EKKLESIA is a Greek word which is translated “church”. In the New Testament it signifies a company, assembly or body of people bound or compacted together.
The church which Jesus began to gather during his ministry, and which was recognized by the Father at Pentecost after their ransom price was paid, was the little company of disciples who had consecrated earthly time, talents and life a sacrifice to God. They were organized and bound together as members of one society, and as such had laws and government, and consequently a head or recognized ruling authority. The bonds were bonds of love and common interest. Since all were enlisted under the captaincy of Jesus, the hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, and aims of one were those of the other; and thus they had a far more perfect union of heart than could possibly be had from a union on the basis of any man-made creed.
Thus their organization was of the Spirit; their law for the government of each was love, and all as a whole were put under obedience to the “law of the Spirit” as it was expressed in the life, actions, and words of their Lord. Their government was the will of him who said, “If ye love me keep my commandments.” Thus we see the early church organized, governed, and in perfect unity and harmony under the rulership or headship of Jesus.
For the law of that spirit which gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. — Romans 8:2
Such then is our definition of the church of Christ; it is perfectly illustrated by Paul (Romans 12:4-5) when he compares the church to a human body. In this figure, Jesus represents the head, and all who are his, constitute the body, over and through which, the head rules. Jesus has been, and always will be the head over his church as a whole; he is likewise the head and ruler of the entire living church, and in every assembly where two or three meet in his name he is the head, ruler, and teacher.
If it be asked: In what sense does he teach?—we answer, by exercising the qualities of the head, or teacher; using one or more of those present in unfolding truth, strengthening faith, encouraging hope, inspiring zeal, etc., just as the head of your body can call upon one member to minister to another.
But here a word of caution:—If one becomes as useful an instrument as a right hand, take care that you aspire not to become the head. Be not puffed up; pride will paralyze and render useless: “Be not ye called Rabbi (Master, teacher) for one is your Master (head) even Christ and all ye are brethren.” (Matthew 23:8) And let not the least member despise his office, “for if all were one member where were the body?” (1 Corinthians 12:19) “Nay those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary” (1 Corinthians 12:22)—”God hath set the members every one of them, in the body as it hath pleased him.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)
How simple, beautiful and effectual is God’s plan of organization.
This brings us to our second proposition, that is to say: that all Christians should be joined to this organization. In the light of what has just been said as to the class constituting the church which Jesus organized, it is evident that if you have given up all your will, talent, time, etc., you are recognized by Jesus as a follower, and member of the ekklesia, or body of which he is the head, whose names are written in heaven. Thus we join Jesus’ church and have our names recorded as members, by consecration.
But says one: must I not join some organization on earth, assent to some creed and have my name written on earth? No, remember that Jesus is your pattern and teacher, and neither in his words nor acts will you find any authority for binding yourselves with creeds and traditions of the elders, which all tend to make the word of God of none effect (Mark 7:13) and bring you under a bondage which will hinder your growth in grace and knowledge, and against which Paul warned you to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free, and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1)
But say some: If it is not proper to unite with any of the present nominal churches, would it not be well to form a visible organization of our own? Yes, this is what we have—an organization modeled after that of the early church.
We think we’ve come back to primitive simplicity: The Lord Jesus alone is our head or lawgiver, the Holy Spirit is our interpreter and guide into truth; our names are all written in heaven; we are bound together by love and common interest.
Do you inquire—how shall we know one another? We reply, how could we help knowing one another when the Spirit of our Master is made manifest in word and act, and manner and look? Yes, the living faith, the unfeigned love, the long-suffering meekness, the childlike simplicity coupled with the constancy and zeal of maturity, make manifest the sons of God, and we need no earthly record, for the names of all such are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Do the sick need visiting or assistance?—these stand ready with consecrated time. Does the Lord’s work require money?—these stand ready with consecrated means. Does his work bring upon them the reproach of the world?—these have also sacrificed reputation–all–all to God.
But again, do you inquire how shall we deal with one who walks disorderly in our midst; if we have no organization such as we see about us, how can we free ourselves from such, as the Lord requires us to do? We answer: Do just as Jesus and Paul directed.
Now, as in the early church, there are various degrees of advancement among the individual members, and Paul says (1 Thess. 5:14) some are feeble minded, comfort them; some are weak, support them; but while you should be patient toward all, warn the disorderly (those who are drifting away from the true spirit of Christ).
Don’t mistake the disorderly for the weak, and comfort them; nor for the feeble-minded, and support them, but patiently, lovingly, warn the disorderly. Whom does he call disorderly? Doubtless there are many ways of walking disorderly, but in 2 Thess. 3:11, he speaks of some who work not at all, but are busy-bodies, and says they should do as he did—work that they be not chargeable to any; and if any will not work neither should he eat. Thus he said he did, that he might be an example to others. Then again, 2 Thess. 3:14: If after you have warned such a one and he “obey not company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not an enemy but admonish him as a brother.”
How complete is the organization of the church of Christ with its heaven-written, love-bound and Spirit ruled membership, and how sad the error of mistaking the nominal for the real church?
Dearly beloved, let us again repeat the warning: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free, and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage”—not even in the slightest degree.