About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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The First Principle Of Church


While being raised in 1950's and 1960's style Evangelical Christianity, it appeared to me that I was to stay clear of Baptists and Pentecostals because Baptists believed in eternal security and Pentecostals spoke in tongues.  Back then, Christians had little interaction with those outside of their denomination.  That is no longer the case.  Christians in the western-world church move from one church environment to another with ease.  This is partly due to a secular commercialism that motivates us to shop for the church of our choice.  It is also due to a lack of Biblical understanding of church. 


When attempting to learn anything, we must begin our quest with the basics.  Concerning church, the basics are found with the first time the word "church" appears in the New Testament, and that just happens to be from the mouth of Jesus.  Matthew 16:18 reads:


"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

This verse has been debated to death over the centuries.  We've argued over the word "rock" and Peter's role in the church.  In the process we have failed to understand the word "church" as Jesus understood it.  Of course, Jesus didn't speak our English word "church."   


Matthew wrote his gospel account in first-century, Koine Greek, and thus, the Greek word "ekklesia" that occurs 114 times int he New Testament is translated into English as "church" in Matthew 16:18.  An ekklesia was a group of people who were called out of the general public for a specific purpose.  A governing parliament would have been considered an ekklesia.  Matthew probably used the word "ekklesia" because it is descriptive of church.  Jesus called people out of the general population for His specific purpose.    


All of the above being said, Jesus did not speak Greek.  He would have spoken Aramaic or Hebrew.  He would have spoken the word "synagoge," a word rooted in ancient Hebrew culture that meant "the community of people belonging to God."   When our English Bible says that Jesus will build His church, it means that Jesus will build a community of people belonging to Him.   


Understanding church as a community of people belonging to Jesus is the most basic thing we must know and understand about church.  If you build your thinking about church on any other foundation, your concept of church is unbiblical.  If you leave community out of church, you have no legitimate church. 


Community implies people relating together because they share common characteristics.  Community, as seen in the New Testament, is expressed by the Greek word "koinonia" that is translated as fellowship throughout the New Testament.  In Biblical terms, koinonia, or fellowship, implies the sharing of your life with those to whom Jesus has placed you alongside in His community.  The most important characteristic Christians share in common is the Holy Spirit who resides within each Christian.  The Holy Spirit is, thus, the life blood of the Body of Christ, the church.    


When thinking of the Holy Spirit and church, the next basic point to consider concerning church is the birth of the church that took place on the Day of Pentecost.  In Acts 2 we read that the Holy Spirit entered the lives of one hundred and twenty believers.  The Holy Spirit  not only united the individual to Jesus on that occasion, He united the individual to the remaining one hundred and nineteen individuals.  The reception of the Holy Spirit into the lives of these believers was just as much a corporate event as it was an individual event, something that is often overlooked.  In fact, as 1 Corinthians 12:13 implies, each one of those believers was immersed into the lives of his fellow believers, thus giving birth to the community of Christ, the church.   


With all this in mind, North American Christians, and especially American Christians, have a problem.  Our cultural emphasis on the rights and independence of the individual prohibits us from experiencing Biblical community as Jesus would want.  That was not the case in Jesus' day.  Those who heard Jesus speak lived out community and would have clearly understood what Jesus meant when He said that He would build a community of people belonging to Him.         


Knowing that church is the community of believers in which the individual believer is joined by the Holy Spirit to other individual believers to accomplish God's will, is basic to the meaning of church.  If you understand that the Holy Spirit has united you to certain other believers in Jesus' community for the purpose of accomplishing God's will, you will not be so quickly influenced by our secular, commercialized culture, to shop around for the church of your choice. 

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