Amidst the current popular mindset that as long as someone is saved and loves God nothing else matters; the true Biblical concept of what the Lord’s church really consists, is not a very favourable teaching among Christians. Proper ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, has been pushed aside and relegated by men as a secondary or tertiary issue, and anyone who insists it is a primary issue is viewed as having their theology all out of sort.
The fact is that some believe that people like me hold too high the doctrine of the local church. Which my reply is pretty simple, I believe they hold it too low, if they hold it at all. As I have stated before here, I am a Missionary Baptist by conviction. Within that conviction is the strong belief that there is no such thing as an “invisible universal church” made up of all the saved of all the ages. Within that conviction is the strong belief that the Lord Jesus holds in very high regard the sanctity of the Local Assembly of Baptized believers in covenant one with another.
Until recent years, I did not believe that the idea of the Universal Invisible church was too much to get upset about. I merely disagreed with it, counted it as a theological error, and put it in the same bucket as those who demand that Adam didn’t have a belly button. I have always disagreed, and disregarded it, but I have not always considered the wider ramifications of it; which now I believe are many.
First of all, when looking through the New Testament, our entire concept of the “church” changes if each and every time that we read it, we would see the word “assembly.” Which is what the “ecclesia” is. It is the called out assembly. It was a secular word, with a political function, and a practical purpose within the operations of a city, or city state. Not all citizens were part of the civil, “ecclesia”, only those who had met the qualifications and joined. While all citizens enjoyed the privileges of citizenship, not all citizens participated in the ecclesia. It is this word that Jesus used to communicate to His disciples, that while the earthly kingdoms have their “ecclesia” His kingdom too had an “ecclesia” or “assembly.” It was complete with qualifications and membership, purposes and practices.
Now when we read the New Testament, and we see the “assembly” every time that we see the word “church” we have a more accurate view of the ecclesia of the New Testament.
“I will build my assembly, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
“If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the assembly.”
“Saul, he made havock of the assembly, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
“Unto the assembly of God which is at Corinth,(and) 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: ”
“And God hath set some in the assembly, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers . . .”
“And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the assembly, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
“Unto him be glory in the assembly by Christ Jesus throughout all ages world without end.”
“Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself for it.”
“The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the assembly.”
“That He might present it to himself a glorious assembly without spot or wrinkle . . .”
“And he is the head of the body, the assembly:”
“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 assembly:”
“To the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, . . .”
To further this thought line, the “assembly” is the “body of Christ” in the same sense that Congress is a “legislative body.” Or that students of a particular school make up the “student body.”
Now there are times in the scripture where the “institution” of the “assembly” is in thought, and a “future” assembly may be in thought, but as professor Thomas White of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has pointed out, all other times in the text, the “assembly” it is speaking of is just that, an “assembly.”
All that being said, the “Church” is as much the “MEETING” of the people, as it is the People of the Meeting. It is the assembling of baptized believers who are in covenant one with another to carry out the great commission.
Now for many people in this “individualized, maverick, ecumenical, Christianity” this is just too literal, and holds the actual assembly ridiculously too high. To hold it that high, would mean that most of Christianity would be fundamentally wrong because everyone knows that going to church has nothing to do with being a Christian. Right? That is until we look at the text of scripture.
Going to the assembly, being part of the assembly, serving the Lord in His ecclesia, is to be as much a priority in our relationship with Jesus as our prayer life, our personal walk, our practical obedience, and our individual faithfulness to Jesus. In fact, the Assembly of the Saints in covenant with each other is heaven’s headquarters on earth. It is the place, and palace that He has commissioned with heavenly authority. All of the saved of all of the ages make up 1.) The family of God, 2.) The Kingdom of God, and 3.) the Household of God. But those groups do not constitute the Assembly, or body of Christ. The church (assembly) is within the Kingdom, but not the Kingdom. The church (assembly) is within the Family, but not the family. In fact it takes more to get into the Assembly than it does to get into the Kingdom. It takes more to be a member of the Lord’s assembly, than it takes to get into heaven. Men enter the kingdom by faith alone. Saved men enter the Ecclesia through public immersion (baptism.) Men enter the family by birth, they enter the ecclesia by baptism. There are many in the kingdom and family, but have not entered an “assembly.”
Now the danger of the invisible idea of some mystic body has done more to undermine the high view that the scripture teaches of the assembling together than anything else in the world today. The New Testament knows nothing whatsoever of a “churchless” disciple. When someone says “I am” the church, they have just said that they do not know what that word means. It is the meeting of the people not just the people of the meeting, and the problem is that most Christians today have a low view of the “meeting” and in so doing, become destructive toward the New Testament Assembly. In my own opinion, this has contributed to the fact that most churches have members that never meet. They have saints that never assemble. They have people on paper but not in the pews. One who is not “congregated” is not “assembled” or not in the church. Sometimes people will with tongue in cheek say, “I may not be there in body but I am in spirit.” The reality is that there is no such thing as an “unassembled” assembly. To take the “meeting” out of the primary meaning of the word “ecclesia” is to eviscerate the word that the Lord chose to use when establishing His church within His kingdom.
While this is not a popular doctrine it is rooted deeper and wider in the New Testament than I can speak of here, but nonetheless it is worth every single look. For every Christian to have a high view of Christ’s Assembly of Baptized believers would certainly be a welcomed change worth making.