As Christians, the Church is a vital part of our identity and commission on this earth. In recent years, I have done multiple studies on the identity of the Church, and through this journey the Lord has gripped me with much deeper conviction on the subject. I believe that if we gain a right perspective on this, we will become much more effective in our lives and ministries.
Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?[c] Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. -Matthew 16:5-12
In John 6, Jesus gives one of the most offensive sermons of His earthly ministry, and as a result, many turned away from Him. The testimony of Jesus as the ‘Bread of Life’ brought on the reproach of the Pharisees. Reminding the disciples of this, Jesus tells them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. This, as the disciples understood, was not truly the leaven of bread, but the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
I believe it was very intentional that the next few verses of Matthew 16 are written after the reminder of this revelation. To Matthew, it would be very important to testify to the Jews that the institution of the Church would not be founded on the revelation of Christ in the context of the Pharisee’s brand of Judaism, but that it would be founded upon the revelation of Christ in context to Old Testament Law. Any revelation, understanding, doctrine, or truth of any sort must be understood through this lens: Jesus is the fulfillment and the Messiah of the Father’s law. He is not the fulfillment of the laws of man. He is the faithful witness of His Father in heaven. Jesus preached the one and only way for salvation. For the Jews to take on the identity of the Church, they would need to denounce the doctrine of the Pharisees. As for us who are not Jewish, I believe this revelation is important because we do not become Christian by adhering to the law as a means of salvation. Rather, we receive the law in its fullness, that we might be convicted of our sins and receive the One, Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of the law.
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed[d] in heaven.” -Matthew 16:13-19
The Church is built upon the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The gates of hell will not prevail over a church who rightly answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” This is such a beautiful truth! Upon this revelation we receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and this beloved, gives us unbelievably great insight into what the Church is, and what it should be doing.
I believe it is vital to understand the importance of the Church being founded on the revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the preeminent goal of everything we are, and everything we do. Our purpose in the simplest form is to know Christ and to make Him known.
Upon the foundation of this basic and vital truth we are able to build our understanding of the identity of the Church. The word church is actually borrowed from a very well understood secular word of the time: ekklesia. We must understand that when Jesus uses secular words to reveal heavenly truths, we must not get these truths confused with human ideas. The Greek word ekklesia comes from two words: ek, meaning out, and kale, meaning to call. An ekklesia or ‘calling out’ was not just an assembly. The words agora and paneguris, as well as heorte, koinon, thiasos, sunagoge and sunago can all mean ‘an assembly’. The word ekklesia was a Greek political term, not a religious term. In classical Greek, ‘ekklesia’ meant “an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly.”1
As I stated before, the heavenly intention of the word is more important than the secular use. Even so, the use of this Greek word highlights that we need to understand that the usage of the word church, or ekklesia, does not simply mean that the church is called to assemble. We are called to bind and loose (according to Matt 16:19), believing that whatever is accomplished on earth is also accomplished in heaven.
Well what is that exactly?
Jesus used a political term to define the Church. The spiritual meaning of this word describes us as a political assembly of those who are called out. Those who believe that Jesus isn’t political need to consider that they may be missing something very vital to the essentials of Christianity. Jesus is a real king, one who will return to the earth one day to rule over every nation. This He will do in His physical body, executing (legislating) justice and righteousness from Jerusalem. When Jesus speaks of ‘binding and loosing’, He is calling the Church to take their governmental authority on earth, and when doing so, “they will be seated with Him in heavenly places“. When we execute this authority, we are actually accomplishing something of eternal significance in heaven and on earth at the same time! This is the calling upon the corporate body of Christ.
Whenever we assemble, the primary purpose of your gathering is to legislate the truths and decrees of heaven. These truths and decrees are firmly laid out in Scripture, which exhorts us all to become diligent students of the word. We need to have a Scriptural understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom. If we do not, how are we able to agree with and declare God’s will? On another note, how do we effectively bind and loose when our Churches are centered around the preaching and prayers of only a few? In the Greek Ekklesia, all classes of people were able to contribute so long as they did not hold debt, prostitute themselves, beat their families, or fail to provide for their children. In Jesus’ Ekklesia, there are no debtors to God, for the cross cleanses us of our debt to Him. If we repent, prostitution (literally or idolatry in a figurative sense), domestic violence, and failing to provide for our families are all forgiven so long as we sin no more in these most vital areas. This means that all, not a select few, are called into service in the Ekklesia. This is what Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 14:26.
Isaiah declared that the House of the Lord would be a house of prayer for all nations. (Isaiah 56:7) If the Ekklesia, the house of God, is also a house of prayer for all nations, then I believe this gives us the best context for understanding how to incorporate the whole ekklesia into the ministry of binding and loosing. Intercession is when we ‘stand in the gap’ between heaven and earth, declaring God’s promises and justice. In the Greek Ekklesia, the prytaneis (leaders) would establish order to the meetings so that the people could effectively legislate. The prytaneis who were paid, were paid on the basis that they could ensure the participation of the poor. I believe that also reflects the spiritual duty of our pastors and leaders to cultivate an order that best utilizes the gifts and prayers of the saints, from the greatest to the least. This order doesn’t need to be the same in every church or denomination, but it must be present. I believe there are many different, equally valid expressions of church, but the goal to equip and release the saints must remain the same.
As Christians, we are always at war with the prince of this world. The Ekklesia is intended to be a place where we stand in corporate unity, using the Scriptures and the Testimony of Jesus (biblical prophecy), to encourage and strengthen one another. We are called to worship God because He is worthy, and because worship is the purest form of Spiritual warfare. In the Ekklesia we are to pray for God’s Kingdom and justice to be released on earth. The war doesn’t stop until Jesus makes an end of our enemy. Our idea of church must be one of an organized, governing militia, who’s weapons are not carnal, but mighty in God.
As we pursue to live out the identity of the Church, we must be wary of the teachings that lead us astray from these truths, as these are not the doctrines of God, but of man. We may not have Jewish Pharisees in our day, but us “Gentiles” have come up with some pretty silly ideas as well.
Lastly, we have been given the call to serve one another and preserve unity whenever possible. There is no Christian doctrine that supports rebellion or disrespect to our leaders. Jesus had the authority to confront the Pharisees because He had been given authority from His Father in heaven. Furthermore, He demonstrated His authority by laying down His life as a ransom, that He might even save some who first rejected Him (the apostle Paul comes to mind). We must consider our sincerity for the salvation and freedom of others when we make a rebuke. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Let us be those of unity according to the grace of Christ.
Beloved, you are the government of heaven, a kingdom of priests, and the servants of the Most High God. Jesus is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. This a political Gospel, and the Kingdom of God shall come out of heaven and crush every other government.
Grace and courage to you through Christ Jesus our Lord,
-J. S. Marek
Footnote 1: Liddell and Scott define ekklesia as “an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly.” [R. Scott, and H.G. Liddell, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 206.] Thayer’s lexicon says, “an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating” [J. H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 196]. Trench gives the meaning as “the lawful assembly in a free Greek city of all those possessed of the rights of citizenship, for the transaction of public affairs” [R.C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, 7th ed., pp. 1-2]. Seyffert’s dictionary states, “The assembly of the people, which in Greek cities had the power of final decision in public affairs” [Oskar Seyffert, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, pp. 202-203].From “fully after the LORD” by Steve Flinchum http://www.bryanstation.com/flinchum-fully.htm