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Bible Lexicons

Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament


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To the Christian the word ecclesia is far more important than the word synagogue. on examining the Gospels we find the word only in Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17. The former passage revealed

Christ's intention to supersede the ecclesia [There have been various controversies as to the right rendering of this word in many versions it has been reproduced without any attempt at translation. Others, like themselves, have taken the Κυριάκη, the Lord's household, to represent it. Tyndale rightly translated the word congretion or assembly, thus retaining the relationship between the O. T. and the N. T, Luther's word Gemeine, 'community,' is a very good one.] of the O.T. dispensation by one which should be peculiarly his own, and which should last for ever. The latter points to the functions which this new body, or some local section of it, was to exercise through its representatives in cases of dispute between man and man (compare 1 Corinthians 6:1).

When we pass to the Acts and Epistles, we find that Christians are formed into ecclesioe, or congregating bodies, in every town to which the Apostles went, whilst all these smaller organisations were regarded as local representatives of a great spiritual and spotless ecclesia or Body, the Head of which was invisible, being at the right h and of God (Ephesians 1:22). Membership in the ecclesia of Christ was obtained by faith in Him, and was sealed and signified by baptism.

Believers in Christ are regarded as one Body. They have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. Originally they continued steadfast in the Apostles' teaching, and in fellowship (i.e. sharing their goods with one another). and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42). as time went on there would be different local arrangements, different places of meeting, 'diversities of administrations,' but the word of the Apostolic body, as representing the teaching of Christ, was to be supreme. Christ was over all, and the Spirit was in all. this unity was to embrace not only belief, but also life. If any one preached a false gospel, he was to be regarded as anathema, i.e. as an outcast; and if any one did not love the Lord Jesus Christ, he too was to be regarded as anathema. Those that loved God and their brethren, and walked worthy of their profession, showed there by that they were truly born of God, and were really members of the one Body in which the Spirit of Christ dwelt; but those whose religion consisted only of profession and talk, and who did not deny themselves for their brother's good, were regarded as having a name to live, whilst really dead.

The fact that this body was called the ecclesia of Christ shows that it answers in some respects to the ecclesia of the O.T., the Israel of God. Believers in Christ are delivered out of a bondage worse than that of Egypt; they have a Leader greater than Moses, a Priest higher than Aaron, an atoning-offering more precious than the blood of bulls or of goats, a tabernacle more lasting than the tabernacle of witness; they have the true Manna or Bread of Life to eat, and the true Rock supplies them with the Water of Life; from the hands of One higher than Joshua they hope to receive their promised inheritance, and One greater than David is their King. They are divided into many generations, and distributed through all parts of the world, yet they are one; and wherever Christ is loved and honoured as Saviour and Leader, wherever He is trusted as Priest and Sacrifice, wherever He is obeyed as King, and hoped in as the Giver of an everlasting habitation - there are members of the one great ecclesia, the Holy Catholic Church.

The various local communities referred to as Churches in the N.T. may be regarded as nurseries for the true Church of which Christ is the Head. An ecclesia was first formed in Jerusalem, and afterwards in every large town to which the Gospel came. Each ecclesia had its elders, who may be regarded, according to the analogy of the O.T., as its representatives, and who, like the elders of the Jewish ecclesia, had to exercise spiritual and prophetical, though not sacerdotal, functions. [See chap. xx.] The various ecclesae, formed through the Roman world were confederate Churches, bound together by the common ties of Apostolic teaching, and unity of Spirit; Jerusalem being still regarded as the Mother Church. There might be many places of meeting or ecclesae in one city, but they were not independent of one another; such an event as the arrival of an Apostle would bring them all together as one brotherhood. as the Word of God grew and multiplied, it extended into the more outlying country districts, and the Churches thus formed were affiliated with the city communities, and thus what we may call dioceses were formed, all, however, acting in harmony with the directions which emanated from the Apostolic body at Jerusalem. When this venerable city was destroyed, the local centre of unity vanished; at the same time the Apostles and their coadjutors passed away; but they left their writings behind, and these letters and authorised narratives of our Lord's history were received as the utterances of the Spirit of Christ, and took the same place in the Christian system which the Scriptures of the O.T. had occupied in the Jewish Church.

How, in the lapse of ages, Rome gradually assumed to itself both the authority of the Apostles and the local dignity which originally belonged to Jerusalem, is a matter of history which need not here be touched upon. It may be observed, however, that all schisms in the various Churches, or from them, arose partly from the fact that, us generations passed away, the Churches lost something of that vital hold of simple Apostolic truth which they originally possessed, and partly because it does not seem, humanly speaking, possible that there should be up on earth anything approaching to a perfect Church. There have always been offences, heresies, false teachers, and false professors, and there will be to the end of this dispensation. Every attempt to form a new community on the Apostolic model has ended in the same way. A root of bitterness has sprung up in spite of all precautions; and men have learnt over and over again by sad experience that they must be content to put up with an imperfect organisation and with indifferent teachers, whilst they have been also led to see that, amidst all human imperfections, the true Head of the Church remains 'the same yesterday, today, and for ever,' ministering grace to all that love Him in sincerity and truth.

The word ecclesia is used in other senses besides that now discussed, in a few passages of the N.T. Thus, in Acts 19:32; Acts 19:39; Acts 19:41, a civil assembly is called by this name in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40. the ecclesia appears to be the assembly of Christians for Divine worship, answering to one of the senses of συναγωγή; noted above in Hebrews 12:23 we read of the ἐκκλησία of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. Reference is here made perhaps to the true Israel of the old dispensation, that is, to the congregation [Acts 7:38. the A. V here most unfortunately renders ἐκκλεσίαchurch instead of congregation. See R. V., margin.] or ecclesiain the wilderness with whom God was pleased, [Hebrews 3:16, 'Some did provoke . but not all.' There was a Church with in a Church, Jews who were Jews inwardly, Israelites indeed, a remnant according to the election of grace Romans 2:29; Romans 11:4-5; Malachi 3:16 Israel is called God's first-born in Exodus 4:22.] to those who did not bow the knee to Baal, and to those 'who feared the Lord,' and 'spake often one to another.' Others suppose that the ecclesia of Christ is here referred to; they hold that the Church is a representative body, and that the world at large will reap the fruit of the faith and love of the spiritual first-born.

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Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Ecclesia'. Synonyms of the Old Testament.
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