Christianity has become such a mainstream facet of American culture that often we pursue the activities of the faith under the assumption that everyone knows the basics. As a result, we rarely discuss the basics because we don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence. As a result, many move forward on the false assumption that we all understand the basics.
One need not be offended by discussing the basics, or by having the basics taught to them. Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi often began his first practice of the year by holding out a ball and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” Lombardi then went on to discuss what all you could do with a football, as well as the objective of the game of football. Lombardi explained that the objective of football was to get possession of the ball, maintain possession of the ball, and advance the ball across the goal line for a touchdown. Then, the process repeated. The secondary objective, which was accomplished if you met the first, was to keep the other team from advancing the football across the goal line.
Advancing the football could be accomplished by running the ball, or passing the ball. He demonstrated how to carry the ball, and how to throw the ball, etc. This is riveting stuff for a football novice. However, Lombardi was talking to players who were professionals. These guys had been playing their entire lives. Still, he understood the value of fundamentals. And he was successful.
In that vein, we’d like to return to the fundamentals. And we begin by asking, “What is a church?”
The word, “church,” in the New Testament was translated from a Greek word, ekklesia, which means an assembly. This is important. As our Lord founded the Christian faith, He used words that were already widely in use in that culture. Our Lord did not sit down with the disciples and invent a new vocabulary and systems of practices for this new religion we call Christianity. No, He merely taught that we were to repent of our sins and trust His death on the cross for our salvation. He did so using common words of that day.
So, when the Lord said, “Upon this Rock I will build My church,” He didn’t invent a new word. That’s why none of the disciples said, “What is a church?” They already knew. Our English translations of the Bible say, “Upon this Rock I will build My church.” What the disciples heard was, “Upon this Rock I will build My assembly (ekklesia).”
The word “assembly,” i.e. “ekklesia,” was widely used, and practiced in the Roman Empire. Ekklesias were called out assemblies in local cities used to conduct business, take a vote, or discuss a pressing matter. There was a legal structure and framework for these.
You see this concept in action in Acts 19. The entire city was gathered to discuss the controversial teachings of Paul, who proclaimed that there were no other gods besides God, and that the way to God was through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, the local industry (sales of idols to the goddess Diana) suffered as more turned away from idolatry and toward Christianity. The town clerk realized that the assembly did not meet the legal requirements to hold such a meeting under Roman law, and as such, “he dismissed the assembly (ekklesia).”
When Christ said, “Upon this Rock I will build My church,” He said, “upon this Rock, I will build My assembly.” This verse, supported by other verses throughout the New Testament, shows that the will of Christ for His followers is that we are to assemble, conduct His business, and encourage each other.
Therefore, given the meaning of the word, and the will that Christ expressed, and the teachings expressed throughout the New Testament, a church is an organized assembly of saved, scripturally baptized believers who have come together to carry out the Lord’s will. This assembly is a literal assembly, a local assembly.
Which means that, in order to be a part of the church, you must assemble with the church. And the Lord’s will is that you be a part of the church.
At Life Point Baptist Church, we’d love to have you be a part of our church, a part of our assembly. However, if you do not feel led to join with us, we will encourage you to join a church where God is leading you, and that you follow His will there.
May God bless you richly as you follow His teachings.