves, husbands by wives, and parents by children. St. Paul does not teach the fallacy that all men are equal; he teaches that in spiritual things all souls have equal value. As regards the things of this life, all men are brethren, and in this he went far beyond Stoicism; even now, perhaps, we have not yet grasped the full significance of his teaching. To both the Government and the governed the Christians were an enigma. They seemed to regard suffering as a dreadful thing, for they were always striving to relieve it; and yet to disregard it entirely, for they were always willing to endure it. In an age in which there were no charitable institutions, the whole congregation was a free institution for dispensing practical help; and yet, when their cult was in question, they scorned pain and misery. They fought against involuntary poverty as an evil, and yet declared that voluntary poverty was a blessing. And there was another paradox-Christianity was at once the most comprehensive and the most exclusive of all religions. All were invited to enter, because the yoke was so easy; and all were warned to count the cost, because the responsibilities were so great. Converts were told that they must begin by taking up the cross and that they must abjure the world. In practice, the severance between the Church and the world was not insisted upon ( 1 Corinthians 6:10): it was a difference of thought and life rather than of social intercourse. Many Christians mixed freely with heathens, and many heathens came sometimes to Christian services, without any thought of seeking baptism. Some heathens thought that the Way was good, but that there were other ways which were equally good. The mixture of Church and world began very early.

Among rival religious systems, none was more dangerous to the success of Christianity than Mithra-worship. Except in the form of ‘Mysteries,’ the old Greek religion had not much power; its gods and goddesses were openly ridiculed. But Mithraism was full of life; it could excite not only powerful emotions but moral aspirations as well. It inculcated courage and purity, and it taught the doctrine of rewards and penalties here and hereafter. Mithra would come one day from heaven, and there would be a general resurrection, after which the wicked world would be destroyed by fire and the good would receive immortality. Some Church teachers regarded it as a gross caricature of Christianity. As a missionary religion, it had the advantage of being able to make terms with paganism; its adherents had no objection to idolatrous rites, and therefore never came into collision with the Government. It probably gained thousands who might otherwise have accepted the gospel. The elastic simplicity and freedom of primitive Christianity exposed the Apostolic Church to perils of another kind. The troubles of Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and Montanism grew out of the contact of Christianity with Greek and Oriental systems of religion and philosophy, whose ideas found entrance into Christianity and were sometimes an enrichment and sometimes a corruption of it. The balance was on the side of gain. The gospel continued to supply the plain man with a simple rule of life, and it began to supply the philosopher with inexhaustible material for thought. This is a permanent cause of success.

Literature.-In addition to the important works cited above, see W. W. Shirley, The Church in the Apostolic Age , Oxford, 1867; P. Schaff, Apostolic Christianity , Edinburgh, 1883, vol. ii.; A. Harnack, Sources of the Apostolic Canons , Eng. translation, London, 1895; C. v. Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age 2, Eng. translation, W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire 6, London, 1900, St. Paul the Traveller 6, do. 1902, Letters to the Seven Churches , do. 1904, Pictures of the Apostolic Church , do. 1910; C. Bigg, The Origins of Christianity , do. 1909; H. M. Gwatkin, Early Church Hist. , do. 1909; L. Duchesne, Early Hist. of the Christian Church , Eng. translation, do. 1909-1912.

Alfred Plummer.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

Church . 1. The word ecclesia , which in its Christian application is usually tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘church,’ was applied in ordinary Greek usage to the duly constituted gathering of the citizens in a self-governing city, and it is so used of the Ephesian assembly in   Acts 19:39 . It was adopted in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] to tr. [Note: translate or translation.] a Heb. word, qâhâl , signifying the nation of Israel as assembled before God or considered in a religious aspect ( Jdg 21:8 ,   1 Chronicles 29:1 ,   Deuteronomy 31:30 etc.). In this sense it is found twice in the NT (  Acts 7:38 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘church,’   Hebrews 2:12 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ congregation ’). The term is practically equivalent to the familiar ‘ synagogue ’ which, however, was more frequently used to translate another Heb. word, ‘çdhâh . This will probably explain our Lord’s words in   Matthew 18:17 . For ‘synagogue’ was the name regularly applied after the Babylonian exile to local congregations of Jews formally gathered for common worship, and from them subsequently transferred to similar congregations of Hebrew Christians (  James 2:2 ). ‘Tell it to the ecclesia ’ can hardly refer directly to communities of Jesus’ disciples, as these did not exist in the time of the Galilæan ministry, but rather to the Jewish congregation, or its representative court, in the place to which the disputants might belong. The renewal of the promise concerning binding and loosing in   James 2:18 (cf.   Matthew 16:19 ) makes against this interpretation. And the assurance of Christ’s presence in   Matthew 16:20 can have reference only to gatherings of disciples. But it may well be that we have these sayings brought together by Matthew in view of the Christian significance of ecclesia . There is no evidence that ecclesia , like ‘synagogue,’ was transferred from the congregation of Israel to the religious assemblies which were its local embodiment. But, though not the technical term, there would be no difficulty in applying it, without fear of misunderstanding, to the synagogue. And this would be the more natural because the term is usually applied to Israel in its historical rather than in its ideal aspect (see Hort, Christian Ecclesia , p. 12).

2. Ecclesia is used constantly with its Christian meaning in the Pauline Epistles. Its earliest use chronologically is probably in   1 Thessalonians 1:1 . But the growth of its use is hest studied by beginning with Acts. Here the term first occurs in   Acts 5:11 , applied to the Christians of Jerusalem in their corporate capacity. In   Acts 1:15 St. Peter is represented as standing up ‘in the midst of the brethren.’ Thus from the first Christians are a brotherhood or family, not a promiscuous gathering. That this family is considered capable of an ordered extension is evident ( a ) from the steps immediately taken to fill a vacant post of authority (  Acts 1:25 ), and ( b ) from the way in which converts on receiving baptism are spoken of as added to a fellowship (  Acts 2:47 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘added to the church,’ but see RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) which continues in the Apostles’ teaching, and the bond of a common table and united prayer (  Acts 2:42;   Acts 2:46 ). This community is now called ‘the assemblage of them that believed’ (  Acts 4:32 ), the word used, as compared with its employment elsewhere, suggesting not a throng or crowd but the whole body of the disciples. In   Exodus 12:6 we have the phrase ‘the whole assembly of the congregation (Gr. synagôgç ) of Israel.’ When, therefore, it became necessary to find a collective name for ‘the believers,’ ecclesia , the alternative to ‘synagogue,’ was not unnaturally chosen. For the disciples meeting in Jerusalem were, as a matter of fact, the true Israel (  Galatians 6:16 ), the little flock to whom was to be given the Messianic Kingdom (  Luke 12:32 ). Moreover, they were a Christian synagogue, and, but for the risk of confusion, might have been so called. The name, therefore, as applied to the primitive community of Jesus, is on the one hand universal and ideal, on the other local and particular. In either case the associations are Jewish, and by these the subsequent history of the name is determined.

3. As Christianity spread, the local units of the brotherhood came to he called ecclesiæ (  Acts 9:31;   Acts 13:1;   Acts 14:23;   Acts 15:41;   Acts 20:17 etc.), the original community being now distinguished as ‘the ecclesia in Jerusalem’ (  Acts 8:1 ). Thus we reach the familiar use of the Pauline Epistles, e.g. the ecclesia of the Thessalonians (  1 Thessalonians 1:1 ), of Laodicea (  Colossians 4:16 ), of Corinth (  1 Corinthians 1:2 ); cf.   1 Peter 5:13 ,   Revelation 2:1 etc. They are summed up in the expression ‘all the ecclesiÅ“ of Christ’ (  Romans 16:16 ). This language has doubtless given rise to the modern conception of ‘the churches’; but it must be observed that the Pauline idea is territorial, the only apparent departure from this usage being the application of the name to sections of a local ecclesia , which seem in some instances to have met for additional worship in the houses of prominent disciples (  Romans 16:5 ,   1 Corinthians 16:19 etc.). The existence of independent congregations of Christians within a single area, like the Hellenistic and Hebrew synagogues (see   Acts 6:1;   Acts 6:9 ), does not appear to be contemplated in the NT.

4. The conception of a Catholic Church in the sense of a constitutional federation of local Christian organizations in a universal community is post-Apostolic. The phrase is first found in Ignatius ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 115; see Lightfoot, Apost. Fathers , Pt. 2. ii. p. 310). But in the 1st cent. the Church of Jerusalem, as the seat of Apostolic authority (  Acts 8:1;   Acts 8:14 ), still exercises an influence upon the other communities, which continues during the period of translation to the world-wide society. At Jerusalem Saul receives the right hand of fellowship and recognition from the pillar Apostles (  Galatians 2:9 ). Thence Apostles go forth to confirm and consolidate the work of evangelists (  Acts 8:14 ). Thither missionaries return with reports of newly-founded Gentile societies and contributions for the poor saints (  Acts 15:2;   Acts 24:17 ,   1 Corinthians 16:1-3 ). It is this community that promulgates decisions on problems created by the extension of Christianity (  Acts 15:22-29 ). Till after the destruction of the city in a.d. 71 this Church continued, under the presidency of James the Lord’s brother (  Galatians 2:12 ,   Acts 12:17;   Acts 15:13;   Acts 21:18 ), and then of other members of the Christian ‘royal family’ (Eusebius, HE iii. 11, 19, 20), to be the typical society of Jesus’ disciples.

5. But already in the NT that ideal element, which distinguished the primitive fellowship as the Kingdom of Messiah, is beginning to express itself in a conception of the ecclesia which, while it never loses touch with the actual concrete society or societies of Christians, has nevertheless no constitutional value. It is scarcely possible to suppose that the adoption of the name ecclesia for the Christian society was altogether unrelated to the celebrated use of the word by the Lord Himself in His conversation with the disciples at Cæsarea Philippi (  Matthew 16:13-20 ||). Two suggestions with regard to this passage may be dismissed. The first is that it was interpolated to support the growth of ecclesiastical authority in the 2nd cent.; this rests solely on an assumption that begs the question. The second is that ecclesia has been substituted for ‘kingdom’ in our Lord’s utterance through subsequent identification of ideas. But the occasion was one that Christ evidently intended to signalize by a unique deliverance, the full significance of which would not become apparent till interpreted by later experience (cf.   Matthew 10:38 ,   John 6:53 ). The metaphor of building as applied to the nation of Israel is found in the OT (  Jeremiah 33:7; cf.   Amos 9:11 ,   Psalms 102:16 ). There is therefore little doubt that Jesus meant His disciples to understand the establishment of Messiah’s Kingdom; and that the use of the less common word ecclesia , far from being unintentional, is designed to connect with the new and enlarged Israel only the spiritual associations of Jehovah’s congregation, and to discourage the temporal aspirations which they were only too ready to derive from the promised Kingdom.

6. The Kingdom of God , or of Heaven, is a prominent conception in the Synoptic Gospels. It is rather the Kingdom than the King that Christ Himself proclaims (  Mark 1:14-15 , cf.   Matthew 4:17 ). The idea, partially understood by His contemporaries, was broadened and spiritualized by Jesus. It had been outlined by prophets and apocalyptic writers. It was to realize the hopes of that congregation of Israel which had been purchased and redeemed of old (  Psalms 74:2 ), and of which the Davidic monarchy had been the pledge (  Micah 4:8 ,   Isaiah 55:3 etc.). Typical passages are   Daniel 2:44;   Daniel 7:14 . This was the Kingdom which the crowd hailed at the Triumphal Entry (  Matthew 21:9 ||). Christ begins from the point of Jewish expectation, but the Kingdom which He proclaims, though not less actual, surpasses any previous conception in the minds of His followers. It is already present (  Luke 11:20;   Luke 17:21 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ) in His own Person and work. It is revealed as a historical institution in the parables of the Tares (  Matthew 13:24 ff.) and the Drag-net (  Matthew 13:47 ff.). Other parables present it as an ideal which no historical institution can satisfy, e.g. Treasure hid in a field (  Matthew 13:44 ), a merchantman seeking goodly Pearls (  Matthew 13:45 ), a grain of Mustard Seed (  Matthew 13:21;   Matthew 13:32 ). We cannot solve the problem involved in Christ’s various presentations of the Kingdom by saying that He uses the word in different senses. He is dealing with a reality too vast to be submitted to the human understanding otherwise than in aspects and partial views which no powers of combination will enable us adequately to adjust. The twofold conception of the Kingdom as at once a reality and an ideal is finally brought home by those utterances of Jesus which refer its realization to the end of the age. Daniel’s prophecy is to be realized only when the Son of Man shall come in His Kingdom (  Matthew 24:3;   Matthew 24:15 ,   Matthew 25:31 ,   Matthew 26:64 ). It is then that the blessed are to inherit what nevertheless was prepared for them from the beginning of time (  Matthew 25:34 ). And all views of the Kingdom which would limit it to an externally organized community are proved to be insufficient by a declaration like that of   Luke 17:20-21 . But even when contemplated ideally, the Messianic Kingdom possesses those attributes of order and authority which are inseparable from a society (  Matthew 19:28 ).

It is hardly to be doubted, therefore, that the name ecclesia , as given to the primitive community of Christians at Jerusalem, even if suggested rather by the synagogue than by our Lord’s declaration to St. Peter, could not be used without identifying that society with the Kingdom of God, so far as this was capable of realization in an institution, and endowing it with those ideal qualities which belong thereto. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, fulfilling as it did the expectation of a baptism of fire that was to accompany the establishment of the Kingdom (  Acts 1:5;   Acts 2:3-4 ,   Matthew 3:11 ), connects the Church with the Kingdom, and the scattering of its members after Stephen’s death (  Acts 8:1 ) would begin to familiarize the disciples with the idea of the unity in Christ unbroken by local separation (cf.   Acts 8:1 and   Acts 9:31 ).

7. But it is only in the theology of St. Paul that we find the Kingdom of the Gospels interpreted in terms of the actual experience of the Christian ecclesia . The extension of the fellowship beyond the limits of a single city has shown that the ideal Church cannot be identified simpliciter with any Christian community, while the idealization of the federated ecclesiÅ“ , natural enough in a later age, is, in the absence of a wider ecclesiastical organization, not yet possible. It is still further from the truth to assert that St. Paul had the conception of an invisible Church, of which the local communities were at best typical. ‘We have no evidence that St. Paul regarded membership of the universal ecclesia as invisible’ (Hort, Christian Ecclesia , p. 169). The method by which the Apostle reached his doctrine of the Church is best illustrated by his charge to the elders at Miletus to feed the flock of God over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers (  Acts 20:28 ). Here the local Ephesian Church represents practically God’s Church purchased with His precious blood (  Acts 20:28 ), a real community of which visibility is an essential characteristic, but which by the nature of the case is incapable of a complete manifestation in history. The passage combines in a remarkable degree the three elements in the Divine Society, namely, the redeemed congregation of Israel (  Psalms 74:2 ), the Kingdom or ecclesia of Messiah (  Matthew 16:18 ), and the body established upon the Atonement (  Colossians 1:20-22 ,   Ephesians 2:13 ). All three notes are present in the teaching of the Epistles concerning the ecclesia . It is the historical fact of the inclusion of the Gentiles (  Ephesians 2:18 ) that is the starting-point. Those nations which under the old covenant were alien from the people of God (  Ephesians 2:12 ) are now included in the vast citizenship or polity (  Ephesians 2:13 ff.) which membership in a local ecclesia involves. The Church has existed from all eternity as an idea in the mind of God (  Ephesians 3:3-11 ), the heritage prepared for Christ (  Ephesians 1:10-11 ). It is the people of possession (  Ephesians 1:14 , cf.   1 Peter 2:9 ,   Titus 2:14 ), identified with the commonwealth of Israel (  Ephesians 2:12 ), and as such the immediate object of redemption (  Ephesians 5:25 ); but through the reconciliation of the Cross extended (  Ephesians 2:14 ), and, as it were, reincorporated on a wider basis (  Ephesians 2:15 ), as the sphere of universal forgiveness (  Ephesians 2:16 ), the home of the Spirit (  Ephesians 2:18 ), and the one body of Christ (  Ephesians 4:12 etc.), in which all have access to the Father (  Ephesians 2:18 ). The interlaced figures of growth and building (  Ephesians 4:12;   Ephesians 4:16 ), under which it is presented, witness to its organic and therefore not exclusively spiritual character. Baptism, administered by the local ecclesiÅ“ and resulting in rights and duties in respect of them, is yet primarily the method of entrance to the ideal community (  Romans 6:3-4 ,   1 Corinthians 12:13 ,   Galatians 3:27-28 ,   Ephesians 4:5 ), to which also belong those offices and functions which, whether universal like the Apostolate (  1 Corinthians 12:27-28 ) or particular like the presbyterate (  Acts 20:17;   Acts 20:28; cf.   1 Corinthians 12:8-11 ,   Ephesians 4:11 ), are exercised only in relation to the local societies. It is the Church of God that suffers persecution in the persons of those who are of ‘the Way’ (  1 Corinthians 15:9 ,   Acts 8:3;   Acts 9:1 ); is profaned by misuse of sacred ordinances at Corinth (  1 Corinthians 11:22 ); becomes at Ephesus the pillar and ground of the truth (  1 Timothy 3:16 ).

That St. Paul, in speaking of the Church now in the local now in the universal sense, is not dealing with ideas connected only by analogy, is proved by the ease with which he passes from the one to the other use ( Colossians 4:15-16; cf.   Colossians 1:18; cf.   Colossians 1:24 and Eph. passim ). The Church is essentially visible, the shrine of God (  1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ), the body of Christ (  Ephesians 1:23 etc.); schism and party-strife involving a breach in the unity of the Spirit (  Ephesians 4:3 ). Under another figure the Church is the bride of Christ (  Ephesians 5:25 ff.), His complement or fulness (  Ephesians 1:23 ), deriving its life from Him as He does from the Father (  Ephesians 1:22 ,   1 Corinthians 11:3 ).

8. Thus the Biblical view of the Church differs alike from the materialized conception of Augustine, which identifies it with the constitutionally incorporated and Å“cumenical society of the Roman Empire, with its canon law and hierarchical jurisdiction, and from that Kingdom of Christ which Luther, as interpreted by Ritschl, regarded as ‘the inward spiritual union of believers with Christ’ ( Justification and Reconciliation , Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] p. 287). The principle of the Church’s life is inward, so that ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ remains the object of Christian hope (  Ephesians 4:13 ). But its manifestation is outward, and includes those ministries which, though marred, as history shows, by human failure and sin, are set in the Church for the building up of the body (  Ephesians 4:11-12 ). Just as members of the legal Israel are recognized by our Lord as sons of the Kingdom (  Matthew 8:12 ), so the baptized are the called, the saints, the members of the body. There is no warrant in the NT for that sharp separation between membership in the legal worshipping Church and the Kingdom of God which is characteristic of Ritschlianism.

9. The Church in its corporate capacity is the primary object of redemption. This truth, besides being definitely asserted (  Ephesians 5:25;   Ephesians 5:27 ,   Acts 20:28 ,   Titus 2:14 ), is involved in the conception of Christ as the second Adam (  Romans 5:12-21 ,   1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ), the federal head of a redeemed race; underlies the institutions of Baptism and the Eucharist; and is expressed in the Apostolic teaching concerning the two Sacraments (see above, also   1 Corinthians 10:16-18;   1 Corinthians 11:20-34 ). The Church is thus not a voluntary association of justified persons for purposes of mutual edification and common worship, but the body in which the individual believer normally realizes his redemption. Christ’s love for the Church, for which He gave Himself (  Ephesians 5:25 ), constituting a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of possession (  1 Peter 2:5;   1 Peter 2:9 ) through His blood (  Ephesians 2:13 ), completes the parallel, or rather marks the identity, with the historical Israel. Membership in Abraham’s covenanted race, of which circumcision was the sign (  Genesis 17:8 ), brought the Israelite into relation with Jehovah. The sacrifices covered the whole ‘church in the wilderness’ (  Acts 7:38 ), and each worshipper approached God in virtue of his inclusion in the holy people. No foreigner might eat of the Passover (  Exodus 12:45 ). The propitiatory ritual of the Day of Atonement was expressly designed for the consecration of the whole nation (  Leviticus 16:1-34 ). So the sacrifice of the Cross is our Passover (  1 Corinthians 5:7 ). The worship of the Christian congregation is the Paschal feast (  1 Corinthians 5:8 , cf.   Hebrews 13:10-16 ). In Christ those who are now fellow-citizens have a common access to the Father (  Ephesians 2:18 ,   Hebrews 10:22 ). Through the Mediator of a new covenant (  Hebrews 12:24 ) those that are consecrated (  Hebrews 10:14;   Hebrews 10:22 ) are come to the Church of the first-born (  Hebrews 12:23 ), which includes the spirits of the perfected saints ( ib. ) in the fellowship of God’s household (  Ephesians 2:19 ,   Hebrews 10:21 ). See also following article.

J. G. Simpson.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

After the repeated failures that characterized the early days of human history, God declared his purpose to choose for himself a people through whom he would work a plan of salvation for people everywhere. He began by choosing one man, Abraham, and promising to make from him a nation that would belong to God and be his channel of blessing to the world. The people of this nation, Israel, were therefore both the physical descendants of Abraham and the chosen people of God ( Genesis 12:1-3;  Exodus 6:7-8;  Exodus 19:5-6;  Psalms 105:6;  John 8:33;  John 8:37;  Acts 13:26).

This did not mean, however, that all those born into the Israelite race were, because of their nationality, forgiven their sins and blessed with God’s eternal salvation. The history of Israel shows that from the beginning most of the people were ungodly and unrepentant. Certainly there were those who, like Abraham, trusted God and desired to follow him obediently, but they were always only a minority within the nation ( Isaiah 1:4;  Isaiah 1:11-20;  Amos 5:14-15;  Romans 11:2-7;  1 Corinthians 10:1-5;  Hebrews 3:16). These were God’s true people, the true Israel, the true children of Abraham ( Romans 2:28-29;  Romans 4:9-12;  Romans 9:6-8).

From this faithful minority (or remnant) there came one person, Jesus the Messiah, who was the one particular descendant of Abraham to whom all God’s promises to Abraham pointed. God’s ideals for Israel and his promised blessings for the human race were fulfilled in Jesus ( Galatians 3:14;  Galatians 3:16). Jesus then took the few remaining faithful Israelites of his day and made them the nucleus of the new people of God, the Christian church ( Matthew 16:18).

The church, then, was both old and new. It was old in that it was a continuation of that body of believers who in every age had remained faithful to God. It was new in that it would not formally come into existence till after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension ( Matthew 16:18;  Matthew 16:21;  Acts 1:4-5;  Titus 2:14;  1 Peter 2:9). It was ‘born’ a few days after Jesus’ ascension, on the day of Pentecost ( Acts 2:1-4), and will reach its glorious destiny at Jesus’ return ( Philippians 3:20-21;  Hebrews 12:22-24;  Revelation 19:7-9).

God’s new community

The word which Jesus used and which has been translated ‘church’ meant originally a collection of people – a meeting, gathering or community. It was the word used for the Old Testament community of Israel, and was particularly suitable for the new community, the Christian church, that came into being on the day of Pentecost ( Exodus 12:3;  Exodus 12:6;  Exodus 35:1;  Exodus 35:4;  Deuteronomy 9:10;  Deuteronomy 23:3;  Matthew 16:18;  Matthew 18:17;  Acts 5:11;  Acts 7:38;  Acts 8:1;  Acts 11:26).

On that day Jesus, having returned to his heavenly Father, sent the Holy Spirit to indwell his disciples as he had promised ( Luke 24:49;  John 7:39;  John 14:16-17;  John 14:26;  John 16:7). This was the baptism with the Holy Spirit of which Jesus had spoken and through which all who were already believers were bound together to form one united body, the church ( Acts 1:4-5;  Acts 2:33; see Baptism With The Spirit ).

From that time on, all who repent and believe the gospel are, through that same baptism with the Spirit, immediately made part of that one body and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ( Acts 2:38;  Acts 2:47;  1 Corinthians 12:13). This applies equally to all people, irrespective of sex, age, status or race, for all are one in Christ Jesus ( Acts 2:17-18;  Acts 2:39). The new people of God consists of Abraham’s spiritual descendants, those who have been saved through faith in Christ, regardless of their nationality or social standing ( Galatians 3:14;  Galatians 3:28-29).

By his act of uniting in one body people who were once in conflict with each other, God has carried out part of a wider plan he has for his creation. That plan is for the ultimate removal of all conflict and all evil from the universe, and the establishment of perfect peace and unity through Jesus Christ ( Ephesians 1:9-10;  Ephesians 2:13-16;  Ephesians 3:8-11).

The body of Christ

Christ and the church, being inseparably united, make up one complete whole, just as the head and the body together make up one complete person. Through his resurrection and ascension, Jesus Christ became head over the church and the source of its life and growth ( Ephesians 1:20-23;  Ephesians 4:15-16;  Colossians 1:18;  Colossians 2:19;  Colossians 3:1-4).

As the head has absolute control over the body, so Christ has supreme authority over the church ( Ephesians 1:22-23). On the other hand, as the body shares in the life of the head, so the church shares in the life of the risen Christ. It is united with him in his victory over death and all the evil spiritual forces of the universe ( Matthew 16:18;  Ephesians 1:21;  Ephesians 2:5-7;  Ephesians 3:10;  Ephesians 3:21;  Colossians 2:13-15).

If the picture of the body emphasizes the life, unity and growth that Christ gives to the church, the picture of marriage emphasizes the love that Christ has for the church. That love was so great that, to gain the church as his bride, Christ laid down his life in sacrifice ( Ephesians 5:25; cf.  Acts 20:28). Both pictures illustrate Christ’s headship of the church ( Ephesians 1:22-23;  Ephesians 5:23), and both make it clear that God can accept the church as holy and faultless only because it shares the life and righteousness of Christ ( Ephesians 5:26-27;  Colossians 1:22).

This view of the church in all its perfection as the body of Christ is one that only God sees. The view that people in general see is one of imperfection, because the church exists in a world where everything is spoiled by human sin and failure (cf.  1 Corinthians 1:2 with  1 Corinthians 3:1-3; cf.  Ephesians 1:1-4 with  Ephesians 4:25-32). God sees the church as the total number of all believers in all nations in all eras – a vast, ongoing, international community commonly referred to as the church universal. But people see it only in the form of those believers who are living in a particular place at a particular time.

Within what people in general see as the church there are genuine believers and those who have no true faith in Christ at all. Often it is difficult to tell the difference between the two, and the only certain division will take place at the final judgment. Only God knows which people are really his ( Matthew 13:47-50;  Matthew 25:31-46;  1 Corinthians 4:3-5;  1 Corinthians 10:1-11;  2 Corinthians 13:5;  2 Timothy 2:19).

The local church

While the Bible sometimes speaks of the church as a timeless and universal community, more commonly it speaks of it as a group of Christians meeting together in a particular locality. This community is the church in that locality. It is the local expression, a sort of miniature, of the timeless universal church ( Acts 13:1;  Acts 15:41;  Acts 20:17;  1 Corinthians 1:2).

Each local church, though in fellowship with other local churches ( Acts 11:27-30;  1 Corinthians 16:1-4;  Colossians 4:15-16), is responsible directly to the head, Jesus Christ, in all things. The New Testament gives no guidelines for a central organization or head church to control all others. It lays down no set of laws either to hold the churches together in one body or to hold all the believers in one church together. Unity comes through a oneness of faith in the Spirit ( Ephesians 4:4-6).

It is therefore better to think of the church not as an organization or institution, but as a family. Christ is the head, and all the believers are brothers and sisters ( Galatians 6:10;  Ephesians 2:19;  Romans 15:30;  Romans 16:1;  Romans 16:23). The strength of the church comes not from some organizational system, but from the spiritual life that each believer has and that all believers share in common ( Acts 14:23;  Philippians 1:7;  Philippians 2:1-2;  1 John 1:3; see Fellowship ).

According to Christ’s command and the early church’s example, those who repent and believe the gospel should be baptized ( Matthew 28:19-20;  Acts 2:38;  Acts 2:41;  Acts 10:48; see Baptism ). By their faith they become members of Christ’s body, the church, and they show the truth of this union by joining with the Christians in their locality. In other words, having become part of the timeless universal church, they now become part of the local church ( Acts 2:41;  Acts 2:47).

The Bible gives no instructions concerning where the church in any one locality should meet. (Churches in New Testament times seem to have met in private homes or any ready-made places they could find; see  Acts 12:12;  Acts 19:9;  Acts 20:7-8;  Romans 16:5;  Romans 16:14-15;  Colossians 4:15.) The meetings of the church are to be orderly and, what is more important, spiritually helpful ( 1 Corinthians 14:12;  1 Corinthians 14:26;  1 Corinthians 14:40). Christians must be built up through being taught the Scriptures and through having fellowship by worshipping, praying, singing praises and celebrating the Lord’s Supper together ( Acts 2:42;  Acts 20:7;  Acts 20:27;  1 Corinthians 10:16-17;  1 Corinthians 11:23-33;  1 Corinthians 14:15; see Lord’S Supper; Worship )

Christians must not look upon the church as a sort of private fellowship that exists solely for their own benefit. From the church they must go out to spread the gospel to others, baptizing those who believe, bringing them into the church, teaching them the Christian truths and making them true disciples of Jesus Christ ( Matthew 28:19-20;  Acts 1:7-8;  Acts 8:4;  Romans 10:14-17).

In addition, the church should be concerned with helping those who are the victims of sickness, hunger, conflict, injustice and other misfortunes ( Matthew 25:34-40;  Romans 12:8;  Romans 12:13;  Galatians 6:10;  James 1:27). As with preaching the gospel, this ministry concerns both the church’s own locality and distant regions ( Matthew 28:19-20;  Acts 1:8;  Acts 2:45;  Acts 11:27-30;  Acts 13:2-4;  Romans 15:25-26; see Mission ).

Leadership in the churches

Although the Bible gives clear guidelines concerning the responsibilities of the local church, it gives few organizational details. Christians grow in maturity as they exercise their judgment and carry out their responsibilities ( Romans 12:6-8).

This does not mean that people may do as they like. The Spirit of the living Christ dwells within the church ( 1 Corinthians 3:16), and he has appointed leaders in the church to guide and feed it ( Acts 20:28). Their task is to work out how to apply the Bible’s timeless principles to the circumstances of their era and culture ( 1 Corinthians 14:26;  1 Corinthians 14:40;  1 Thessalonians 5:12-13;  1 Timothy 3:15;  1 Timothy 4:13-15;  2 Timothy 2:7).

Those leaders who are chiefly responsible for the church’s well-being are commonly called elders. Deacons are those who assist the elders by relieving them of some of the more routine affairs ( Philippians 1:1;  1 Timothy 3:1;  1 Timothy 3:8; see Elder ; Deacon ). People who fill these leadership positions may be gifted in various ways. God has given certain sorts of people to the church to help build it up – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers ( Ephesians 4:11) – and such people can be expected to be in positions of leadership in the church.

Apostles and prophets appear to have been given to the church mainly to instruct and direct it during the period of its infancy ( Ephesians 2:20; see Apostle ; Prophet ). Evangelists are people with special ability in making known the gospel and establishing churches in places where previously there were none ( Acts 14:1;  Acts 14:21;  Acts 14:23;  Acts 21:8;  2 Timothy 4:5; see Evangelist ). Pastors and teachers care for the church as a shepherd cares for his flock, feeding it with spiritual food and protecting it from spiritual dangers ( John 21:15-17;  Acts 20:28;  1 Timothy 5:17;  1 Peter 5:2; see Pastor ; TEACHER).

The Bible does not divide people too sharply into one or other of these categories, as there is clearly some overlapping within the functions. Also some people may combine within them several of these gifts; e.g. Paul ( Romans 15:20;  1 Timothy 1:1;  1 Timothy 2:7), James ( Galatians 1:19;  Galatians 2:9-10), Timothy ( 1 Timothy 4:13-16;  2 Timothy 4:5), Barnabas ( Acts 11:22-26;  Acts 14:14), Silas ( Acts 15:32;  Acts 17:10-14) and others.

Responsibilities of church members

There is no suggestion in the Bible that people with these gifts are the only ones who do spiritual work in the church. On the contrary, the purpose of their work is to equip others to work. They build up the Christians and so prepare them for fuller Christian service ( Ephesians 4:11-13). The gifted ones teach others who, in turn, pass on the teaching to others ( 2 Timothy 2:2).

Every member of the church has some gift that the Holy Spirit has given for the service of God ( 1 Corinthians 12:11;  1 Corinthians 12:18). Just as the human body is made up of many parts, all with different functions, so is the church which is Christ’s body. Yet with the variety there is equality. The church, unlike ancient Israel, has no exclusive class of religious officials who have spiritual privileges that ordinary people do not have ( Romans 12:4-8;  1 Corinthians 12:12;  1 Corinthians 12:27;  Ephesians 2:18-20). There are many gifts, but Christians must use these gifts in dependence upon the Spirit’s power and in accordance with the Spirit’s teaching ( 1 Corinthians 12:4-11;  1 Corinthians 13:1-2;  1 Corinthians 14:37).

If a local church is to operate properly, each person in that church must find out which gifts the Holy Spirit has given him or her and then develop them ( Romans 12:6-8;  1 Timothy 4:14-16). When people act with such honesty and responsibility, they will not fall to the temptations of pride on one hand or jealousy on the other. Instead, through the care of the members one for another, the church will be built up ( 1 Corinthians 12:14-30; see Gifts Of The Spirit ).

Right attitudes and conduct

Another picture of the church is that of a building ( 1 Corinthians 3:9-10); specifically, a temple in which God dwells ( 1 Peter 2:5). Apostles and prophets form the foundation, other believers form the main building, and all is built around and built into Christ. This emphasizes again the cooperation and harmony that there should be among all within the church ( Ephesians 2:20-22). It also emphasizes that the church must be holy, for it is God’s dwelling place ( 1 Corinthians 3:16-17;  2 Corinthians 6:16-17).

Since God’s church is holy, it must deal with those who are guilty of serious errors in wrong teaching or wrong behaviour ( 1 Corinthians 5:1-2;  1 Corinthians 6:1-5;  Titus 1:10-13;  Titus 3:10). Wrongdoers must at least be warned or rebuked ( 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15;  1 Timothy 1:3-7;  1 Timothy 5:19-20), both for their own benefit and for the benefit of others in the church who may be affected by their wrongdoing ( 1 Corinthians 5:6-7;  2 Timothy 2:14-18;  Hebrews 12:15;  3 John 1:9-10). Whatever action the church takes against wrongdoers should be with a view to restoring them to healthy spiritual life. It should not drive them further away from God and his people ( 2 Corinthians 2:5-11;  Galatians 6:1).

Some, however, may be so hardened in their sinful ways that they refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing, and the church may have to expel them from its fellowship. But there is still the hope that because of such severe punishment, the wrongdoers may see the seriousness of their errors and turn from them ( Matthew 18:15-17;  1 Corinthians 5:1-5;  1 Corinthians 5:11-13;  1 Timothy 1:19-20).

The imperfections in the church can at times discourage people from full involvement in the church’s life. Some may even be tempted to try to live as Christians while keeping themselves apart from the church. But a person cannot reject the church and still live the Christian life properly. The church is not a club that a few like-minded people have formed, but a community that God himself has formed ( Matthew 16:18;  Ephesians 3:9-11;  Colossians 3:15). It is the body of Christ, and all Christians are part of it. They must therefore learn to function as part of the body if they are to function properly as Christians. Participation in the life of the church is necessary for Christian growth and maturity ( Ephesians 4:12-13).

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [4]

The Greek word εκκλησια , so rendered, denotes an assembly met about business, whether spiritual or temporal,  Acts 19:32;  Acts 19:39 . It is understood also of the collective body of Christians, or all those over the face of the earth who profess to believe in Christ, and acknowledge him to be the Saviour of mankind; this is called the visible church. But, by the word church, we are more strictly to understand the whole body of God's true people, in every period of time: this is the invisible or spiritual church. The people of God on earth are called the church militant, and those in heaven the church triumphant. It has been remarked by Dr. John Owen, that sin having entered into the world, God was pleased to found his church (the catholic or universal church) in the promise of the Messiah given to Adam; that this promise contained in it something of the nature of a covenant, including the grace which God designed to show to sinners in the Messiah, and the obedience which he required from them; and that consequently, from its first promulgation, that promise became the sole foundation of the church and of the whole worship of God therein. Prior to the days of Abraham, this church, though scattered up and down the world, and subject to many changes in its worship through the addition of new revelations, was still but one and the same, because founded in the same covenant, and interested thereby in all the benefits or privileges that God had granted, or would at any time grant. In process of time, God was pleased to restrict his church, as far as visible acknowledgment went, in a great measure, to the seed of Abraham. With the latter he renewed his covenant, requiring that he should walk before him and be upright. He also constituted him the father of the faithful, or of all them that believe, and the "heir of the world." So that since the days of Abraham, the church has, in every age, been founded upon the covenant made with that patriarch, and on the work of redemption which was to be performed according to that covenant. Now wheresoever this covenant made with Abraham is, and with whomsoever it is established, with them is the church of God, and to them all the promises and privileges of the church really belong. Hence we may learn that at the coming of the Messiah, there was not one church taken away and another set up in its room; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham, according to the faith. It is common with divines to speak of the Jewish and the Christian churches, as though they were two distinct and totally different things; but that is not a correct view of the matter. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant. Great alterations indeed were made in the outward state and condition of the church, by the coming of the Messiah. The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation from other nations to give birth to the Messiah, then failed, and with that also their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham. The ordinances of worship suited to that state of things then expired, and came to an end. New ordinances of worship were appointed, suitable to the new light and grace which were then bestowed upon the church. The Gentiles came into the faith of Abraham along with the Jews, being made joint partakers with them in his blessing. But none of these things, nor the whole collectively, did make such an alteration in the church, but that it was still one and the same. The olive tree was still the same, only some branches were broken off, and others grafted into it. The Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room. And this may enable us to determine the difference between the Jews and Christians relative to the Old Testament promises. They are all made to the church. No individual has any interest in them except by virtue of his membership with the church. The church is, and always was, one and the same. The Jewish plea, is, that the church is with them, because they are the children of Abraham according to the flesh. Christians reply, that their privilege on that ground was of another nature, and ended with the coming of the Messiah: that the church of God, unto whom all the promises belong, are only those who are heirs of the faith of Abraham, believing as he did, and are consequently interested in his covenant. These are Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, Jacob, the temple, or church of God.

2. By a particular church we understand an assembly of Christians united together, and meeting in one place, for the solemn worship of God. To this agrees the definition given by the compilers of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England: "A congregation of faithful men, in which the true word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinances, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same,"   Acts 9:31;  Acts 20:17;  Galatians 1:2;  Galatians 1:22;  1 Corinthians 14:34;  Colossians 4:15 . The word is now also used to denote any particular denomination of Christians, distinguished by particular doctrines, ceremonies, &c, as the Romish church, the Greek church, the English church, &c.

3. On the subject of the church, opinions as opposite or varying as possible have been held, from that of the Papists, who contend for its visible unity throughout the world under a visible head, down to that of the Independents, who consider the universal church as composed of congregational churches, each perfect in itself, and entirely independent of every other. The first opinion is manifestly contradicted by the language of the Apostles, who, while they teach that there is but one church, composed of believers throughout the world, think it not at all inconsistent with this to speak of "the churches of Judea," "of Achaia," "the seven churches of Asia," "the church at Ephesus," &c. Among themselves the Apostles had no common head; but planted churches and gave directions for their government, in most cases without any apparent correspondence with each other. The Popish doctrine is certainly not found in their writings; and so far were they from making provision for the government of this one supposed church, by the appointment of one visible and exclusive head, that they provide for the future government of the respective churches raised up by them in a totally different manner, that is, by the ordination of ministers for each church, who are indifferently called bishops, and presbyters, and pastors. The only unity of which they speak is the unity of the whole church in Christ, the invisible head, by faith; and the unity produced by "fervent love toward each other." Nor has the Popish doctrine of the visible unity of the church any countenance from early antiquity. The best ecclesiastical historians have showed, that, through the greater part of the second century, the Christian churches were independent of each other. "Each Christian assembly," says Mosheim, "was a little state governed by its own laws, which were either enacted, or at least, approved, by the society. But in process of time, all the churches of a province were formed into one large ecclesiastical body, which, like confederate states, assembled at certain times in order to deliberate about the common interests of the whole." So far indeed this union of churches appears to have been a wise and useful arrangement, although afterward it was carried to an injurious extreme, until finally it gave birth to the assumptions of the bishop of Rome, as universal bishop; a claim, however, which, when most successful, was but partially submitted to, the eastern churches having, for the most part, always maintained their independence. To very large association of churches of any kind existed till toward the close of the second century, which sufficiently refutes the papal argument from antiquity. The independence of the early Christian churches does not, however, appear to have resembled that of the churches which, in modern times, are called Independent. During the lives of the Apostles and Evangelists they were certainly subject to their counsel and control, which proves that the independency of separate societies was not the first form of the church. It may, indeed, be allowed, that some of the smaller and more insulated churches might, after the death of the Apostles and Evangelists, retain this form for some considerable time; but the larger churches, in the chief cities, and those planted in populous neighbourhoods, had many presbyters, and, as the members multiplied, they had several separate assemblies or congregations, yet all under the same common government. And when churches were raised up in the neighbourhood of cities, the appointment of chorepiscopi, or country bishops, and of visiting presbyters, both acting under the presbytery of the city, with the bishop at its head, is sufficiently in proof, that the ancient churches, especially the larger and more prosperous of them, existed in that form which, in modern times, we should call a religious connection, subject to a common government. This appears to have arisen out of the very circumstance of the increase of the church, through the zeal of the first Christians; and it was doubtless much more in the spirit of the very first discipline exercised by the Apostles and Evangelists, (when none of the churches were independent, but remained under the government of those who had been chiefly instrumental in raising them up,) to place themselves under a common inspection, and to unite the weak with the strong, and the newly converted with those who were "in Christ before them." There was also in this, greater security afforded both for the continuance of wholesome doctrine, and of godly discipline.

4. Church members are those who compose or belong to the visible church. As to the real church, the true members of it are such as come out from the world,   2 Corinthians 6:17; who are born again,  1 Peter 1:23; or made new creatures,  2 Corinthians 5:17; whose faith works by love to God and all mankind,  Galatians 5:6;  James 2:14;  James 2:26; who walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. None but such are members of the true church; nor should any be admitted into any particular church without some evidence of their earnestly seeking this state of salvation.

5. Church fellowship is the communion that the members enjoy one with another. The ends of church fellowship are, the maintenance and exhibition of a system of sound doctrine; the support of the ordinances of evangelical worship in their purity and simplicity; the impartial exercise of church government and discipline; the promotion of holiness in all manner of conversation. The more particular duties are, earnest study to keep peace and unity; bearing of one another's burdens,   Galatians 6:1-2; earnest endeavours to prevent each other's stumbling,  1 Corinthians 10:23-33;  Hebrews 10:24-27;  Romans 14:13; steadfast continuance in the faith and worship of the Gospel,  Acts 2:42; praying for and sympathizing with each other,  1 Samuel 12:23;  Ephesians 6:18 . The advantages are, peculiar incitement to holiness; the right to some promises applicable to none but those who attend the ordinances of God. and hold communion with the saints,  Psalms 92:13;  Psalms 132:13;  Psalms 132:16;  Psalms 36:8;  Jeremiah 31:12; the being placed under the watchful eye of pastors,  Hebrews 13:7; that they may restore each other if they fall,  Galatians 6:1; and the more effectually promote the cause of true religion.

6. As to church order and discipline, without entering into the discussion of the many questions which have been raised on this subject, and argued in so many distinct treatises, it may be sufficient generally to observe, that the church of Christ being a visible and permanent society, bound to observe certain rites, and to obey, certain rules, the existence of government in it is necessarily supposed. All religious rites suppose order, all order direction and control, and these a directive and controlling power. Again: all laws are nugatory without enforcement, in the present mixed and imperfect state of society; and all enforcement supposes an executive. If baptism be the door of admission into the church, some must judge of the fitness of candidates, and administrators of the rite must be appointed; if the Lord's Supper must be partaken of, the times and the mode are to be determined, the qualifications of communicants judged of, and the administration placed in suitable hands; if worship must be social and public, here again there must be an appointment of times, an order, and an administration; if the word of God is to be read and preached, then readers and preachers are necessary; if the continuance of any one in the fellowship of Christians be conditional upon good conduct, so that the purity and credit of the church may be guarded, then the power of enforcing discipline must be lodged some where. Thus government flows necessarily from the very nature of the institution of the Christian church; and since this institution has the authority of Christ and his Apostles, it is not to be supposed, that its government was left unprovided for; and if they have in fact made such a provision, it is no more a matter of mere option with Christians whether they will be subject to government in the church, than it is optional with them to confess Christ by becoming its members. The nature of this government, and the persons to whom it is committed, are both points which we must briefly examine by the light of the Holy Scriptures. As to the first, it is wholly spiritual:— "My kingdom," says our Lord, "is not of this world." The church is a society founded upon faith, and united by mutual love, for the personal edification of its members in holiness, and for the religious benefit of the world. The nature of its government is thus determined; it is concerned only with spiritual objects. It cannot employ force to compel men into its pale; for the only door of the church is faith, to which there can be no compulsion;— "he that believeth and is baptized" becomes a member. It cannot inflict pains and penalties upon the disobedient and refractory, like civil governments; for the only punitive discipline authorized in the New Testament, is comprised in "admonition," "reproof," "sharp rebukes," and, finally, "excision from the society." The last will be better understood, if we consider the special relations in which true Christians stand to each other, and the duties resulting from them. They are members of one body, and are therefore bound to tenderness and sympathy; they are the conjoint instructers of others, and are therefore to strive to be of "one judgment;" they are brethren, and they are to love one another as such, that is, with an affection more special than that general good will which they are commanded to bear to all mankind; they are therefore to seek the intimacy of friendly society among themselves, and, except in the ordinary and courteous intercourse of life, they are bound to keep themselves separate from the world; they are enjoined to do good unto all men, but "especially to them that are of the household of faith;" and they are forbidden "to eat" at the Lord's table with immoral persons, that is, with those who, although they continue their Christian profession, dishonour it by their practice. With these relations of Christians to each other and to the world, and their correspondent duties, before our minds, we may easily interpret the nature of that extreme discipline which is vested in the church. "Persons who will not hear the church" are to be held "as Heathen men and publicans," as those who are not members of it; that is, they are to be separated from it, and regarded as of "the world," quite out of the range of the above mentioned relations of Christians to each other, and their correspondent duties; but still, like "Heathen men and publicans" they are to be the objects of pity, and general benevolence. Nor is this extreme discipline to be hastily inflicted before "a first and second admonition," nor before those who are "spiritual" have attempted "to restore a brother overtaken by a fault;" and when the "wicked person" is "put away," still the door is to be kept open for his reception again upon repentance. The true excommunication of the Christian church is therefore a merciful and considerate separation of an incorrigible offender from the body of Christians, without any infliction of civil pains or penalties. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which ye have received from us,"   2 Thessalonians 3:6 . "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump,"  1 Corinthians 5:7 . "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one, no not to eat,"  1 Corinthians 5:11 . This then is the moral discipline which is imperative upon the church of Christ, and its government is criminally defective whenever it is not enforced. On the other hand, the disabilities and penalties which established churches in different places have connected with these sentences of excommunication, have no countenance at all in Scripture, and are wholly inconsistent with the spiritual character and ends of the Christian association.

7. As to the persons to whom the government of the church is committed, it is necessary to consider the composition, so to speak, of the primitive church, as stated in the New Testament. A full enunciation of these offices we find in   Ephesians 4:11 : "And he gave some, Apostles; and some, Prophets; and some, Evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Of these, the office of Apostle is allowed by all to have been confined to those immediately commissioned by Christ to witness the fact of his miracles, and of his resurrection from the dead, and to reveal the complete system of Christian doctrine and duty; confirming their extraordinary mission by miracles wrought by themselves. If by "prophets" we are to understand persons who foretold future events, then the office was from its very nature extraordinary, and the gift of prophecy has passed away with the other miraculous endowments of the first age of Christianity. If, with others, we understand that these prophets were extraordinary teachers raised up until the churches were settled under permanent qualified instructers; still the office was temporary. The "Evangelists" are generally understood to be assistants of the Apostles, who acted under their especial authority and direction. Of this number were Timothy and Titus; and as the Apostle Paul directed them to ordain bishops or presbyters in the several churches, but gave them no authority to ordain successors to themselves in their particular office as Evangelists, it is clear that the Evangelists must also be reckoned among the number of extraordinary and temporary ministers suited to the first age of Christianity. Whether by "pastors and teachers" two offices be meant, or one, has been disputed. The change in the mode of expression seems to favour the latter view, and so the text is interpreted by St. Jerom, and St. Augustine; but the point is of little consequence. A pastor was a teacher, although every teacher might not be a pastor; but in many cases his office might be one of subordinate instruction, whether as an expounder of doctrine, a catechist, or even a more private instructer of those who as yet were unacquainted with the first principles of the Gospel of Christ. The term pastor implies the duties both of instruction and of government, of feeding and of ruling the flock of Christ; and, as the presbyters or bishops were ordained in the several churches, both by the Apostles and Evangelists, and rules are left by St. Paul as to their appointment, there can be no doubt but that these are the "pastors" spoken of in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and that they were designed to be the permanent ministers of the church; and that with them both the government of the church and the performance of its leading religious services were deposited. Deacons had the charge of the gifts and offerings for charitable purposes, although, it appears from Justin Martyr, not in every instance; for he speaks of the weekly oblations as being deposited with the chief minister, and distributed by him. These pastors appear to have been indifferently called BISHOPS and PRESBYTERS, and with them the regulation of the churches was, doubtless, deposited; not without checks and guards, the principal of which, however, was, in the primitive church, and continues to be in all modern churches which have no support from the magistracy, or are made independent of the people by endowments, the voluntariness of the association. A perfect religious liberty is always supposed by the Apostles to exist among Christians; no compulsion of the civil power is any where assumed by them as the basis of their advices or directions; no binding of the members to one church, without liberty to join another, by any ties but those involved in moral considerations, of sufficient weight, however, to prevent the evils of faction and schism. It was this which created a natural and competent check upon the ministers of the church; for being only sustained by the opinion of the churches, they could not but have respect to it; and it was this which gave to the sound part of a fallen church the advantage of renouncing, upon sufficient and well-weighed grounds, their communion with it, and of kindling up the light of a pure ministry and a holy discipline, by forming a separate association, bearing its testimony against errors in doctrine, and failures in practice. Nor is it to be conceived, that, had this simple principle of perfect religious liberty been left unviolated through subsequent ages, the church could ever have become so corrupt, or with such difficulty and slowness have been recovered from its fall. This ancient Christian liberty has happily been restored in a few parts of Christendom. See Episcopacy and See Presbyterianism .

Holman Bible Dictionary [5]

The meaning of the term “church” Church is the English translation of the Greek word ekklesia . The use of the Greek term prior to the emergence of the Christian church is important as two streams of meaning flow from the history of its usage into the New Testament understanding of church. First, the Greek term which basically means “called out” was commonly used to indicate an assembly of citizens of a Greek city and is so used in  Acts 19:32 ,  Acts 19:39 . The citizens who were quite conscious of their privileged status over against slaves and noncitizens were called to the assembly by a herald and dealt in their meetings democratically with matters of common concern. When the early Christians understood themselves as constituting a church, no doubt exists that they perceived themselves as called out by God in Jesus Christ for a special purpose and that their status was a privileged one in Jesus Christ ( Ephesians 2:19 ).

Second, the Greek term was used more than one hundred times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in common use in the time of Jesus. The Hebrew term ( qahal ) meant simply “assembly” and could be used in a variety of ways, referring for example to an assembling of prophets ( 1 Samuel 19:20 ), soldiers ( Numbers 22:4 ), or the people of God ( Deuteronomy 9:10 ). The use of the term in the Old Testament in referring to the people of God is important for understanding the term “church” in the New Testament. The first Christians were Jews who used the Greek translation of the Old Testament. For them to use a self-designation that was common in the Old Testament for the people of God reveals their understanding of the continuity that links the Old and New Testaments. The early Christians understood themselves as the people of the God who had revealed Himself in the Old Testament ( Hebrews 1:1-2 ), as the true children of Israel ( Romans 2:28-29 ) with Abraham as their father ( Romans 4:1-25 ), and as the people of the New Covenant prophesied in the Old Testament ( Hebrews 8:1-13 ). As a consequence of this broad background of meaning in the Greek and Old Testament worlds, the term “church” is used in the New Testament of a local congregation of called-out Christians, such as the “church of God which is at Corinth”( 1 Corinthians 1:2 ), and also of the entire people of God, such as in the affirmation that Christ is “the head over all things to the church, Which is his body” ( Ephesians 1:22-23 ).

What church means in the New Testament is further defined by a host of over one hundred other descriptive expressions occurring in relationship to passages where the church is being addressed. Three basic perspectives embrace most of these other descriptions. First, the church is seen as the body of Christ; and a cluster of images exists in this context as emphasis falls on the head ( Ephesians 4:15-16 ), the members ( 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 ), the body ( 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 ), or the bride ( Ephesians 5:22-31 ). The church is also seen as God's new creation ( 2 Corinthians 5:17 ), the new persons ( Ephesians 2:14-15 ), fighters against Satan ( Ephesians 6:10-20 ), or bearers of light ( Ephesians 5:7-9 ). Thirdly, the church is quite often described as a fellowship of faith with its members described as the saints ( 1 Corinthians 1:2 ), the faithful ( Colossians 1:2 ), the witnesses ( John 15:26-27 ), or the household of God ( 1 Peter 4:17 ).

Major characteristics of the life of the church The preeminent characteristic of the church in the New Testament is devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord. He established the church under His authority ( Matthew 16:13-20 ) and created the foundation for its existence in His redeeming death and demonstration of God's power in His resurrection. Christ's position as the Lord evoked, sustained, and governed the major characteristics of the life of the church in the way members were admitted, treated one another, witnessed to His power, worshiped, and lived in hope of His return.

Persons were admitted to the local congregation only upon their placing their trust in Christ as Savior ( Acts 3:37-42 ), openly confessing this ( Romans 10:9-13 ), and being baptized ( Acts 10:44-48 ). Baptism or immersion in water was performed because Christ had commanded it ( Matthew 28:18-20 ) and was itself a dramatic symbolic picturing of the burial and resurrection of Christ ( Romans 6:3-4 ). Joining the church made one a fully participating member in it, unlike many of the religious groups in the first century in which there was a substantial period of probation before full acceptance. When Christ accepted the person, the congregation did also, even though the members might be aware of weaknesses ( Romans 14:1-4 ).

The way in which members of the church were called on to treat one another was modeled by what God had done in Christ for the church. They were to forgive one another ( Colossians 3:12-14 ) and to love one another ( Ephesians 5:1-2;  1 John 3:16 ) because God had done this for all of them in Christ. This foundation for Christian fellowship gave an ultimacy to its requirements that reflected on each church member's relationship with God ( 1 John 2:7-11 ).

Members of the church were called on to demonstrate the power of Christ's redemption in their own lives by exemplary conduct, embracing every area of life ( Romans 12:1-13:7;  Colossians 3:12-4:1 ). The overcoming of sins in the lives of Christians was a witness to the redeeming power of Christ in action in the community ( Galatians 5:22-26 ), and the sins to which the communities were prone were clearly identified and challenged ( Galatians 5:19-21 ). The Christians were expected to adopt a new life style that was appropriate to their commitment to Christ ( Ephesians 4:17-24 ).

The worship of the early church demonstrated the lordship of Christ, not only in the fact that He was extolled and praised but also in the fact that worship demonstrated the obligation of Christians to love and to nurture one another ( 1 Corinthians 11:17-22;  1 Corinthians 14:1-5 ). In distinction from worship as it was practiced in the pagan cults of Greece and Rome, Christian worship not only stressed the relation of a person to the Deity but went beyond this to stress that worship should edify and strengthen the Christians present ( 1 Corinthians 14:26 ) and should challenge pagans to accept Christ ( 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 ). Christian worship was often enthusiastic and usually involved all Christians present as participants ( 1 Corinthians 14:26 ). This openness both inspired creativity and opened the way for excesses which were curbed by specific suggestions ( 1 Corinthians 14:26-33;  1 Timothy 2:1-10 ) and by the rule that what was done should be appropriate to those committed to a God of peace ( 1 Corinthians 14:33 ).

All of these characteristics of the life of the church existed in the context of an urgency created by the awareness that Christ was going to return ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ). Christ's return would bring judgment to the unbelievers ( 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 ) and thus made witnessing to them an urgent concern. How central this belief was to the early church is illustrated by the fact that the Lord's Supper, which they observed at His command was seen as proclaiming “the Lord's death till he come ( 1 Corinthians 11:26 ). The return of Christ was to result in glorious joy and the transformation of the Christians—a hope that sustained them in difficult times ( 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ).

Organization of the New Testament churches A striking feature of the organization of the early churches is that every member of the church was seen as having a gift for service which was to be used cooperatively for the benefit of all ( Romans 12:1-8;  1 Peter 4:10 ). Paul used the imagery of the human body to illustrate this unique feature of the church's life, stressing that every Christian has a necessary function and a responsibility to function with an awareness of his or her share in the body of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 ).

In the context of this strong belief that every member has a ministry, certain persons were designated to fulfill specific tasks in relation to the functioning of the church such as apostles, bishops, elders, and deacons. As these offices are examined, it is important to remember that the organization of the early churches was not necessarily the same in every locality. A large church would need more organizational structure than a small one, and the presence of an apostle or his designated representative would cause the other leaders in a given church to be seen in a different light. In addition to these variables, the church was in a period of rapid growth; and as it responded to the needs of ministry, roles or offices, such as the appointment of the seven in  Acts 6:1-7 , were created to enable the church to fulfill its ministry in Christ.

“Apostle” usually designated one appointed as the authorized representative of Jesus Christ, and the term in the New Testament is most frequently applied to one of the Twelve ( Acts 1:15-26 ) or to Paul ( Galatians 1:1-24 ). The term was occasionally used in a wider sense to indicate the validity and importance of one of the early church's leaders, such as James ( Galatians 1:19 ) or Barnabas ( Acts 14:4; compare  Romans 16:7 ); but there is no hint in the New Testament that an apostle could appoint a person to succeed himself and establish a continuing line. The office is, in fact, seen as foundational in the church's history and not as continuing ( Ephesians 2:20 ).

Bishops and elders had quite similar responsibilities; and Paul, addressing the elders in  Acts 20:17 , stated that they were bishops or overseers ( Acts 20:28 ). Usually, however, the term “bishop” is in the singular ( 1 Timothy 3:1 ), and the term “elders” is plural ( James 5:14 ) as a specific church is addressed. The responsibilities of a bishop are described in  1 Timothy 3:1-7 and   Titus 1:7-9 . He is described as representing the church in a way which would suggest that each church had one designated leader who functioned much in the way a contemporary pastor does.

Deacons were required to be exemplary Christians like bishops ( 1 Timothy 3:8-13 ). Since their duties are not specified and they are usually listed with the bishops, it is usually assumed that deacons devoted themselves to the larger work of the local church, assisting in whatever ways were most appropriate to the local congregation of Christians as the seven did in Acts ( 1 Timothy 6:1-7 ).

The organization of the early churches was not governed by a rigid plan that each church had to follow. The guiding principle was that the church was the body of Christ with a mission to accomplish, and the church felt free to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit in developing a structure that would contribute to its fulfilling its responsibilities ( Romans 12:1-8;  1 Corinthians 12:4-11;  Ephesians 4:11-16 ).

The growth and expansion of the early church Jesus taught His disciples that by following Him they were to be involved in a movement that would continue ( Matthew 16:13-20;  John 14:12-14 ), but it was after the resurrection of Jesus that the mission of the church really began ( Matthew 28:16-20;  John 20:19-23;  Acts 1:6-11 ). The earliest Christians were Palestinian Jewish followers of Jesus and found it difficult to witness to non-Jews ( Acts 10:1-48 ). The bridge to the Gentiles was the Hellenistic Jewish Christianity, which sprang into existence with the conversion of Jews from the dispersion who were visiting in Jerusalem and converted at Pentecost ( Acts 2:5-47 ). These Jews whose residence had been in the cities of the Roman Empire were called Hellenistic because they were generally more open to the Greco-Roman culture than their Palestinian colleagues. They spoke and wrote Greek as their primary language, gave their children Greek names (such as Stephen which means “crown” in Greek), and were more willing to relate to Gentiles. It was this group of the early Christians that was the major channel in spreading the gospel to the Gentiles ( Acts 19:11-26 ).

Paul was a Hellenistic Jew ( Acts 21:39 ); and when he became a Christian, he was called to and accepted a ministry to the Gentiles ( Acts 22:21;  Ephesians 3:1-13 ). Significantly, he inaugurated his ministry of founding new churches from the base of a church composed of both Gentiles and Hellenistic Jewish Christians ( Acts 11:19-26;  Acts 13:1-3 ). Paul's strategy was to visit synagogues in the cities of the Roman Empire and to proclaim Jesus as the Christ ( Acts 18:5 ). The usual result was that some Jews and some Gentiles who were interested in Judaism (called God-fearers,  Acts 18:7 ) believed in Christ, were expelled from the synagogue, and formed the nucleus for a growing church ( Acts 18:5-11;  Acts 19:8-10 ).

The Acts of the Apostles gives only a glimpse of the early Christian heroes and heroines with a focus on Peter, Paul, and a few others ( Acts 18:1-4 ,  Acts 18:24-28 ). There were, however, many heroic Christian witnesses unknown to us who first carried the gospel to Rome ( Acts 28:14-15 ) and to the limits of the Empire in India, Egypt, and the outlying areas of Europe. See Apostle; Bishop; Deacon; Elders; Missions.

Harold S. Songer

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [6]

1. The Greek word denotes an assembly met about business, whether lawful or unlawful,  Acts 19:32;  Acts 19:39 .

2. It is understood of the collective body of Christians, or all those over the face of the earth who profess to believe in Christ, and acknowledge him to be the Saviour of mankind: this is called the visible church,  Ephesians 3:21 .  1 Timothy 3:15 .  Ephesians 4:11-12 .

3. By the word church, also, we are to understand the whole body of God's chosen people, in every period of time: this is the invisible church. Those on earth are also called the militant, and those in heaven the triumphant church,  Hebrews 12:23 .  Acts 20:28 .  Ephesians 1:1-23   Matthew 16:28 .

4. By a particular church we understand an assembly of Christians united together, and meeting in one place for the solemn worship of God. To this agree the definition given by the compilers of the thirty-nine articles:

"A congregation of faithful men, in which the true word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinances, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."  Acts 9:31 .  Galatians 1:2;  Galatians 1:22 .  1 Corinthians 14:34 .  Acts 20:17 .  Colossians 4:15 .

5. The word is now used also to denote any particular denomination of Christians distinguished by particular doctrines, ceremonies, &c.: as the Romish church, Greek church. and English church, &c. Congregational church is so called from their maintaining that each congregation of Christians which meet in one place for religious worship is a complete church, and has sufficient power to act and perform every thing relative to religious government within itself, and is in no respect subject or accountable to any other church. It does not appear, say they, that the primitive churches were national; they were not even provincial; for, though there were many believers and professing Christians in Judea, in Galilee, and Samaria, in Macedonia, in Galatia, and other provinces, yet we never read of a provincial church in any of those places. The particular societies of Christians in these districts are mentioned in the plural number,  2 Corinthians 8:1 .  Galatians 1:2 .  Acts 9:31 . According to them, we find no mention made of diocesan churches in the New Testament. In the days of the apostles, bishops were so far from presiding over more churches than one, that sometimes a plurality of bishops presided over the same church.

See  Philippians 1:1 . Nor do we find any mention made of parochial churches. Some of the inhabitants of a parish may be Infidels, Mahometans, or Jews; but Gospel churches consist of such as make an open profession of their faith in Christ, and subjection to the Gospel, Rom.i.7.  1 Corinthians 14:33 . It seems plain, then, that the primitive churches of Christ were properly congregational. The first church at Jerusalem met together in one place at the same time,  Acts 1:14-15 . The church of Antioch did the same,  Acts 14:27 . The church of Corinth the same,  1 Corinthians 14:23 . The same did the church at Troas,  Acts 20:7 . There was a church at Cenchrea, a port of Corinth, distinct from the church in that city,  Romans 16:1-27 : He that was a member of one church was not a member of another. The apostle Paul, writing to the Colossian society, says

"Epaphras, who is one of you, saluteth you, "  Colossians 4:12 . Such a church is a body distinguished from the civil societies of the world by the spiritual nature and design of its government; for, though Christ would have order kept in his church, yet without any coercive force; a thing inconsistent with the very nature of such a society, whose end is instruction; and a practice suitable to it, which can never in the nature of things be accomplished by penal laws or external coersion,  Isaiah 33:22 .  Matthew 23:8;  Matthew 23:10 .  John 18:36 .  Psalms 2:6 .  2 Corinthians 10:4-5 .  Zechariah 4:6 , &c. 1. Church members are those who compose or belong to the church. As to the visible church, it may be observed that real saintship is not the distinguishing criterion of the members of it. None, indeed, can without it honestly offer themselves to church fellowship; but they cannot be refused admission for the mere want of it; for

1. God alone can judge the heart. Deceivers can counterfeit saintship,  1 Samuel 16:1;  1 Samuel 16:7 .

2. God himself admitted many members of the Jewish church whose hearts were unsanctified,  Deuteronomy 29:3-4;  Deuteronomy 29:13 .  John 6:70 .

3. John the Baptist and the apostles required no more than outward appearance of faith and repentance in order to baptism,  Matthew 3:5;  Matthew 3:7 .  Acts 2:28 .vii. 13, 23.

4. Many that were admitted members in the churches of Judea, Corinth, Philippi, Laodicea, Sardis, &c. were unregenerated,  Acts 5:1;  Acts 5:10;  Acts 8:13;  Acts 8:23 .  1 Corinthians 1:11;  1 Corinthians 5:11 .  Philippians 3:18-19 .  Revelation 3:5;  Revelation 3:15;  Revelation 17:1-18 :

5. Christ compares the Gospel church to a floor on which corn and chaff are mingled together: to a net in which good and bad are gathered, &c.

See  Matthew 13:1-58 : As to the real church,

1. The true members of it are such as are born again.

2. They come out from the world,  1 Corinthians 6:17 .

3. They openly profess love to Christ,  James 2:14;  James 2:26 .  Mark 8:34 &c.

4. They walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. None but such are proper members of the true church; nor should any be admitted to any particular church without some appearance of these, at least. 2. Church fellowship is the communion that the members enjoy one with another. The end of church fellowship is,

1. The maintenance and exhibition of a system of sound principles,  2 Timothy 1:13 .  1 Timothy 6:3-4 .  1 Corinthians 8:5-6 .  Hebrews 2:1 .  Ephesians 4:21 .

2. The support of the ordinances of Gospel worship in their purity and simplicity,  Deuteronomy 12:31-32 .  Romans 15:6 .

3. The impartial exercise of church government and discipline,  Hebrews 12:15 .  Galatians 6:1 .  2 Timothy 2:24;  2 Timothy 2:26 .  Titus 3:10 .  1 Corinthians 5:1-13 :   James 3:17 .

4. The promotion of holiness in all manner of conversation,  Philippians 1:27;  Philippians 2:15-16 .  2 Peter 3:11 .  Philippians 4:8 . The more particular duties are.

1. Earnest study to keep peace and unity,  Ephesians 4:3 .  Philippians 2:2-3 .  Philippians 3:15-16 .

2. Bearing of one another's burdens,  Galatians 6:1;  Galatians 2:1-21 :

3. Earnest endeavours to prevent each other's stumblings,  1 Corinthians 10:2-3 .  Hebrews 10:24;  Hebrews 10:27 .  Romans 14:13 .

4. Stedfast continuance in the faith and worship of the Gospel,  Acts 2:42 .

5. Praying for and sympathizing with each other,  1 Samuel 12:23 .  Ephesians 6:18 . The advantages are,

1. Peculiar incitements to holiness,  Ecclesiastes 4:11 .

2. There are some promises applicable to none but those who attend the ordinances of God, and hold communion with the saints,  Psalms 92:13 .  Isaiah 25:6 . Psa 122: 13, 16.  Psalms 36:8 .  Jeremiah 31:12 .

3. Such are under the watchful eye and care of their pastor,  Hebrews 13:7 .

4. Subject to the friendly reproof or kind advice of the saints,  1 Corinthians 12:25 .

5. Their zeal and love are animated by reciprocal conversation,  Malachi 3:16 .  Proverbs 27:17 .

6. They may restore each other if they fall,  Ecclesiastes 4:10 .  Galatians 6:1 .

7. More easily promote the cause, and spread the Gospel elsewhere. 3. Church ordinances are,

1. Reading of the Scriptures,  Nehemiah 9:3 .  Acts 17:11 .  Nehemiah 8:3-4 .  Luke 4:16 .

2. Preaching and expounding,  1 Timothy 3:2 .  2 Timothy 2:24 .  Ephesians 4:8 .  Romans 10:15 .  Hebrews 5:4 .

3. Hearing, Is. 4: 1.  James 1:21 .  1 Peter 2:2 .  1 Timothy 4:13 .

4. Prayer,  Psalms 5:1-2 .  Psalms 95:6 .  Psalms 121:1 .  Psalms 28:2 .  Acts 12:12;  Acts 1:14 .

5. Singing of psalms, Ps. xivii. 1 to 6.  Colossians 3:16 .  1 Corinthians 14:15 .  Ephesians 5:1-33 .

6. Thanksgiving,  Psalms 50:14 .  Psalms 100:1-5 :   James 5:13 .

7. The Lord's supper,  1 Corinthians 11:23 , &c.  Acts 20:7 . Baptism is not properly a church ordinance, since it ought to be administered before a person be admitted into church fellowship.

See BAPTISM. 4. church officers are those appointed by Christ for preaching the word, and the superintendence of church affairs: such are bishops and deacons, to which some add, elders.

See these articles. 5. As to church order and discipline, it may be observed, that every Christian society formed on the congregational plan is strictly independent of all other religious societies. No other church however numerous or respectable; no person or persons, however eminent for authority, abilities, or influence, have any right to assume arbitrary jurisdiction over such a society. They have but one master, who is Christ.

See  Matthew 18:15;  Matthew 18:19 .

Even the officers which Christ has appointed in his church have no power to give new laws to it; but only, in conjunction with the other members of the society, to execute the commands of Christ. They have no dominion over any man's faith, nor any compulsive power over the consciences of any. Every particular church has a right to judge of the fitness of those who offer themselves as members,  Acts 9:26 . If they are found to be proper persons, they must then be admitted; and this should always be followed with prayer, and with a solemn exhortation to the persons received. If any member walk disorderly, and continue to do so, the church is empowered to exclude him,  1 Corinthians 5:7 .  2 Thessalonians 3:6 .  Romans 16:17 . which should be done with the greatest tenderness; but if evident signs of repentance should be discovered, such must be received again,  Galatians 6:1 . This and other church business is generally done on some day preceding the sabbath on which the ordinance is administered.

See art. EXCOMMUNICATION; Dr. Owen on the Nature of a Gospel Church and its Government; Watts's Rational Foundation of a Christian Church; Turner's Compendium of Soc. Rel; Fawcett's Constitution and Order of a Gospel Church; Watts's Works, ser. 53. vol. 1:; Goodwin's Works, vol. 4:; Fuller's Remarks on the Discipline of the Primitive Churches; and Bryson's Compendious View.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [7]

From the Greek Kuriakee , "house of the Lord," a word which passed to the Gothic tongue; the Goths being the first of the northern hordes converted to Christianity, adopted the word from the Greek Christians of Constantinople, and so it came to us Anglo-Saxons (Trench, Study of Words). But Lipsius, from circus, from whence kirk, a circle, because the oldest temples, as the Druid ones, were circular in form. Εkkleesia in the New Testament never means the building or house of assembly, because church buildings were built long AFTER the apostolic age. It means an organized body, whose unity does not depend on its being met together in one place; not an assemblage of atoms, but members in their several places united to the One Head, Christ, and forming one organic living whole (1 Corinthians 12). The bride of Christ ( Ephesians 5:25-32;  Ephesians 1:22), the body of which He is the Head.

The household of Christ and of God ( Matthew 10:25;  Ephesians 2:19). The temple of the Holy Spirit, made up of living stones ( Ephesians 2:22;  1 Corinthians 3:16;  1 Peter 2:5). Εkkleesia is used of one or more particular Christian associations, even one small enough to worship together in one house ( Romans 16:5). Also of "the whole church" ( Romans 16:23;  1 Corinthians 12:28). Εkkleesia occurs twice only in Matthew ( Matthew 16:18;  Matthew 18:17), elsewhere called "the kingdom of the heavens" by Matthew, "the kingdom of God" by Mark, Luke and John. Also called Christ's "flock," never to be plucked out of His hand ( John 10:28), "branches" in Him "the true Vine." Founded on the Rock, "the Christ the Son of the living God," the only Foundation ( Matthew 16:16;  Matthew 16:18;  1 Corinthians 3:11).

Constituted as Christ's mystical body on Pentecost; thenceforth expanding in the successive stages traced in ACTS . Described in a beautiful summary ( Acts 2:41;  Acts 2:47). (On its apostasy (See Babylon .) Professing Christendom numbers now probably 80 million of Greek churches, 90 million of Teutonic or Protestant churches, and 170 million of Roman Catholic churches. The Church of England's definition of the church is truly scriptural (Article xix): "a congregation of faithful men in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." The church that shall reign with Christ is made up of those written in heaven, in the Lamb's book of life, the spirits of just, men made perfect ( Hebrews 12:22-23;  Revelation 21:27).

The faultless perfection and the glorious promises in Scripture assigned to the church (election, adoption, spiritual priesthood, sure guidance by the Spirit into all truth, eternal salvation) belong not to all of the visible church, but to those alone of it who are in living union with Christ ( Ephesians 5:23-27;  Hebrews 12:22-23). The claim for the visible church of what belongs to the invisible, in spite of Christ's warning parable of the tares and wheat ( Matthew 13:24-30;  Matthew 13:36-43), has led to some of Rome's deadliest errors. On the other hand, the attempt to sever the tares from the wheat prematurely has led to many schisms, which have invariably failed in the attempt and only generated fresh separations. We must wait until Christ's manifestation for the manifestation of the sons of God ( Romans 8:19;  Colossians 3:4).

The true universal church is restricted to "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" ( 1 Corinthians 1:2). They are visible in so far as their light of good works so shines before men that their Father in heaven is glorified ( Matthew 5:16). They are invisible insofar that it is God alone who can infallibly see who among professors are animated by a living, loving faith, and who are not. A visible community, consisting of various members and aggregations of members, was founded by Christ Himself, as needed for the extension and continuation of Christianity to all lands and all ages. The ministry of the word and the two sacraments, baptism, and the supper of the Lord, (both in part derived from existing Jewish rites,  Matthew 26:26-28;  1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Baptism, the Lord's Supper were appointed as the church's distinctive ordinances ( Matthew 28:19-20, Greek text): "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ... Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and (only on condition of your doing so) I am with you always," etc. (See Baptism ; Lord'S Supper ) The professing church that neglects the precept forfeits the promise, which is fatal to Rome's claims. No detailed church government is explicitly commanded by Jesus in the New Testament. The Old Testament ministry of high priest, priests, and Levites necessarily ended with the destruction of the one and only temple appointed by God. That the Christian ministry is not sacerdotal, as the Old Testament ministry, is proved by the title Hiereus , the Greek of the Latin sacerdos, never once being used of Christian ministers.

When used at all as to the Christian church it is used of the whole body of Christians; since not merely ministers, as the Aaronic priests, but all equally, have near access to the heavenly holy place, through the torn veil of Christ's flesh ( Hebrews 10:19-22;  Hebrews 13:15-16;  1 Peter 2:19;  Revelation 1:6). All alike offer "spiritual sacrifices." For a minister to pretend to offer a literal sacrifice in the Lord's supper, or to have the sacerdotal priesthood (which pertains to Christ alone), would be the sin which Moses charged on Korah: "Seemeth it but a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation to bring you near to Himself, ... to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and seek ye the priesthood also?" The temple then not being the model to the Christian church, the synagogue alone remained to be copied.

In the absence of the temple during the captivity the people assembled together on sabbaths and other days to be instructed by the prophet ( Ezekiel 14:1;  Ezekiel 20:1;  Ezekiel 33:31). In  Nehemiah 8:1-8 a specimen is given of such a service, which the synagogues afterward continued, and which consisted in Scripture reading, with explanation, prayers, and thanksgivings. The synagogue officers consisted of a "ruler of the synagogue," the "legate of the church" ( Sheliach Tsibbur ), corresponding to the angel of the church (Revelation 1-3), a college of elders or presbyters, and subordinate ministers ( Chazzan ), answering to our deacons, to take care of the sacred books. Episcopacy was adopted in apostolic times as the most expedient government, most resembling Jewish usages, and so causing the least stumbling-block to Jewish prejudices ( Acts 4:8;  Acts 24:1).

James, the brother of our Lord, after the martyrdom of James, the son of Zebedee and the flight of Peter ( Acts 12:17), alone remained behind in Jerusalem, the recognized head there. His Jewish tendencies made him the least unpopular to the Jews, and so adapted him for the presidency there without the title ( Acts 15:13-19;  Acts 21:18;  Galatians 2:2;  Galatians 2:9;  Galatians 2:12). This was the first specimen of apostolic local episcopacy without the name. The presbyters of the synagogue were called also (See BISHOPS, or overseers. "Those now called 'bishops' were originally 'apostles.' But those who ruled the church after the apostles' death had not the testimony of miracles, and were in many respects inferior, therefore they thought it unbecoming to assume the name of apostles; but dividing the names, they left to 'presbyters' that name, and themselves were called 'bishops'" (Ambrose, in Bingham Ecclesiastes Ant., 2:11; and Amularius, De Officiis, 2:13.)

The steps were apostle; then vicar apostolic or apostolic delegate, as Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete, temporarily ( 1 Timothy 1:3;  2 Timothy 4:21;  Titus 3:12;  Titus 1:5), then angel, then bishop in the present sense. Episcopacy gives more of centralized unity, but when made an absolute law it tends to spiritual despotism. The visible church, while avoiding needless alterations, has power under God to modify her polity as shall tend most to edification ( Matthew 18:18;  1 Corinthians 12:28-30;  1 Corinthians 14:26;  Ephesians 4:11-16). The Holy Spirit first unites souls individually to the Father in Christ, then with one another as "the communion of saints." Then followed the government and ministry, which are not specified in detail until the pastoral epistles, namely, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, the latest epistles.

To be "in Christ" (John 15) presupposes repentance and faith, of which the sacraments are the seal. The church order is not imposed as a rigid unchangeable system from without, but is left to develop itself from within outwardly, according as the indwelling Spirit of life may suggest. The church is "holy" in respect to those alone of it who are sanctified, and "one" only in respect to those who "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" ( Ephesians 4:3-6;  Ephesians 4:15-16), "growing up ... into the Head, Christ, in all things." The latest honorable and only Christian use of "synagogue" (KJV "assembly") occurs in James ( James 2:2), the apostle who maintained to the latest the bonds between the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church.

Soon the continued resistance of the truth by the Jews led Christians to leave the term to them exclusively ( Revelation 2:9). Synagogue expresses a congregation not necessarily bound together; church, a people mutually bound together, even when not assembled, a body called out ( Ekkleesia , from Ekkalein ) from the world in spirit, though not in locality ( John 17:11;  John 17:15). The Hebrew Qahal , like, church," denotes a number of people united by definite laws and bonds, whether collected together or not; but 'Eedah is an assembly independent of any bond of union, like "synagogue."

Christian church buildings were built like synagogues, with the holy table placed where the chest containing the law had been. The desk and pulpit were the chief furniture in both, but no altar. When the ruler of the synagogue became a Christian, he naturally was made bishop, as tradition records that Crispus became at Corinth ( Acts 18:8). Common to both church and synagogue were the discipline ( Matthew 18:17), excommunication ( 1 Corinthians 5:4), and the collection of alms ( 1 Corinthians 16:2).

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [8]

In the Old and New Testament language, by the church of God is uniformly meant, the whole body of the faithful, of which Christ is the Head. The apostle to the Hebrews defines the meaning of the church, when he calls it "the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven." ( Hebrews 12:23) And the apostle John no less defines it, when he speaks of the names written in the Lamb's book of life. ( Revelation 21:27) Yea, our Lord himself fixeth the meaning, when bidding devils, being subject to them, in his name, but because their names were written in heaven. ( Luke 10:20) By the church therefore, is meant, the whole body of Christ both in heaven and earth, the elect of God in Christ, given by the Father to the Son, redeemed by the Son, and sanctified by God the Holy Ghost, and called. And, although we sometimes meet with the expression of churches in the word of God, such as when it is said, the churches had rest throughout all Judea, ( Acts 9:31) and again, all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks, ( Romans 16:4) yet, the whole multitude of the people, of what kindred or nation forever, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things, form but one and the same body, of which Christ is the glorious Head. Such is the church.

And it is blessed to see in the word of God how plainly and evidently this church, made up of Christ's members, and gathered out of the world's wide wilderness, is distinguished so as to prove whose she is, and to whom she belongs.

The Lord Jesus himself describes her union with himself under the similitude of branches in a vine, ( John 15:1, etc.) and shews, as plain as words can make if, that the vine and the branches are not more closely knit together, and forming one, than is Christ and his church. Yea, the figure doth not come up to the reality; for a branch may be, and sometimes is, separated from the vine, but not so can this take place between Christ and his church, for he saith, "Because I live, ye shall live also." ( John 14:19) And his servant, the apostle Paul, describes the intimate connection of Christ with his church, under the similitude of the marriage state. ( Ephesians 5:25-32) "This is a great mystery, (saith the apostle,) but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Nevertheless, even here again, this beautiful figure, tender and affectionate as it is, falls far short of the oneness and union between Christ and his church. For death puts an end to all the connections of man and wife upon earth. But in respect to Christ and his spouse, the church, the dying day of the believer is but the wedding day. It is but as an espousal, a betrothing before; but in that day the church is brought home by her all-lovely and all-loving Husband, to the marriage supper of the lamb in heaven. (See those Scriptures,  Hosea 2:19-20;  Revelation 19:7-9)

The best service, I apprehend, which I can render to the reader, under this article of the church, will be (to do what I should otherwise have done under the former, when speaking of Christ, but conceiving it might as well be noticed under this,) to bring into one view the several names which Christ and his church have, in common, in the word of God, which certainly form the highest evidence that can be desired, in proof of their union and oneness and interest in each other. Nothing, indeed, can be more lovely and delightful to the contemplation.

It will be proper to introduce this account, with first shewing some of the special and peculiar privileges the church possesseth, both in name and in interest, from her union and oneness with her Lord, and then follow this up with the view of those names and appellations Jesus and his church have in common together. The church is distinguished, by virtue of her interest in Christ, as.

The body of Christ,  Ephesians 1:23.

Brethren of Christ,  Romans 8:29;  Hebrews 3:1.

The bride, the Lamb's wife,  Revelation 21:9.

Children of the kingdom,  Matthew 13:38.

They are called christians after Christ,  Acts 11:26.

The church of God,  1 Corinthians 1:2.

Companions,  Psalms 45:14;  Song of Song of Solomon 1:7

Complete in Christ,  Colossians 2:10.

Daughter of the King,  Psalms 45:13.

Comely in Christ's comeliness,  Ezekiel 16:14.

Election,  Romans 9:11.

Family of God,  Ephesians 3:15.

Flock of God,  Acts 20:28.

Fold of Christ,  John 10:16.

Friends of God.  James 2:23.

Glory of God,  Isaiah 46:13.

Habitation of God,  Ephesians 2:22.

Heritage of God,  Jeremiah 12:7;  Psalms 127:3;  Joel 3:2.

The Israel of God,  Galatians 6:16

The lot of God's inheritance,  Deuteronomy 32:9.

Members of Christ,  Ephesians 5:30.

Peculiar people,  1 Peter 2:9.

The portion of the Lord,  Deuteronomy 32:9.

The temple of God,  1 Corinthians 3:16.

The treasure of God,  Psalms 135:4.

Vessels of mercy,  Romans 9:23.

The vineyard of the Lord,  Isaiah 5:1, etc.

These, with many others of the like nature, are among the distinguishing, names by which the church of Christ is known in Scripture, by reason of her oneness and union with Him.

But this view of the intimate and everlasting connection between Christ and his church will be abundantly heightened, if we add to it what was proposed to shew the sameness between them, from being known under the same names, as descriptive of this union. A few examples in point will be known by the name of Adam, as our first father: "As the first Adam was made a living soul, so the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit." ( 1 Corinthians 15:45) As Christ is called a Babe, so are they said to be babes in Christ. ( Luke 2:16;  1 Peter 2:2) As Christ is declared to be the dearly beloved of the Father, ( Jeremiah 12:7) so the church is said to be dearly beloved also, ( 1 Corinthians 10:14;  Philippians 4:1;  2 Timothy 1:2) Is Christ the Elect, in whom JEHOVAH'S soul delighteth? so are they elect, according to the foreknowledge of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. ( Isaiah 42:1;  1 Peter 1:2) Is Jesus the heir of all things? ( Hebrews 1:2) so are they heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, ( Romans 8:17) And when that Christ, by the spirit of prophecy, is called Jehovah our righteousness, the church as his wife, and entitled to every thing in him, is also called by the same name, JEHOVAH our righteousness. (See, compared together,  Jeremiah 23:6 with  Jeremiah 33:16) Yea, in one remarkable instance, the church not only bears Christ's name, but Christ bears hers. He is called Jacob, and Israel. ( Isaiah 41:8 and  Isaiah 49:3)

Without enlarging this point farther, for enough, I presume, hath been advanced in proof of the thing itself, nothing can be more plain, and nothing can be more highly satisfactory, than this oneness, from union and participation between Christ and his church. And I trust, the review will be always blessed to the believer's heart, and, under the Holy Ghost's teaching, be always leading out the affections to the full enjoyment of it, agreeably to the mind and will of God.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [9]

This English word is said to be derived from the Greek κυριακός , which signifies 'pertaining to the Lord,' and is commonly used both for an association of professing Christians, and for the building in which they worship. It is the scriptural use of the word ἐκκλησία, or 'assembly,' that is here under consideration.

The word is used in reference to Israel in the N.T. on one occasion in  Acts 7:38 , and to a Gentile throng in  Acts 19:32,41 . Its first occurrence in relation to Christianity is in  Matthew 16:18 , where upon Peter's confession that Jesuswas the Son of the living God, the Lord rejoins, "upon this rock I will build my assembly," etc. Historically this spiritual building, (for 'building' never refers to a material edifice) was begun after His death and resurrection, when the Holy Ghost descended at the day of Pentecost. In this aspect of the church there is no room for any failure — the "gates of hades shall not prevail against it." It is what Christ Himself effects by His Spirit in souls, and it contemplates the full and final result. In  1 Peter 2:4,5 we have the progressive work, "ye also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house," etc. The idea of 'building' here supposes a work so wrought that souls become conscious of forming part of the dwelling place of God, and are rendered able to offer up spiritual sacrifices as a holy priesthood.

But there is an aspect of the assembly as a building in which it is viewed in relation to human responsibility, and where consequently human failure has left its unmistakable mark. In  1 Corinthians 3 . the apostle speaks of himself as a wise master-builder, who has well laid the foundation, which is 'Christ Jesus;' but he adds that 'others build thereupon,' and warns every one to take heed how he does so. Here may be found 'wood, hay, stubble,' as well as 'gold, silver, precious stones.' Men may 'corrupt the temple of God,' and alas! this has been done only too effectually, professing Christendom being the outcome of it. But this aspect of it must in no way be confounded with that which Christ builds, where no failure is found.

There is also another view of the church or assembly as the body and the bride of Christ.  Ephesians 1:22,23;  Ephesians 5:26,27 . By one Spirit believers are baptised into one body.  1 Corinthians 12:13 . They are God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. . . . ."  Ephesians 2:10 . There is the effectual operation of God in quickening them with Christ, in raising them (Jews and Gentiles) up together, and making them to sit together in heavenly places in Christ. They are livingly united to the Head in heaven by the Spirit of God. This body is on earth that the graces of the Head may be displayed in it. His people are to put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, etc.  Colossians 3:12-17 . It is the mystery hidden throughout the ages, but now revealed, in order that to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known through the assembly the all various wisdom of God.  Ephesians 3:9,10 . The assembly will be eventually presented by Christ to Himself as His bride, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. There can be no false members of Christ's body, and no spot or wrinkle in His bride. Those united to Him are 'all of one' with the sanctifier Himself; they are 'His brethren;' they derive from the corn of wheat which has fallen into the ground and died, and which has borne much fruit.  Hebrews 2 .;  John 12:24 . Moreover the assembly is one.  Ephesians 4:4;  1 Corinthians 12:13 . There is not another.

If division has come in on every hand, as it did at Corinth, faith will still recognise that the body is one, and will maintain the truth of it. Gifts were bestowed on the assembly, and will be acknowledged as such by faith, and their exercise welcomed in whatever feebleness. If the assembly has become like a great house, where there are vessels of gold and silver, as well as of wood and of earth ( 2 Timothy 2:20 ), the believer is encouraged to purge himself from the latter — the dishonourable vessels — that he may be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work. He is taught in scripture how to behave himself in the house of God, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.  1 Timothy 3:15 .

It must be carefully observed that the churches or assemblies at Jerusalem, Corinth, Rome, etc., were not separate or independent organisations, as in the modern idea of the Church of Rome, the Greek Church, the Church of England, and so on. There was only one assembly, the Church of God, though expressed in different localities, in which indeed there were local office bearers, as elders and deacons, and where also discipline was locally carried out. There was entire inter-communion. In the present divided state of God's people, the man of faith will be careful to recognise that every true Christian is a part of that one body, with which, as has been said, there can be no failure; while, at the same time, he will pursue a path of separation from evil; and will "follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."  2 Timothy 2:22 .

The church will continue on earth until the rapture, revealed in  1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 . As there were saints on earth before the church was formed, so there will be saints on the earth after the rapture: all will be equally saved, but all will not forma part of the church of God as revealed in scripture. This fills a wonderfully unique place, designed of God that in it the principalities and powers in the heavenlies should even now learn the manifold wisdom of God; and in the ages to come the exceeding riches of God's grace be manifested "in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus."   Ephesians 2:7;  Ephesians 3:10 .

People's Dictionary of the Bible [10]

Church. The terms which this word represents are variously used by the sacred writers.  Matthew 16:18. It may be sufficient to notice two uses of the term. In the New Testament it is applied particularly to Christians as a body or community.  Acts 16:5. It is also applied to the people of God in all ages of the world, whether Jews or Christians,  Acts 7:38;  Acts 12:1;  Ephesians 3:21;  Ephesians 5:25; for although there have been two dispensations, viz., that of the law by Moses, and that of the gospel by Jesus Christ, yet the religion of the Bible is one religion: whether before or after the coming of Christ, true believers are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28. Of this church or company of the redeemed, the Lord Jesus Christ is now the Head, and the Church is therefore called The Body,  Colossians 1:18;  Colossians 1:24, and comprises the redeemed who are gone to heaven, as well as those who are, or will be, on the earth.  Hebrews 12:23. Particular portions of the whole body of Christians are also called the church, as the church at Jerusalem, at Corinth, etc.  Acts 8:1;  1 Corinthians 1:2;  1 Corinthians 4:17. As the great work wrought on earth and the reigning of Christ in heaven constitute him the Founder and Head of the Church, as it now exists, he is compared to "the chief corner-stone" in the building,  Ephesians 2:20, on whom the whole structure is dependent. For this purpose God "hath put all things under his feet."  Ephesians 1:22. The figurative language which is employed by Christ, himself, as well as by his apostles, to denote the nature of his relations to the church (as composed of all true believers), and its relations to him, is of the most significant character. Some of these have been intimated above; others are that of husband and wife,  Ephesians 5:30-32, a vine and its branches,  John 15:1-6, and a shepherd and his flock,  John 10:11. And it is by many supposed that the Song of Solomon is a highly figurative and poetical illustration of the mutual love of Christ and the people of his church in all ages. In modern times the word is applied to various associations of Christians, united by a common mode of faith or form of government; as the Episcopal Church, the Baptist Church, the Moravian Church, etc. The word church is but once (then doubtfully) applied in Scriptures to a building.  1 Timothy 3:15. The visible Israelitish church was divided into twelve tribes separated, yet to be united as the people of God: having one Scripture, one sacrifice, one Jehovah. Christ told his apostles, "Ye shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."  Matthew 19:28. James addresses his epistle, "To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" ("which are of the dispersion," R. V.).  James 1:1. In the progress of the church "there were sealed one hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of Israel,"  Revelation 7:4, showing that the visible church will continue to be divided into tribes, with one Scripture and one Saviour. The world seldom was in greater darkness than when for 1260 years it was controlled by one visible church, the Church of Rome. And the clamor of many to make a united visible church by attacking all creeds and confessions holding the great doctrines of the Scriptures, and in their place to adopt the assumptions of idolatrous churches, will never be realized. The church had in New Testament times, elders, overseers or bishops, in each congregation.  Matthew 26:3;  Acts 14:23;  Titus 1:5;  Titus 1:7;  Acts 20:17;  Acts 20:28;  1 Peter 5:1;  1 Peter 5:3. Compare  Exodus 3:16;  Exodus 4:29. The various tribes of the ancient visible church were constantly adopting the idolatries of the surrounding nations, and were brought into subjection by them, and at last were scattered and the most of them lost on that account. The most of the prophets were sent to the church to upbraid them for their idolatries and for forsaking God. Christ came to the visible church and was rejected. The epistles speak of errors in the churches founded by the apostles. And as was predicted in the second and third chapters of Revelation, the candlestick of nearly every one of them has been removed.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [11]


1. The derivation of the word is generally said to be from the Greek Kuriakon , "Belonging To The Lord". But the derivation has been too hastily assumed. It is probably connected with kirk , the Latin Circus, circulus , the Greek Kuklos, ( kuklos ), because the congregations were gathered in circles.

2. Ecclesia , the Greek word for church, originally meant an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate authority. It was, in this last sense, that the word was adapted and applied by the writers of the New Testament to the Christian congregation.

In the one Gospel of St. Matthew, the church is spoken of no less than thirty-six times as "the kingdom." Other descriptions or titles are hardly found in the evangelists.

It is Christ's household,  Matthew 10:25,

the salt and light of the world,  Matthew 5:13;  Matthew 5:15,

Christ's flock,  Matthew 26:31;  John 10:15,

its members are the branches growing on Christ the Vine , John 15;

but the general description of it, not metaphorical but direct, is that it is a kingdom.  Matthew 16:19.

From the Gospel then, we learn that Christ was about to establish his heavenly kingdom on earth, which was to be the substitute for the Jewish Church and kingdom, now doomed to destruction  Matthew 21:43.

The Day of Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian church. Before, they had been individual followers Jesus ; now they became his mystical body, animated by his spirit. On the evening of the Day of Pentecost , the 3140 members of which the Church consisted were -

(1) Apostles;

(2) previous Disciples;

(3) Converts.

In  Acts 2:41, we have indirectly exhibited the essential conditions of church communion. They are

(1) Baptism, baptism implying on the part of the recipient repentance and faith;

(2) Apostolic Doctrine;

(3) Fellowship with the Apostles;

(4) The Lord's Supper;

(5) Public Worship.

The real Church consists of all who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ as his disciples, and are one in love, in character, in hope, in Christ as the head of all, though as the body of Christ it consists of many parts.

King James Dictionary [12]


1. A house consecrated to the worship of God, among Christians the Lords house. This seems to be the original meaning of the word. The Greek, to call out or call together, denotes an assembly or collection. But, Lord, a term applied by the early Christians to Jesus Christ and the house in which they worshipped was named from the title. So church goods, bona ecclesiastica the Lords day, dies dominica. 2. The collective body of Christians, or of those who profess to believe in Christ, and acknowledge him to be the Savior of mankind. In this sense, the church is sometimes called the Catholic or Universal Church. 3. A particular number of christens, united under one form of ecclesiastical government, in one creed, and using the same ritual and ceremonies as the English church the Gallican church the Presbyterian church the Romish church the Greek church. 4. The followers of Christ in a particular city or province as the church of Ephesus, or of Antioch. 5. The disciples of Christ assembled for worship in a particular place, as in a private house.  Colossians 4 . 6. The worshipers of Jehovah or the true God, before the advent of Christ as the Jewish church. 7. The body of clergy, or ecclesiastics, in distinction from the laity. Hence, ecclesiastical authority. 8. An assembly of sacred rulers convened in Christs name to execute his laws. 9. The collective body of Christians, who have made a public profession of the Christian religion, and who are untied under the same pastor in distinction from those who belong to the same parish, or ecclesiastical society, but have made no profession of their faith.

CHURCH, To perform with any one the office of returning thanks in the church, after any signal deliverance, as from the dangers of childbirth.

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [13]

Some types of the Church:

Body,  John 15:5 (a)

Branches,  Ephesians 1:23 (a)

Bride,  Revelation 21:9 (a)

Building,  Ephesians 2:21 (a)

Candlestick,  Revelation 1:20 (a)

Eve,  Genesis 3:20 (c)

Family,  Ephesians 3:15 (a)

Household,  Ephesians 2:19 (b)

Jewels,  Malachi 3:17 (b)

Light,  Ephesians 5:8 (a)

Loaf,  1 Corinthians 10:17 (margin) (a)

Lump,  1 Corinthians 5:7 (a)

Olive tree,  Romans 11:17 (a)

Queen,  Psalm 45:9 (b)

Rib,  Genesis 2:21 (c)

Seed,  Matthew 13:38 (a)

Sheep,  John 10:11 (a)

Stones,  1 Peter 2:5 (a)

Temple,  Ephesians 2:21 (a)

Virgin,  2 Corinthians 11:2 (a)

Wife,  Revelation 21:9 (b)

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [14]

The Greek word translated church signifies generally an assembly, either common or religious; and it is sometimes so translated, as in  Acts 19:32,39 . In the New Testament it usually means a congregation of religious worshippers, either Jewish, as  Acts 7:38 , or Christians, as  Matthew 16:18   1 Corinthians 6:4 . The latter sense is the more common one; and it is thus used in a twofold manner, denoting,

1. The universal Christian church: either the invisible church, consisting of those whose names are written in heaven, whom God knows, but whom we cannot infallibly know,  Hebrews 12:23; or the visible church, made up of the professed followers of Christ on earth,  Colossians 1:24   1 Timothy 3:5,15

2. A particular church or body of professing believers, who meet and worship together in one place; as the churches of Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, etc., to which Paul addressed epistles.

Webster's Dictionary [15]

(1): (n.) A building set apart for Christian worship.

(2): (n.) The aggregate of religious influences in a community; ecclesiastical influence, authority, etc.; as, to array the power of the church against some moral evil.

(3): (n.) A Jewish or heathen temple.

(4): (n.) A formally organized body of Christian believers worshiping together.

(5): (n.) A body of Christian believers, holding the same creed, observing the same rites, and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a denomination; as, the Roman Catholic church; the Presbyterian church.

(6): (n.) The collective body of Christians.

(7): (n.) Any body of worshipers; as, the Jewish church; the church of Brahm.

(8): (v. t.) To bless according to a prescribed form, or to unite with in publicly returning thanks in church, as after deliverance from the dangers of childbirth; as, the churching of women.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [16]

  • Its perpetuity. It will continue through all ages to the end of the world. It can never be destroyed. It is an "everlasting kindgdom."

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Church'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.

  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [17]

    chûrch  :

    I. Pre-Christian History of the Term

    II. Its Adoption by Jesus

    III. Its Use in the New Testament

    1. In the Gospels

    2. In Acts

    3. In the Pauline Epistles

    IV. The Notes of the Church

    1. Faith

    2. Fellowship

    3. Unity

    4. Consecration

    5. Power

    V. Organization of the Church

    1. The General and Prophetic Ministry

    2. The Local and Practical Ministry


    The word "church," which is derived from κυριακός , kuriakós , "of or belonging to the Lord," represents in the English Versions of the Bible of the New Testament the Greek word ἐκκλησία , ekklēsı́a  ; Latin, ecclesia . It is with the signification of this word ekklēsia as it meets us in the New Testament, and with the nature of the society which the word is there used to describe, that the present article is concerned.

    I. Pre-Christian History of the Term

    Although ekklēsia soon became a distinctively Christian word, it has its own pre-Christian history; and to those, whether Jews or Greeks, who first heard it applied to the Christian society it would come with suggestions of familiar things. Throughout the Greek world and right down to New Testament times (compare  Acts 19:39 ), ekklēsia was the designation of the regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state, "called out" (Greek ek , "out," and kaleı́n , "to call") by the herald for the discussion and decision of public business. The Septuagint translators, again, had used the word to render the Hebrew ḳāhāl , which in the Old Testament denotes the "congregation" or community of Israel, especially in its religious aspect as the people of God. In this Old Testament sense we find ekklēsia employed by Stephen in the Book of Acts, where he describes Moses as "he that was in the church (the Revised Version, margin "congregation") in the wilderness" ( Acts 7:38 ). The word Thus came into Christian history with associations alike for the Greek and the Jew. To the Greek it would suggest a self-governing democratic society; to the Jew a theocratic society whose members were the subjects of the Heavenly King. The pre-Christian history of the word had a direct bearing upon its Christian meaning, for the ekklēsia of the New Testament is a "theocratic democracy" (Lindsay, Church and Ministry in the Early Centuries , 4), a society of those who are free, but are always conscious that their freedom springs from obedience to their King.

    II. Its Adoption by Jesus

    According to  Matthew 16:18 the name ekklēsia was first applied to the Christian society by Jesus Himself, the occasion being that of His benediction of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. The authenticity of the utterance has been called in question by certain critics, but on grounds that have no textual support and are made up of quite arbitrary presuppositions as to the composition of the First Gospel. It is true that Jesus had hitherto described the society He came to found as the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven," a designation which had its roots in Old Testament teaching and which the Messianic expectations of Israel had already made familiar. But now when it was clear that He was to be rejected by the Jewish people (compare  Matthew 16:21 ), and that His society must move on independent lines of its own, it was natural that He should employ a new name for this new body which He was about to create, and Thus should say to Peter, on the ground of the apostle's believing confession, "Upon this rock I will build my church." The adoption of this name, however, did not imply any abandonment of the ideas suggested by the conception of the kingdom. In this very passage ( Matthew 16:19 ) "the kingdom of heaven" is employed in a manner which, if it does not make the two expressions church and kingdom perfectly synonymous, at least compels us to regard them as closely correlative and as capable of translation into each other's terms. And the comparative disuse by the apostolic writers of the name "kingdom," together with their emphasis on the church, so far from showing that Christ's disciples had failed to understand His doctrine of the kingdom, and had substituted for it the more formal notion of the church, only shows that they had followed their Master's guidance in substituting for a name and a conception that were peculiarly Jewish, another name whose associations would enable them to commend their message more readily to the world at large.

    III. Its Use in the New Testament

    1. In the Gospels

    Apart from the passage just referred to, the word ekklēsia occurs in the Gospels on one other occasion only ( Matthew 18:17 ). Here, moreover, it may be questioned whether Our Lord is referring to the Christian church, or to Jewish congregations commonly known as synagogues (see the Revised Version, margin) The latter view is more in keeping with the situation, but the promise immediately given to the disciples of a power to bind and loose ( Matthew 18:18 ) and the assurance "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" ( Matthew 18:20 ) are evidently meant for the people of Christ. If, as is probable, the ekklesia of  Matthew 18:17 is the Christian ekklesia of which Christ had already spoken to Peter, the words show that He conceived of the church as a society possessing powers of self-government, in which questions of discipline were to be decided by the collective judgment of the members.

    2. In Acts

    In Acts the ekklēsia has come to be the regular designation for the society of Christian believers, but is employed in two distinct senses. First in a local sense, to denote the body of Christians in a particular place or district, as in Jerusalem (  Acts 5:11;  Acts 8:1 ), in Antioch ( Acts 13:1;  Acts 15:22 ), in Caesarea ( Acts 18:22 ) - a usage which reappears in the Apocalypse in the letters to the Seven Churches. Then in a wider and what may be called a universal sense, to denote the sum total of existing local churches ( Acts 9:31 the Revised Version (British and American)), which are Thus regarded as forming one body.

    3. In the Pauline Epistles

    In the Pauline Epistles both of these usages are frequent. Thus the apostle writes of "the church of the Thessalonians" ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ), "the church of God which is at Corinth" ( 1 Corinthians 1:2;  2 Corinthians 1:1 ). Indeed he localizes and particularizes the word yet further by applying it to a single Christian household or to little groups of believers who were accustomed to assemble in private houses for worship and fellowship ( Romans 16:5;  1 Corinthians 16:19;  Colossians 4:15;  Philippians 1:2 ) - an employment of the word which recalls the saying of Jesus in  Matthew 18:20 . The universal use, again, may be illustrated by the contrast he draws between Jews and Greeks on the one hand and the church of God on the other (  1 Corinthians 10:32 ), and by the declaration that God has set in the church apostles, prophets, and teachers ( 1 Corinthians 12:28 ).

    But Paul in his later epistles has another use of ekklēsia peculiar to himself, which may be described as the ideal use. The church, now, is the body of which Christ is the head (  Ephesians 1:22 f;   Colossians 1:18 ,  Colossians 1:24 ). It is the medium through which God's manifold wisdom and eternal purpose are to be made known not only to all men, but to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places ( Ephesians 3:9-11 ). It is the bride of whom He is the heavenly Bridegroom, the bride for whom in His love He gave Himself up, that He might cleanse and sanctify her and might present her to Himself a glorious church, a church without blemish, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing ( Ephesians 5:25 ). This church clearly is not the actual church as we know it on earth, with its divisions, its blemishes, its shortcomings in faith and love and obedience. It is the holy and catholic church that is to be when the Bridegroom has completed the process of lustration, having fully "cleansed it by the washing of water with the word." It is the ideal which the actual church must keep before it and strive after, the ideal up to which it shall finally be guided by that Divine in-working power which is able to conform the body to the head, to make the bride worthy of the Bridegroom, so that God may receive in the church the glory that is His ( Ephesians 3:21 ).

    IV. The Notes of the Church

    1. Faith

    Although a systematic doctrine of the church is neither to be found nor to be looked for in the New Testament, certain characteristic notes or features of the Christian society are brought before us from which we can form some conception as to its nature. The fundamental note is faith . It was to Peter confessing his faith in Christ that the promise came, "Upon this rock I will build my church" ( Matthew 16:18 ). Until Jesus found a man full of faith He could not begin to build His church; and unless Peter had been the prototype of others whose faith was like his own, the walls of the church would never have risen into the air. Primarily the church is a society not of thinkers or workers or even of worshippers, but of believers. Hence, we find that "believers" or "they that believed" is constantly used as a synonym for the members of the Christian society (e.g.  Acts 2:44;  Acts 4:32;  Acts 5:14;  1 Timothy 4:12 ). Hence, too, the rite of baptism, which from the first was the condition of entrance into the apostolic church and the seal of membership in it, was recognized as preëminently the sacrament of faith and of confession ( Acts 2:41;  Acts 8:12 ,  Acts 8:36;  Romans 6:4;  1 Corinthians 12:13 ). This church-founding and church-building faith, of which baptism was the seal, was much more than an act of intellectual assent. It was a personal laying hold of the personal Saviour, the bond of a vital union between Christ and the believer which resulted in nothing less than a new creation ( Romans 6:4;  Romans 8:1 ,  Romans 8:2;  2 Corinthians 5:17 ).

    2. Fellowship

    If faith in Christ is the fundamental note of the Christian society, the next is fellowship among the members. This follows from the very nature of faith as just described; for if each believer is vitally joined to Christ, all believers must stand in a living relation to one another. In Paul's favorite figure, Christians are members one of another because they are members in particular of the body of Christ (  Romans 12:5;  1 Corinthians 12:27 ). That the Christian society was recognized from the first as a fellowship appears from the name "the brethren," which is so commonly applied to those who belong to it. In Acts the name is of very frequent occurrence ( Acts 9:30 , etc.), and it is employed by Paul in the epistles of every period of his career ( 1 Thessalonians 4:10 , etc.). Similar testimony lies in the fact that "the koinōnia " (English Versions "fellowship") takes its place in the earliest meetings of the church side by side with the apostles' teaching and the breaking of bread and prayers ( Acts 2:42 ). See Communion . The koinōnia at first carried with it a community of goods ( Acts 2:44;  Acts 4:32 ), but afterward found expression in the fellowship of ministration ( 2 Corinthians 8:4 ) and in such acts of Christian charity as are inspired by Christian faith ( Hebrews 13:16 ). In the Lord's Supper, the other sacrament of the primitive church, the fellowship of Christians received its most striking and most sacred expression. For if baptism was especially the sacrament of faith, the Supper was distinctively the sacrament of love and fellowship - a communion or common participation in Christ's death and its fruits which carried with it a communion of hearts and spirits between the participants themselves.

    3. Unity

    Although local congregations sprang up wherever the gospel was preached, and each of these enjoyed an independent life of its own, the unity of the church was clearly recognized from the first. The intercourse between Jerusalem and Antioch (  Acts 11:22;  Acts 15:2 ), the conference held in the former city ( Acts 15:6 ), the right hand of fellowship given by the elder apostles to Paul and Barnabas ( Galatians 2:9 ), the untiring efforts made by Paul himself to forge strong links of love and mutual service between Gentile and Jewish Christians (2 Cor 8) - all these things serve to show how fully it was realized that though there were many churches, there was but one church. This truth comes to its complete expression in the epistles of Paul's imprisonment, with their vision of the church as a body of which Christ is the head, a body animated by one spirit, and having one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all ( Ephesians 4:4;  Colossians 1:18;  Colossians 3:11 ). And this unity, it is to be noticed, is conceived of as a visible unity. Jesus Himself evidently conceived it so when He prayed for His disciples that they all might be one, so that the world might believe ( John 17:21 ). And the unity of which Paul writes and for which he strove is a unity that finds visible expression. Not, it is true, in any uniformity of outward polity, but through the manifestation of a common faith in acts of mutual love ( Ephesians 4:3 ,  Ephesians 4:13;  2 Corinthians 9:1-15 ).

    4. Consecration

    Another dominant note of the New Testament church lay in the consecration of its members. "Saints" is one of the most frequently recurring designations for them that we find. As Thus employed, the word has in the first place an objective meaning; the sainthood of the Christian society consisted in its separation from the world by God's electing grace; in this respect it has succeeded to the prerogatives of Israel under the old covenant. The members of the church, as Peter said, are "an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (  1 Peter 2:9 ). But side by side with this sense of an outward and priestly consecration, the flame "saints" carried within it the thought of an ethical holiness - a holiness consisting, not merely in a status determined by relation to Christ, but in an actual and practical saintliness, a consecration to God that finds expression in character and conduct. No doubt the members of the church are called saints even when the living evidences of sainthood are sadly lacking. Writing to the Corinthian church in which he found so much to blame, Paul addresses its members by this title ( 1 Corinthians 1:2; compare  1 Corinthians 6:11 ). But he does so for other than formal reasons - not only because consecration to God is their outward calling and status as believers; but also because he is assured that a work of real sanctification is going on, and must continue to go on, in their bodies and their spirits which are His. For those who are in Christ are a new creation ( 2 Corinthians 5:17 ), and those to whom has come the separating and consecrating call ( 2 Corinthians 6:17 ) must cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God ( 2 Corinthians 7:1 ). Paul looks upon the members of the church, just as he looks upon the church itself, with a prophetic eye; he sees them not as they are, but as they are to be. And in his view it is "by the washing of water with the word," in other words by the progressive sanctification of its members, that the church itself is to be sanctified and cleansed, until Christ can present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing ( Ephesians 5:26 ,  Ephesians 5:27 ).

    5. Power

    Yet another note of the church was spiritual power . When the name ekklēsia was given by Jesus to the society He came to found, His promise to Peter included the bestowal of the gift of power ( Matthew 16:18 ,  Matthew 16:19 ). The apostle was to receive the "power of the keys," i.e. he was to exercise the privilege of opening the doors of the kingdom of heaven to the Jew ( Acts 2:41 ) and to the Gentile ( Acts 10:34-38;  Acts 15:7 ). He was further to have the power of binding and loosing, i.e. of forbidding and permitting; in other words he was to possess the functions of a legislator within the spiritual sphere of the church. The legislative powers then bestowed upon Peter personally as the reward of his believing confession were afterward conferred upon the disciples generally ( Matthew 18:18; compare  Matthew 18:1 and also   Matthew 18:19 ,  Matthew 18:20 ), and at the conference in Jerusalem were exercised by the church as a whole ( Acts 15:4 ,  Acts 15:22 ). The power to open the gates of the kingdom of heaven was expanded into the great missionary commission, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations" ( Matthew 28:19 ) - a commission that was understood by the apostolic church to be addressed not to the eleven apostles only, but to all Christ's followers without distinction ( Acts 8:4 , etc.). To the Christian society there Thus belonged the double power of legislating for its own members and of opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. But these double functions of teaching and government were clearly recognized as delegated gifts. The church taught the nations because Christ had bid her go and do it. She laid down laws for her own members because He had conferred upon her authority to bind and to loose. But in every exercise of her authority she relied upon Him from whom she derived it. She believed that Christ was with her alway, even unto the end of the world ( Matthew 28:20 ), and that the power with which she was endued was power from on high ( Luke 24:49 ).

    V. Organization of the Church

    It seems evident from the New Testament that Jesus gave His disciples no formal prescriptions for the organization of the church. In the first days after Pentecost they had no thought of separating themselves from the religious life of Israel, and would not realize the need of any distinct organization of their own. The temple-worship was still adhered to ( Acts 2:46;  Acts 3:1 ), though it was supplemented by apostolic teaching, by prayer and fellowship, and by the breaking of bread ( Acts 2:42 ,  Acts 2:46 ). Organization was a thing of gradual growth suggested by emerging needs, and the differentiation of function among those who were drawn into the service of the church was due to the difference in the gifts bestowed by God upon the church members ( 1 Corinthians 12:28 ). At first the Twelve themselves, as the immediate companions of Jesus throughout His ministry and the prime witnesses of the Christian facts and especially of the resurrection (compare  Acts 1:21 ,  Acts 1:22 ), were the natural leaders and teachers of the community. Apart from this, the earliest evidence of anything like organization is found in the distinction drawn by the Twelve themselves between the ministry of the word and the ministry of tables ( Acts 6:2 ,  Acts 6:4 ) - a distinction which was fully recognized by Paul ( Romans 12:6 ,  Romans 12:8;  1 Corinthians 1:17;  1 Corinthians 9:14;  1 Corinthians 12:28 ), though he enlarged the latter type of ministry so as to include much more than the care of the poor. The two kinds of ministry, as they meet us at the first, may broadly be distinguished as the general and prophetic on the one hand, the local and practical on the other.

    1. The General and Prophetic Ministry

    From  Acts 6:1 we see that the Twelve recognized that they were Divinely called as apostles to proclaim the gospel; and Paul repeatedly makes the same claim for himself (  1 Corinthians 1:17;  1 Corinthians 9:16;  2 Corinthians 3:6;  2 Corinthians 4:1;  Colossians 1:23 ). But apostle ship was by no means confined to the Twelve ( Acts 14:14;  Romans 16:7; compare Didache 11 4ff); and an itinerant ministry of the word was exercised in differing ways by prophets, evangelists, and teachers, as well as by apostles (  1 Corinthians 12:28 ,  1 Corinthians 12:29;  Ephesians 4:11 ). The fact that Paul himself is variously described as an apostle, a prophet, a teacher ( Acts 13:1;  Acts 14:14;  1 Timothy 2:7;  2 Timothy 1:11 ) appears to show that the prophetic ministry was not a ministry of stated office, but one of special gifts and functions. The apostle carried the good tidings of salvation to the ignorant and unbelieving ( Galatians 2:7 ,  Galatians 2:8 ), the prophet (in the more specific sense of the word) was a messenger to the church ( 1 Corinthians 14:4 ,  1 Corinthians 14:22 ); and while the teacher explained and applied truth that was already possessed ( Hebrews 5:12 ), the prophet was recognized by those who had spiritual discernment ( 1 Corinthians 2:15;  1 Corinthians 14:29;  1 John 4:1 ) as the Divinely employed medium of fresh revelations ( 1 Corinthians 14:25 ,  1 Corinthians 14:30 ,  1 Corinthians 14:31;  Ephesians 3:5; compare Didache 4 1).

    2. The Local and Practical Ministry

    The earliest examples of this are the Seven of Jerusalem who were entrusted with the care of the "daily ministration" ( Acts 6:1 ). With the growth of the church, however, other needs arose, and the local ministry is seen developing in two distinct directions. First there is the presbyter or elder, otherwise known as the bishop or overseer, whose duties, while still local, are chiefly of a spiritual kind ( Acts 20:17 ,  Acts 20:28 ,  Acts 20:35;  1 Timothy 3:2 ,  1 Timothy 3:5;  James 5:14;  1 Peter 5:2 ). See Bishop . Next there are the deacon and the deaconess ( Philippians 1:1;  1 Timothy 3:8-13 ), whose work appears to have lain largely in house to house visitation and a practical ministry to the poor and needy ( 1 Timothy 5:8-11 ). The necessities of government, of discipline, and of regular and stated instruction had Thus brought it to pass that within New Testament times some of the functions of the general ministry of apostles and prophets were discharged by a local ministry. The general ministry, however, was still recognized to be the higher of the two. Paul addresses the presbyter-bishops of Ephesus in a tone of lofty spiritual authority ( Acts 20:17 :ff). And according to the Didache , a true prophet when he visits a church is to take precedence over the resident bishops and deacons ( Didache 10 7; 13 3). See Church Government .


    Hort, The Christian Ecclesia  ; Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Cents. , lects I-V; Hatch, Bampton Lectures  ; Gwatkin, Early Church History to ad 313  ; Köstlin, article "Kirche" in See Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche  ; Armitage Robinson, article "Church" in Encyclopedia Biblica  ; Fairbairn, Christ in Modern Theology , 513-34; Dargan, Ecclesiology  ; Denney, Studies in Theology , Ch viii.

    Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [18]

    Fellowship. "Church fellowship is the communion that the members enjoy one with another. The ends of church fellowship are, the maintenance and exhibition of a system of sound doctrine; the support of the ordinances of evangelical worship in their purity and simplicity; the impartial exercise of church government and discipline; the promotion of holiness in all manner of conversation. The more particular duties are, earnest study to keep peace and unity; bearing of one another's burdens,  Galatians 6:1-2; earnest endeavors to prevent each other's stumbling,  1 Corinthians 10:23-33;  Hebrews 10:24-27;  Romans 14:13; steadfast continuance in the faith and worship of the Gospel,  Acts 2:42; praying for and sympathizing with each other,  1 Samuel 12:23;  Ephesians 6:18. The advantages are, peculiar incitement to holiness; the right to some promises applicable to none but those who attend the ordinances of God, and hold communion with the saints,  Psalms 92:13;  Psalms 132:13;  Psal Copyright StatementThese files are public domain. Bibliography InformationMcClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Church'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

    Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [19]

    The original Greek word which is thus rendered, in its larger signification denotes a number of persons called together for any purpose, an assembly of any kind, civil or religious. As, however, it is usually applied in the New Testament to religious assemblages, it is very properly translated by 'assembly' in the few instances in which it occurs in the civil sense (;; ). It is, however, well to note that the word rendered 'assembly' in these verses is the same which is rendered 'church' everywhere else.

    In a few places the word occurs in the Jewish sense, of a congregation, an assembly of the people for worship, either in a synagogue or generally of the Jews regarded as a religious body .

    But the word most frequently occurs in the Christian sense of an assemblage (of Christians) generally . Hence it denotes a church, the Christian church; in which, however, we distinguish certain shades of meaning, viz.—

    A particular church, a church in a certain place, as in Jerusalem (; , etc.), in Antioch (; , etc.), in Corinth , etc. etc.

    Churches of (Gentile) Christians, without distinguishing place .

    An assembly of Christians which meets anywhere, as in the house of any one (;; ).

    The Church universal—the whole body of Christian believers (;;;;; , etc.).