the weblog of Alan Knox

The church and our role among the brothers and sisters

Posted by on Sep 5, 2011 in blog links, definition, edification, gathering | 15 comments

The church and our role among the brothers and sisters

Jonathan at “Jon’s Journey” has written many good posts. But, his last two posts are right on the mark.

In the first post, “Recognize Church,” he lists various common misconceptions concerning what defines the church… things like buildings, Sunday morning events, organization… and you could add leadership, or membership, or many other things.

So, what does define the church? What makes a group the church?

This is Jonathan’s answer:

Jesus talks simply of when two or three are gathered in His name. Church (ecclesia) was a word used to refer to an assembly or democratic gathering. We see in other New Testament passages the early believers also used the term church to refer to all the believers in a geographical area. So in my mind church is simply believers and whenever they get together.

The question then becomes: As the church, what do we do when we gather together with other brothers and sisters in Christ?

Jonathan answers this question in his next post “My Role with Church.”

He looks at several different passages of Scripture and concludes with this:

That the whole body works together, to build up the body to become mature and more like Christ. So that we can be Christ’s living body in our world today.

And I think that is the role for each of us as we get together with other believers (the church – whenever and wherever).

I think Jonathan is on to something with both of these posts. Instead of trying to distinguish ourselves from other Christians, what if we sought to help one another grow in maturity in Christ no matter who, when, and where we are meeting together?


15 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-5-2011

    Thanks Alan for contributing to this discussion. As I read your well written summary of my thoughts, there is one more thing I’d like to add.

    Jesus actually didn’t seem to talk much about church. Consider that the gospel writers recorded over 100 verses where Jesus talked about the Kingdom. The term church (ekklēsia) only shows up in two verses in the gospels.

    Maybe as followers of Christ we should be more focused on the Kingdom than we are on Church. In my mind there is some overlap between the terms. But maybe we should focus less on attending church, starting churches, building churches, structuring churches, planning for churches, setting church vision, promoting church, etc. ?? Jesus said He would build his church. He didn’t say we would build His church.

    I think our role whenever we meet with other believers is to help one another grow in maturity in Christ. I know you’ve said this before. I’m with you. Thanks!

  2. 9-5-2011

    Jon,

    Thanks for the great posts and the comment! Yes, I would say that the church (“God’s people gathered together”) are part of the kingdom, but not the extent of the kingdom.

    -Alan

  3. 9-5-2011

    I’m not a fan of the “where two or three are gathered” approach to ecclesia (cause its not what the verse is implying)

    On another note I think it is great to point out as jon did in his comment that Jesus didn’t really talk about Church as much as the kingdom

    I think one thing we have missed as the people of God is that its not about us so much

    Its all about Him

    I think that is one thing that really has made me have a problem with the institution of modern day christianity

    Its kind of like the Church is cheating on Jesus………with itself

  4. 9-5-2011

    Alan,

    “….the church (“God’s people gathered together”) are part of the kingdom, but not the extent of the kingdom.”

    Great statement!

    Mikes words are paramount,”I think one thing we have missed as the people of God is that its not about us so much.

    Its all about Him.”

    As Jon says,”Jesus said He would build his church. He didn’t say we would build His church.”

    It seems to me that we actually destroy the church, when we forget the latter and push our visions and dreams for ministry to the fore.

  5. 9-5-2011

    Scripture also discusses the appointment of elders, discipline, and specific instructions for gathering.

    Just saying “where two or three are gathered” is church seems a bit too simplistic and ignores the greater teaching of the New Testament.

  6. 9-5-2011

    Great discussion.

    Scott and mike, I’m curious what issues you have with “where two or three are gathered”. Since Jesus only mentioned ekklēsia twice, and that phrase is attached to one of those passages, that is where I made the link. Do you see a better definition elsewhere in the New Testament? Is there a different minimum number?

    Scott, is there a passage that suggests elders need to be present whenever this ekklēsia gets together? I know the New Testament had elders, but I suspect the concept of elders in OT and NT culture was different that what we see in our current organizations. And what was their role as far as decision making for their assemblies? And I’m also curious what other specific instructions there are for the assembling of believers. I tried to look at those verses in my posts. But it is quite likely I’ve missed some.

    Thanks! God bless!

  7. 9-5-2011

    Mike, sorry I took another look at the context of “where two or three are gathered” to try to see what you were seeing. Yes the context was likely an assembly of more than two or three.

    But maybe it is not so much about how many believers assemble. Maybe being the church is simply who we are when we gather. No matter how many, when or where.

    Thoughts? What else do you think Jesus was trying to say there with the reference to two or three?

  8. 9-5-2011

    Mike,

    In Scripture, the authors were not concerned about when a group was or was not “church.” Instead, they were concerned about whether or not God’s children, who are brothers and sisters in Christ, interact with one another and treat one another properly whenever they meet together… whether there are 2, or 20, or 200, or however many.

    Aussie John,

    Yes, and unfortunately, I think that alot of the attitudes, practices, and programs that are designed and intended to build up the church actually work against the maturity of God’s children.

    Scott,

    In Acts 14 (before Acts 14:23), the believers had not recognized/appointed elders, but they were the church according to Luke. In 1 Corinthians 5, the believers were not practicing “discipling” properly, but they were the church according to Paul. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul says that the Corinthian believers were not meeting together properly, but they were still the church. Leadership, discipling, and meeting together are extremely important to the church, but they do not define who is and who is not church.

    Jon,

    Thanks for interacting with the commenters here and answering some of their questions.

    -Alan

  9. 9-5-2011

    Alan,

    Good points. But many of the epistles were written to correct just the things you mentioned. It seems Paul had a picture in mind of what a local church should look like and sought to implement these things.

    Let me say that certainly all believers everywhere and anywhere are the church. And I for one disdain the competition that seems prevalent among local churches today. Working together sounds good to me!

    But many of the epistles are addressed to a specific church. This seems to connotate more than just a few believers in Jesus hanging out together. I’m not sure three believers having coffee at Starbucks constitutes the assembling of the church. This is what Jon seems to be suggesting and I’m not sure I agree.

    Jon,

    I’m not sure that three believers getting together for prayer constitutes the gathering of the church. It appears to me that this is different from the larger meeting of the church on the Lord’s Day.

  10. 9-5-2011

    Scott,

    Do you think when Paul told the Corinthians “whenever you come together” (1 Corinthians 14:26) he only had a Sunday gathering in view? If not, what would delineate one “coming together” from another “coming together”?

    What about when the author of Hebrews told his readers to not forsaking gathering together but to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25)? Is there some indication in that passage or in the book itself that he only had one time or type of gathering together in mind?

    When the various NT authors told their readers to love one another, teach one another, exhort one another, be kind to one another, serve one another, admonish one another, be hospitable toward one another, in which time or type of gathering together did they envision these things taking place?

    I would submit that in Scripture the focus is not on a particular time or type of coming together, but instead the focus was placed on any time brothers and sisters were together with one another… even if there had been a Starbucks in 1st century Jerusalem. When we are with our brothers and sisters (in whatever number), we are the gathered people of God… i.e., the ekklesia of God.

    By the way, how many examples in Scripture can you find of believers gathering together “on the Lord’s Day”? How many example can you find of believers gathering together daily?

    -Alan

  11. 9-6-2011

    Hi jon and alan

    My contention is not how many are gathered (for I do believe two or more can constitute “Church”) but rather it is with the fact that the specific “two or more” verse is speaking more on Jesus agreeing with the judgment of a fellow believer as opposed to fellowship =D

    That’s all

  12. 9-6-2011

    I hope that is a sufficient response

    I think this should go in the category of “scripture…..how we live it”

  13. 9-6-2011

    Alan,

    I agree with what you have said. I guess I just get concerned thatthere seems to be a movement today that is a sort of “reverse exclusion” to coin a phrase. Many traditional churches have been rather exclusive in their attitude toward other believers. This bothers me. In our city we have a number of “church plants” and none of them are talking with one another or working together. Much time and money is being spent, but instead of fostering cooperation it is only creating more “mini-fortresses” under the name of church (ironically, I think these groups are all evangelical).

    In reaction to this some seem to be rejecting the idea of any organized or formal gathering of the church. There is a rejection of any organized effort in mission or outreach to the community. I have observed a sort of reverse exclusion that says “I thank you God that we’re not like those formal churches which gather in buidlings and have pastors and programs. We just meet as the church wherever we are and with whoever we’re with.”

    As a pastor myself I have much dissatisfaction with the traditional church. I agree with your observations of Scripture and do not think you are exclusionist. But I have friends who have “left the church” to only become isolated and bitter Christians that will only gather with a certain two or three believers they are close to. I know this is not what you or Jon are advocating, but I am concerned it happens.

    I guess I’m just trying to find some middle ground. I appreciate you and your blog.

    Peace,
    Scott

  14. 9-6-2011

    Mike,

    I agree that Matthew 18:20 is not directly answering the question, “How many people must meet together for that group to be recognized as ‘church’?” I do think that the “judgment” discussion (in the presence of 2 or more) is important in our understanding of “church.”

    Scott,

    Yes, whenever believers gather together, they are “church” (ekklesia), which would include large groups as part of traditional/institutional churches. I don’t like either form of exclusion either.

    -Alan

  15. 9-6-2011

    Great discussion guys. I appreciate Scott your concern of a backlash against anything structured. I confess I have a tendency to swing on the pendulum, but God is teaching me to seek unity in His Church and that includes many brothers and sisters whom I love who do not agree with me on everything. I am pleased when we can discuss tougher differences in beliefs with an air of respect.

    If I can address one point from this that may help see a different perspective.
    “But many of the epistles are addressed to a specific church.”

    Yes, but do we know that “church in Corinth” meant there was only one location and one group of believers in Corinth at that time?

    Consider Act 8:1-3 (NIV)

    “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

    In this passage ‘church’ in Jerusalem likely was not one assembly. We know there was thousands of believers in Jerusalem by this point, and there is no record of a mega church building. Verse 3 clarifies by saying from house to house. So was each house group a separate church? Should Luke have said “destroying the churches”.

    My take on this is ‘church’ here does not refer to a specific assembly. But it was a term used to refer to all believers.

    Yes, there are other verses that have ekklēsiais. In some cases they did refer to multiple assemblies. But other cases a singular form seems to be used to refer to all believers.

    When I look at all the verses that deal with church I think I can apply one of these two definitions:
    1) family of believers
    2) family gathering of believers

    Thoughts?