An important question to be asked today is this: what is the definition of the Church? It seems in recent months churches have lost the meaning of what being a church actually is, if they ever knew or thought about that meaning at all. They attempt to explain away the fact that they disbanded the Church, saying that the Church is not a building but the people that are in it. Though at first glance I thought I agreed with this logic, I have since concluded otherwise. For the Church (meaning the people in it) are, in fact, a building. First Corinthians 3:9 says so actually. Referring to believers (as a group not individually, plural not singular) the passage states you all “are God’s building.” Paul even goes on to say that he is a “master builder” and that Jesus is our “foundation”, and that everyone is contributing to this building project. Therefore, even if the Church, the body of Christ, the assembly of believers is not an actual wooden building with a cross on it and a steeple, God Himself calls us all His building.
Pastors have tried to gloss over locking their doors by saying that the early church met in homes so why shouldn’t we? Yet another form of logic is that of the reasoning that we as Christians must obey the legal authorities. Though there is some merit to what they have said — for yes the early church did meet in homes and yes we are to honor our secular rulers — in all these explanations the pastors, however, have lost the meaning of the name “church”. Indeed, they’ve even missed the fact that we are God’s building. So, in order to better understand what the Church actually is let’s take a look at both the Greek word for “church” and its Hebrew equivalent. Though you may say “this looks like Greek to me!” please bear with me because laying this foundation is important!
The word for “church” in the Greek is ekklesia (Strong’s #1577). Ekklesia comes from ekkletos, meaning “called out” and is from the word ekkaleo meaning, “to call out.” Thus, the word for church, ekklesia, means “the called people…those called out or assembled in the public affairs of a free state, the body of free citizens called together by a herald,” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, pg 541). And a herald (kerux, #2783) is a preacher, a messenger, one who proclaims, who in Classical Greek was a “public servant of supreme power…one who summoned the ekklesia, the town gathering…a kerux, messenger, was…[a] conveyor of a declaration…in 2 Peter 2:5…Noah was a herald of righteousness…” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, pg 861).
In the Old Testament there are two Hebrew words used for assemblies/gatherings: edah (Strong’s #5712) and qahal (Strong’s #6951). In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament that had been put together before Christ by 70 leading Jewish Biblical scholars, the word synagogue is equivalent to edah, and the world ekklesia is equivalent to qahal. Though occasionally used in the New Testament to refer to the Church, early on the Greek word synagogue came to be strictly associated with the Jewish gatherings. However, the Greek word ekklesia, which even Jesus used on occasion (Matthew 16:18), came to be regarded as Christian gatherings. (“Jewish Literature in New Testament Times,” https://www.bible-history.com/jewishliterature/jewish_literaturethe_septuagint.htm; “Septuagint,” https://www.septuagint.net/)
For further clarification “…both qahal and ekklesia indicate a calling or summoning to a place of meeting. Qahal and ekklesia are the more sacred terms, denoting the people in relation to Jehovah, especially in public worship” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, pg 1334). Even so, ekklesia is synonymous with episunagoge (Strong’s #1997) used in Hebrews 10:25 which means, “to gather together.”
From what are we as Christians called out? The world system that is under the rule of the evil one and his cohorts. To what are we called? We are called out by a messenger/preacher to gather in worship of our King. We are called to assemble in praise of the King and Kingdom of God that has no end. Thus, we are no longer a part of the system of this world, but have become a kingdom of priests and kings unto our God (Revelation 1:6), are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), are the body and Bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; 2 Corinthians 11:2), and ambassadors of His heavenly Kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:20). Because of this, we live by Kingdom rules, for we are citizens of the country of heaven (Philippians 3:20). While here as ambassadors, we honor those God has placed in power here, but when anything comes into question, we stand on the side of the Kingdom that we represent. He is our head (Ephesians 5:23).
It has been recently, correctly stated by Pastor John Macarthur and the pastoral leadership and elders of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California that,
“As pastors and elders, we cannot hand over to earthly authorities any privilege or power that belongs solely to Christ as head of His church. Pastors and elders are the ones to whom Christ has given the duty and the right to exercise His spiritual authority in the church (1 Peter 5:1–4; Hebrews 13:7, 17)—and Scripture alone defines how and whom they are to serve (1 Corinthians 4:1–4). They have no duty to follow orders from a civil government attempting to regulate the worship or governance of the church. In fact, pastors who cede their Christ-delegated authority in the church to a civil ruler have abdicated their responsibility before their Lord and violated the God-ordained spheres of authority as much as the secular official who illegitimately imposes his authority upon the church…
In short, as the church, we do not need the state’s permission to serve and worship our Lord as He has commanded. The church is Christ’s precious bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23–27). She belongs to Him alone. She exists by His will and serves under His authority. He will tolerate no assault on her purity and no infringement of His headship over her. All of that was established when Jesus said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).
Christ’s own authority is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And [God the Father has] put all things in subjection under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:21–23).
Accordingly, the honor that we rightly owe our earthly governors and magistrates (Romans 13:7) does not include compliance when such officials attempt to subvert sound doctrine, corrupt biblical morality, exercise ecclesiastical authority, or supplant Christ as head of the church in any other way.
The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church. Conversely, the church does not in any sense rule the state. Again, these are distinct kingdoms, and Christ is sovereign over both. Neither church nor state has any higher authority than that of Christ Himself, who declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).”
However, unlike Pastor John Macarthur, so many American Christian pastors (and Canadian for that matter) still have their doors locked. In so doing, these pastors are willingly allowing godless governors and mayors to lead God’s flock, and thus, have forfeited their role as shepherd of the flock of God.
Remember what happened when Israel, a nation under the headship of God alone, asked for a human king? “Give us a king to judge us,” they said. “And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:6-7). And so, in 1 Samuel 12, Saul is made king at the beginning of the wheat harvest (1 Sam 12:17) – that is Pentecost, for Pentecost is the day of the first fruits of the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22). And Samuel said to them “I will call to the LORD, and He will send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking a king for yourselves,” (vs17).
Indeed, it was this exact timing, May 31st Pentecost Sunday (year 2020), that the pastors of this nation were presented with a choice: to reopen or to remain closed. Around 3,000 churches in California pledged to reopen together and thousands of churches in Minnesota did the same, and a few other churches around the U.S. took a stand, and chose to serve the Lord as their King. The others who remained closed and are still closed, have, whether they admit it or not, chosen their governors and mayors and judges as king. And just as in the account of Samuel and the Israelites demanding a human king, God sent thunderstorms across the U.S.; even areas that don’t usually get thunder and lightning were rocked and rolled. (“Thunderstorms to Rumble Around “Ring of Fire” This Week,” https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2020/05/31/Thunderstorms-to-rumble-around-ring-of-fire-this-week/6241590931418/; “Thunderstorms Rock Puget Sound Region as Severe Weather Threatens Eastern Wash.” https://komonews.com/news/local/thunderstorms-rock-puget-sound-region-as-severe-weather-threatens-eastern-wash; “Unusually Intense Severe Storms Likely In Oregon and Washington on Saturday,” https://www.forbes.com/sites/dennismersereau/2020/05/30/unusually-intense-severe-storms-are-likely-in-oregon-and-washington-on-saturday/#386877d37537; “Thunderstorms Target the Great Lakes, Northeast Through Sunday,” https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-forecasts/thunderstorms-target-the-great-lakes-northeast-through-sunday/709906; “Severe Thunderstorms, Flooding Plagued Parts of the Plains, Midwest and Northeast,” https://weather.com/storms/severe/news/2020-05-15-severe-thunderstorms-flash-flooding-plains-midwest-northeast).
However, God said that the head of the Church is Christ not Caesar (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23), that we are to render to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21), and that we are to respect the rule of law as long as it is righteous and does not conflict with His Kingdom law. And under His law, the Church is an “assembly,” a “gathering” together of those who are called out of this world’s system into the Kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13), in allegiance to and worship of their eternal King. Thus, no matter what is happening, no matter who says what, no matter when in history, those called by the name ekklesia/Church are to do what their name implies, which is to congregate together.“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Truly, can a body be called a body when it is in pieces? Is the liver the body? Is the stomach the body? Is the tongue the body? Certainly not. One organ does not constitute the body. Rather, it is all the organs, sinews, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, blood vessels and so forth all joined together that constitutes a body. Even so, the body of Christ is not the body unless fitly joined together, gathered together to build one another up by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, assembled for worship. Therefore, can the Church be called the Church unless it gathers together? The succinct answer is NO.
Throughout the centuries of rulers commanding that Christians not gather together under pain of death, the Church gathered anyway, from the Apostle Paul and John and Peter and the early Church, to those who secretly and illegally gathered in the catacombs under Rome, to smaller nameless sects who hid in the hills and caves during the Dark Ages, the Albigenses and Waldenses of the 12th and 13th centuries, to the Quakers, to the Anabaptists, to the Lutherans and other reformers. And in now in modern times, in China, North Korea, and any Muslim nation including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, Christians still gather for worship in defiance of godless laws on pain of imprisonment, fines, torture or even death. These did not and do not fear the very real threat of death. Why? Because they are the “Church”, the called out, assembled ones. Assembling is what they do. It is the Church’s nature to assemble.
In Grace Community’s pastoral leadership’s letter to their church they continue by saying,
“The church by definition is an assembly. That is the literal meaning of the Greek word for “church”—ekklesia—the assembly of the called-out ones. A non-assembling assembly is a contradiction in terms. Christians are therefore commanded not to forsake the practice of meeting together (Hebrews 10:25)—and no earthly state has a right to restrict, delimit, or forbid the assembling of believers. We have always supported the underground church in nations where Christian congregational worship is deemed illegal by the state.
When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.” (bold type added by Holy Light Ministries)
“Pastor and apologist Alex McFarland says North Pointe [of Atlanta, Georgia] and other churches that are keeping their buildings closed need to rethink the decision.“Merely to roll over and play dead, as it were, and to say that we’re not going to meet again, that’s not New Testament Christianity,” he insists. “If you’re not meeting for corporate worship, you’re not practicing New Testament Christianity.”” (“Christian Apologist: No Time for Churches to Keep Doors Shut,” https://onenewsnow.com/church/2020/07/16/christian-apologist-no-time-for-churches-to-keep-doors-shut)
In truth and with great gravity, Pastor McFarland and Grace Community’s pastoral staff and elders are absolutely correct. If the churches continue to disband, then they ought not be called the “Church” anymore, for in so doing they are in direct contradiction to the meaning of their name and definition as stated in the Bible. The Church, the called out ones, are those who gather and assemble together, they do not disassemble nor dissolve for the sake of any mandate or pandemic. It does not break up, it builds up. It does not blend in, it stands out. The Biblical, New Testament style Church stands out as the called out ones who stand together, without bending or breaking, without hiding or complying, through thick and thin and without compromise or apology for the cause of Christ. Are you a part of that “assembled” Church? Is Christ your head or is Caesar?
Below is an excellent 11 minute May 9, 2021 message by Pastor Tim Stephens who was arrested on May 16th for having dared to “assemble” the body of Christ in Canada. Pastor Stephens is the 3rd pastor to be arrested in Canada in the past few months of 2021. The other two are Pastor James Coates and Pastor Artur Pawlowski. All three who have been arrested are from the province of Alberta, Canada. For more information on them, use this link: https://holylight4u.wordpress.com/2021/02/22/persecution-pastor-imprisoned-in-canada/