The seventh chapter of Acts records Stephen’s message to Israel in Jerusalem. In reviewing Israel’s history Stephen made reference to “the Church in the wilderness.”
“THIS IS HE, THAT WAS IN THE CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS WITH THE ANGEL WHICH SPAKE TO HIM IN THE MOUNT SINAI, AND WITH OUR FATHERS: WHO RECEIVED THE LIVELY ORACLES TO GIVE UNTO US.” Acts 7:38.
Then in Hebrews 2:12 we find a fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 22:22 concerning God’s Church or Congregation. Note first, Psalm 22:22 and then, Hebrews 2:12.
“I will declare Thy name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.”
“I WILL DECLARE THY NAME UNTO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CHURCH WILL I SING PRAISE UNTO THEE.”
Now, by way of comparison, read Colossians 1:24 to 26 and Ephesians 3:4 to 6
“WHO NOW REJOICE IN MY SUFFERINGS FOR YOU, AND FILL UP THAT WHICH IS BEHIND OF THE AFFLICTIONS OF CHRIST IN MY FLESH FOR HIS BODY’S SAKE, WHICH IS THE CHURCH: WHEREOF I AM MADE A MINISTER, ACCORDING TO THE DISPENSATION OF GOD WHICH IS GIVEN TO ME FOR YOU, TO FULFIL THE WORD OF GOD; EVEN THE MYSTERY WHICH HATH BEEN HID FROM AGES AND FROM GENERATIONS, BUT NOW IS MADE MANIFEST TO HIS SAINTS.”
“Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same (Joint) Body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel.”
Before we consider these three “CHURCHES” let us read Acts 19:32, 37, 39 and 41.
“Some therefore cried one thing, and some another; for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.”
“For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.”
“But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.”
“And when he had spoken, he dismissed the assembly.”
The disciples of Christ were in the midst of an angry mob of idolatrous heathen, in the theatre at Ephesus. The mob was called “an assembly.” The Greek word translated “assembly” is “ekklesia.” You and I have just as much right to call that mob of heathen “a church” as the translators had to call God’s company of saints “a church.” The word “church” or “churches” is found about 117 times in the New Testament Scriptures. With the single exception of Acts 19:37, every time the word “church” is found in the Bible the Greek word is, “ekklesia.” Note the expression, ‘`robbers of churches,” in Acts 19:37. This expression is translated from two Greek words: “sulao” meaning “to rob,” and “heiron,” meaning “temple.” More than fifty times in the New Testament Scriptures the temple at Jerusalem is in the Greek “heiron.”
I am sure then that you would like to join with me in asking the translators why they have left us in such confusion. Why did they translate “heiron,” “churches”? Why did they translate “ekklesia” three times “assembly” in Acts 19, and 116 times “church”? Where did they get such a word as “church”? “Ekklesia” should never have been translated “church.” The word “church” is a form of “Kurios.” “Kurios” is translated many, many times “Lord.” So see how indefinite and vague is the translation of “Ekkesia,” “of the Lord” To be sure “the assembly” at Ephesus in the theatre was “of the devil,” but it was an “ekkesia.” The “ekkesia” described in Ephesians 1:22 and 23 is “of the Lord.” Note these verses
“AND HATH PUT ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET, AND GAVE HIM TO BE HEAD OVER ALL THINGS TO THE CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY, THE FULNESS OF HIM THAT FILLETH ALL IN ALL.”
“Ekklesia” is from the Greek “kaleo,” “call,” “ek,” “out.” “The Church” means “the called-out.”
Now note I Timothy 3:15 and 16
“But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in THE HOUSE OF GOD, which is THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD, THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH. And without controversy great is the mystery.”
Here we read of “the Church of the living God,” “the Ekklesia of the living God,” “the pillar and ground of the truth,” “the House of God,” “the mystery.” There is no reference here to an assembly-hall or meeting place. “The House of God” is a building made of human beings. “The Church of God,” during this present Divine economy, is called, “the Body of Christ,” “the fulness of Christ.”
You and I know perfectly well that no building of stone, brick, or wood, could be the fulness of Christ. Think of the utter confusion of the religious world today. A meeting-place is called “a church.” The majority of the people who attend the meetings in the building, as well as the preacher, may be unsaved. The name “church,” “of the Lord,” is misleading when applied to unsaved human beings gathered in a so-called “church” building. Many people seem to associate the building in some way with God, though God may have nothing to do with it.
When one of the denominations, near Chicago, was rebuilding their beautiful expensive religious edifice, their contractor had a large sign on the temporary barricade, “Danger, Keep Out.” Some man of God said, “What a pity they did not leave that sign there after the building was completed.” Why? Because God had nothing to do with that “church.” The pastor did not believe in the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ or salvation by the once-for-all sacrifice of the Son of God. He was a modernist, and his people followed him with his new theology. He wholly ignored acts 20:28. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.”
Not once does the word “church,” in the New Testament Scriptures, refer to the assembly-hall. The word “ekklesia” could not be correctly translated “an assembly-hall.” There is a very great difference between “an assembly-hall” and “the assembly.”
There was a building, in the Old Testament, known as “the house of God.” The Psalmist was glad when they said, “let us go into the house of God.” Every person should rejoice at such an invitation today, but it would mean something entirely different. Some Israelites went many times into “the house of God,” but a believing sinner, in the day of grace, enters once-for-all into “the House of God,” to indeed dwell forever.
Note this House in Ephesians 2:17 to 22:
“AND CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHICH WERE AFAR OFF, AND TO THEM THAT WERE NIGH. FOR THROUGH HIM WE BOTH HAVE ACCESS BY ONE SPIRIT UNTO THE FATHER. NOW THEREFORE YE ARE NO MORE STRANGERS AND FOREIGNERS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS WITH THE SAINTS, AND OF THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD; AND ARE BUILT UPON THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF BEING THE CHIEF CORNER STONE IN WHOM ALL THE BUILDING FITLY FRAMED TOGETHER, GROWETH UNTO AN HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD.”
How do we enter the House of God today? “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” I Corinthians 12:13. Then note Ephesians 4:4 to 6.
Now let us consider Acts 7:38. Here we read of an “ekklesia in the wilderness.” So we see that God had a “Church” long before Christ said, “on this rock I will build My Church.” Matthew 16:16 to 18.
God’s people were “called-out” of Egypt to go to Canaan. On the way they had a sanctuary in the tabernacle, and God met with them and communed with them from above the blood sprinkled mercy-seat.
More than 25 times, in the Book of II Chronicles, God referred to the gatherings of His covenanted people as “the ekklesia.” We read in the authorized version of the Bible the word “congregation.” But in the Greek Septuagint the word is “ekklesia,” the same Greek word found 116 times in the New Testament Scriptures. In Nehemiah 13:1 we read of the “ekklesia of God”; and in that Book we learn that the enemies of God persecuted “the ekklesia of God.” Therefore the Apostle Paul was not the first man to persecute “the Church of God.” Galatians 1:13.
A very simple but important lesson for us to learn is that “the Body of Christ” is “the Church of God”; but “the Church of God” is not necessarily “the Body of Christ. “
We have quoted Psalm 22:22 and Hebrews 2:12. The Psalmist prophesied concerning “the ekklesia” (the congregation). In Hebrews 2:12 the prophesied “ekklesia” is “the Church.” Thus we see that we must some times give a general meaning to the word “ekklesia” (Church), and sometimes a very definite and specific meaning. God’s prophets foretold “a Church” but not one of them foretold “the Joint-Body” of Ephesians 3:6.
If you will read Isaiah 43:5 to 7, Jeremiah 31:10 and Jeremiah 31:31 to 36 and Jeremiah 32:37 and 38, and Ezekiel 36:24, and Amos 9:11 to 15, you will learn that God is to have a “called-out” people, “an ekklesia,” after this present dispensation has been brought to an end. We quote Ezekiel 36:24 and Jeremiah 32:37 and 38.
“I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.”
“Behold I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine auger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely; And they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”
There is yet to be a great church in the land of Canaan.
But now again note Colossians 1:24 to 26. “This was the Church of the Mystery.” By comparing this with Ephesians 3:1 to 11, we learn that any other “ekklesia” (church), in the Scriptures, was a church different from “the Church of the Mystery.” The prophets of Israel knew about the “ekklesia of God”; but they knew nothing about “the Body of Christ.” All during the days of Israel’s commonwealth and captivity “the Body of Christ” was God’s own unrevealed secret, not made known to the sons of men in other ages.
At last the Lord Jesus disclosed to the Apostle Paul the new Divine movement, called “the dispensation of the mystery.” Ephesians 3:9. “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God.” Here we see that God wants you and me to do the same thing.
Note Ephesians 1:9—“Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself.” God has made it known. God wants it made known.
For more articles by Pastor J. C. O'Hair, visit the J. C. O'Hair Online Library.