If a person on the street were asked to define "church," he most likely would say it is a building where people go on Sundays. The very word translated "church" has a completely different meaning. The Greek word "ekklesia" actually means "a calling out." So, with that in mind, we must ask the question: "Have we who call ourselves the Body of Christ been deceiving unbelievers through the works of our hands by building churches? Have we denied the One Who died so that He could birth the true Ekklesia?
Jesus asked His disciples who the people said He was; they replied that some thought He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Then Jesus asked, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ [Messiah]1, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:15b-16 NAS) So Jesus told Peter that His Father in Heaven--not flesh and blood--had revealed it unto him. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matthew 16:18 NAS).
Jesus was referring to Himself when He said, "upon this rock I will build My church." He had spoken of Himself as "this temple" when He told the disciples about His death and resurrection.2 He was also called the "Chief Corner Stone" "in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."3
Peter's name was "Simon Peter" until his brother Andrew brought him to meet Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas (which is translated, A Stone)." (John 1:42b NKJV) "Cephas" means "rock," having its origin in a Hebrew word which more precisely means "hollow rock."4 There is another Greek word translated "Peter," which also means "rock,"5 but Jesus had cause to call Peter "Cephas." I believe Jesus was telling Peter of his need for the Holy Spirit to fill up that hollow rock. And it was Peter who led the way, being the first apostle to proclaim the Gospel. He preached with the Spirit's power, having been filled while in the upper chamber with the others.
This Spirit-filled Peter was no longer the Peter whom Jesus rebuked as a stumbling block because he was not "mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."6 And no longer was Peter the man who denied Jesus three times after vowing his faithfulness. All it took was one look from Jesus, and "Peter went out, and wept bitterly."7 Peter had been full of himself, but I believe he was humbled by that sad look from Jesus that caused him to weep bitterly. The Spirit of Jesus filled that same hollow Peter, making him a fiery and forceful proclaimer of the message of the Cross of Jesus Christ. And Peter was the first to see souls added to the Ekklesia through his preaching of Jesus.8
Paul the Apostle describes the Ekklesia as God's "building" of the Body of Christ. "And he gave some to be apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." If God gave these to be His ministers, He surely would have equipped them with the Spirit's power. Through the Holy Spirit, they would have built up the body of Christ, resulting in unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Those under their ministry would mature, being complete in Christ, "no longer children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error." They would have spoken the truth in love so that the people would "grow up in all things unto Him, which is the head, even Christ." This church, built by Jesus through His own ministers, would show "increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love."9
Is the Ekklesia of today being "equipped" by hollow ministers who leave the believers as children, tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, deceived by the wiles of error? How many are in error because of hollow ministers? Where are those ministers of God, full of His Spirit, speaking truth in love and causing the Ekklesia to mature and increase through their discipling? Every believer and every minister of God should "check his pulse," to see if he has within him the Life of God. If he abides in the Vine, he is alive and he WILL be fruitful.
Apostasy, or the straying from truth,10 has permeated every aspect of what man considers "church." This multi-faceted error has brought somewhat of a death to the Ekklesia. Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh for the express purpose of crucifying flesh, yet a resurgence of flesh has caused the greatest devastation of all time. The very thing Jesus gave His life to destroy has been embraced and coddled to keep it alive. Yet He waits patiently for His Bride to let go of flesh and come to Him. The 'church' has desecrated itself by conforming it to look like the world, rather than seeking to be transformed into His image.
Man is more desirous of doing church, than he is of being the Ekklesia. His concept of church reveals what he has done to Jesus. His Name is used by so many who profess to know Him, calling themselves "Christians," but in reality they have denied Him. There is a day coming when this will be painfully evident. It will be the worst day ever for all who refused to receive the love of the Truth.11
The writer of Hebrews speaks of a "sanctuary of this world"12 (made by hands), comparing it to the true tabernacle built by the Lord Himself. The service by the priest and high priest, in the "sanctuary of this world," was a large part of the tutoring of Israel to bring them to Christ. But now Christ is our High Priest seated at the right hand of God, "a Minister in the holy places and in the true tabernacle which is erected not by man but by the Lord." Jesus, our Advocate, is in the very presence of God, appearing on our behalf.13 Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus offered up Himself and entered in once for all into the holy place made without hands. He did away with the necessity for mere flesh to make atonement for other flesh in a tabernacle constructed by hands of flesh.
Jesus said He would build His Ekklesia. Where, then, does man get the idea he must build a house for God? That which man builds is not God's House, as churches are often referred to. The true Ekklesia is the "habitation of God through the Spirit."14
God is looking to build His own Temple in "him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles" at His word. After saying that Heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool, He asks, "Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?"15
Why is it that thousands of 'churches' are erected where pastors "minister" to the people? When there are gatherings, it should be for leading people in ministry to God through praise and then worship, if He graces the gathering with His presence. There can be no worship without the presence of God. And if we do not first enter in with thanksgiving and praise, without the baggage of uncrucified flesh, we cannot claim to be in His presence. If the church would truly gather in His Name and acknowledge Him as the Preeminent One, He would manifest His presence there. But the church must have its ritualistic order. Is it possible that if only two or three hungry souls desired Him, He would longingly wait amid the crowd to receive their worship and fill the hungry ones with Himself? Is it possible that just when it would appear He has found the "place of His rest," the order of service is changed to accommodate ritual? With tears streaming down His face He would leave, disappointed once again at being rejected by those who "came to worship Him." Jesus said the time has come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.16 These are the ones the Father is seeking--but sensual man, caring more about programs and increasing membership, makes true worship very rare in the 'church'.
We are deceived if we think our man-made programs can foster a move of God and bring about revival. It is a grievous thing to be so presumptuous that we would expect God to take our plans and programs and use them to bring souls into the Kingdom of God. If we believe that growth in numbers at church is an indication God is at work, we must always ask the question, "Is it true revival, or a revival of religious flesh?" We can be certain that Satan will produce a pretty deceiving counterfeit.
If we are going to truthfully refer to the 'church' as the "Body of Christ," it must have no division. There must be unity in the faith. In view of that, it should become obvious to us that denominations are divisive. "How can that be?" you say. Look at it this way: armies have divisions, and they go to war. But the 'church' also has divisions called "denominations," and for many years they have been at war one with another, fighting over doctrinal differences and clamoring for superiority. Where is the unity in the Faith? Jesus' true Ekklesia is One Body with One Spirit.
Not only are there wars between denominations, but there are wars even within those denominations. These internal wars cause church splits and result in an abundance of what Paul calls "works of the flesh" in Galatians 5:19-21. These obvious works-- "enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, envyings"--are listed right along with "fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, heresies, drunkenness, and revellings." How can we call ourselves "the Body of Christ" if we so blatantly manifest a body of flesh? He is the crucified Christ! Are we truly in Him if we have uncrucified flesh? As Paul said in verse 21, "they which practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
The living Ekklesia
In the earlier years of the first millennium AD, persecution by the enemies of the Gospel forced the true believers to meet in caves, upper rooms, or any other secret place they could find to fellowship and encourage one another in the faith. I believe this is what the writer of Hebrews was speaking of, in chapter 10:25: ". . . not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (NKJV). The afflicted Ekklesia in the early centuries desperately needed encouragement and building up in the faith. Without this exhorting of one another, they may have been numbered with those who denied the faith when persecution came.
For short periods, between times of dreadful persecution, the Christians would become complacent and careless. The next wave of persecution served only to purify the Ekklesia, as, in the face of martyrdom, other believers would emerge to take their place in spreading the Gospel. If they were banished to strange countries among heathen tribes, they would preach the Gospel there. There was no stopping the true Ekklesia of Jesus Christ. Their faith in Christ was so real that nothing could deter them from spreading the Good News.
Today, in many parts of the world, Christ's true Ekklesia is still a persecuted Ekklesia. The underground Ekklesia in China and North Korea are a part of the true Ekklesia, and the believers there suffer horrendous atrocities. The faith of those Christians is so real that they are willing to die for Jesus Christ. The message they share is the Gospel of the real Jesus--not a watered down version that leaves out the Cross of Christ.
In some other countries, to say that one is a Christian brings little or no opposition. For instance, in North America a person is almost admired if he goes to church. And those churches are often little more than grand buildings with steeples to announce their presence. We wonder why today's Christianity is not a threat to the worldly. Is it because people in the world have seen nothing to challenge their godless ways? Such a Godless church is actually more likely to stir up the world's anger because of the visible hypocrisy in its members who claim to be Christians. So why would anyone persecute a harmless, ineffective 'church'?
God has His people everywhere, so it would be wrong to suggest that all proclaimed Christians who attend the institutional 'church' are not truly born again. We are all on a journey, seeking to have that inner void filled by the only One Who can satisfy. He is all we need. Religion and church can never replace a relationship with Jesus. We need to ask the question, "If all else were gone and we had only Jesus, would He be enough?"
Are we willing to allow Jesus to be everything to us? Paul told Timothy: "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." (2 Timothy 3:12-13 NKJV). Religious, hypocritical man will certainly persecute those who would dare to live godly in Christ Jesus. To go against the grain, and separate oneself from superficial Christianity can be a very lonely road--but a road worth traveling with Jesus.
I read a true story of a believer in a European country who risked his life to take the written word of God into neighboring Communist countries. His belief--his trust--was in the REAL Jesus, and his bible was precious to him. He knew that if he could get bibles into the hands of others, the Spirit of Truth would bring them to the Savior. With little regard for his personal safety, he repeatedly crossed the borders into Communist territory, smuggling bibles to be distributed by fellow believers. He was viciously beaten and imprisoned many times, but God always freed him so he could return with more bibles. The Communists feared this Sword of the Lord more than any weapons this believer might have carried.
Do Christians fear the Sword of the Lord today? Or, are we content to hear of all the benefits we can receive from God? Paul said the time will come when they will not endure [Greek: put up with]17 the sound doctrine, ". . . but having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Many will not put up with sound doctrine because they prefer fables rather than truth. It seems fables are more palatable, since they do not promote uncomfortable things like brokenness and complete surrender to God.
If a trial were held to determine those guilty of being true believers, would there be sufficient evidence to prove that some might deserve persecution for the cause of Jesus Christ? Would they find even a small part of the remnant?
1. Greek #5547
2. John 2:19
3. Ephesians 2:20-22 NKJV
4. Greek #2786 from Hebrew #3710
5. Greek #4074
6. Matthew 16:23b NKJV
7. Luke 22:62
8. Acts 2:14-41
9. Ephesians 4:11-16
10. Greek #646
11. 2 Thessalonians 2:10
12. Hebrews 9:1
13. Hebrews 8:1-2 & 9:24 Amplified
14. Ephesians 2:22
15. Isaiah 66:1-2 NKJV
16. John 4:23-24
17. Greek #430