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Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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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).

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Church'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, August 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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