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SECTION I. THE MEANING OF THE TERM CHURCH. The Greek word ékk noía, translated church, simply means an assembly. There is nothing to restrict its application to an assembly of a specific character ; though, recollecting that it is derived from ékkaleiv, to call out from, we can hardly think it right to employ it to designate a casual meeting of individuals. It properly denotes a regularly called or organized body. Its employment, indeed, Acts xix. 31, to denote the multitude tumultuously gathered together in the theatre of Ephesus, might seem, at first view, at variance with the preceding statement. Let it be remembered, however, that the assembly itself was a judicial one, how irregularly soever its members took their places in it.
In the New Testament, however, the term church is most generally restricted in its application to religious assemblies ; and within this limit it has two, and only two, distinct and undoubted significations.
First, it denotes the great assembly or congregation of redeemed and sanctified men which will meet at length in heaven. Strictly speaking, they will not constitute a church till they arrive in heaven ; they are, however, so called now by anticipation. In this sense the word church is used in the following passages :“ Feed,” said Paul to the bishops of the church at Ephesus, “the church of God,” or the Lord, i. e. the multitude to be finally redeemed by him, “which he has purchased with his own blood.” Acts xx. 28. Again, “ But ye are come to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven,” Heb. xii. 23. The reader may refer also, for further instances of the use of the word church in this sense, to Heb. ii. 12; 1 Cor. xii. 28; Col. i. 18.
Secondly. It denotes a particular assembly or congregation of persons of this description, meeting statedly for religious purposes on earth. “And so,” says the sacred historian, “ were the churches,” i. e., the particular congregations of believers which had been collected in the cities referred to in the fourth verse, “ established in the faith.” Acts xvi. 5. Again, 1 Cor. xvi. 19, “ The churches of Asia," i. e. the individual Christian congregations,“ salute you.” Again, Rom. xvi. 23, “Gaius mine host, and of the whole church,” i. e. the congregation of the believers,“ saluteth you.” Again, Acts ix. 31, “ Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria,”' &c., i. e. the various Christian congregations. The term cannot mean denominations, for surely there were not innumerable denominations of Christians in existence at those places, and at that period. Again, 1 Cor. xiv. 23, “ If, therefore, the whole church,” i. e. congregation of believers, “be come together into one place,” &c. Finally, we refer to Acts xiv. 23, “ And when they had ordained them elders in every church,” i. e. surely, congregation, &c. &c.
The word church means thus a single congregation, or the whole body of the redeemed. There are, indeed, other senses in which it is currently employed by certain religious denominations, though without, as we think, the authority of Divine revelation. Some, for example, use it to denote the material edifice, in which the assembly or congregation meets; a mode of employing the term founded on a rhetorical figure, in which the container is put for the thing contained. The prevalent use of the word in this sense is much, we think, to be regretted, since it has led multitudes to forget that a Christian church cannot consist of unconscious matter, of bricks, stone, and mortar, but of the rational and immortal beings who present their sacrifices to God within the edifice framed of such materials. Hence, the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says, “ The churches of Asia,” (could they be buildings ?) - salute you.” “ Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house," I Cor. xvi. 19. Others, again, employ the term church to denote a number of congregations, which, maintaining the same faith and order, and rendering subjection to the same eccclesiastical jurisdiction, are regarded as one body. Thus we talk of the Episcopalian church, the Presbyterian church, &c. &c. There does not, however, occur one clear undoubted instance of the use of the term in this sense in the New Testament. By the application of conjectural reasoning to certain passages, which shall be carefully examined when we treat of the government of the church, it may, perhaps, be made to appear possible to understand the term as it occurs in them in this sense; but it may also be taken in its ordinary sense, and accordingly we are bound, by an established law of criticism, to understand it in that sense. It cannot be denied, without an outrageous violation of candour, that the customary phraseology of the New Testament is at variance with the use of the word church now objected against ; or that its ordinary sense is a separate or single congregation. The sacred writers employ the plural term when they address more congregations than one. Paul wrote “to the church of God at Corinth,” but to “ the churches of Galatia ;” and John addressed himself “ to the seven churches,” i. e. congregations, not, surely, denominations, “ in Asia.”
Finally, others employ the term church to denote the office-bearers of a Christian congregation, or of a denomination, in distinction from the body of the faithful. To support the Presbyterian mode of church government, this meaning must indeed be given to the term. Nothing, however, can be more vicious than the mode of reasoning resorted to by those who thus explain it. To prove the Divine authority of Presbyterianism, the point to be established, they attach to the word church, in certain passages, a sense perfectly uncalled for,—which it does not bear in other passages, and which is, moreover, in direct contradiction to scriptural usage; for it is remarkable that, though the New Testament does not, in any other passages than those referred to, (we deny, of course, that it does even in these,) employ the term church to denote the office-bearers in contradistinction from the body of the faithful, it does use it more than once to distinguish the body from the officebearers. Thus, when Paul and Barnabus went up from Antioch to Jerusalem, we are told that, on their arrival, “they were received of the church ;” and, as if to guard us against conceiving that the term denotes here the office-bearers, the historian immediately adds, “and of the apostles and elders.” The church at Jerusalem was then the body of the faithful.
A church of Christ is not then a denomination, but a single congregation of Christians. It is an assembly, though an assembly of a specific character, having specific objects in view ; all of which will come under consideration in the subsequent pages.
In the meantime, the reader is requested to observe the wisdom developed in the application of the term ErkAnoia to such an assembly. It was in common use, we learn, among the Gentiles, who would constitute, for the most part, the Church of Christ. It very fitly distinguished Christians from the Jews, who called themselves the Synagogue; and, above all, it was congruous to the thing; since a Christian church consists of a num