CALLED - OUT - ONES
(The Church or Assembly)
The word ek-klesia - nearly always translated ‘church’ in the Authorized Version of the Bible - was originally a word, that meant a lawful assembly in a free Greek city of all those who possessed the right of citizenship, for the transaction of public affairs. (See Trench, Greek Synonyms).
When Paul claimed to be a ‘Roman,’ he meant that he possessed this citizenship, and although he was a Jew, and a citizen of Tarsus, he was also a ‘Roman citizen’ and had the right to take part in any assembly (ek-klesia) of Roman citizens; as well as giving him other privileges. As far as we know Peter or John had not this citizenship, and the Chief Captain of the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem told Paul that he obtained this citizenship "with a great sum." But Paul could reply, "But I was born free." It was a very great privilege to have this citizenship.
When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, this word ek-klesia was used to translate the Hebrew word meaning the ‘congregation’ of Israel, and so in this way prepared the word for use in the things of God; and when the Lord Jesus began to tell His disciples about the Church that He was about to build, He Himself chose this word to describe it (Mt. 16:18, 18:17). These are the only places in the Gospels where we find this word, but it appears many times in Acts, and over and over again in the Epistles and Revelation.
The first time it is used in the New Testament (Mt. 18:18) is very striking: "Upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Many times have they sought to do so; but they have never succeeded. As we have seen, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself chose this word to describe it, so we should give the more earnest heed to seek to learn the lessons that He would teach us through it.
You will notice that the word ek-klesia is made up of two words: the first is ek, which is like ‘ex’ in our word ‘exit,’ and means ‘from, out of, away from.’ The second part of the word is klesia, which is from the word kaleo, meaning, ‘I call.’ Indeed one may recognize the root of our English word ‘call’ in it. So the whole word means, "called-out-ones," with the emphasis on ‘called.’ Paul wrote to the Assembly at Rome, "Ye also are the called of Jesus Christ" (Ro. 1:6), and he tells them they are "saints by calling." See note in New Translation.
The one who called out the citizens in a Greek city to the assembly was the herald, ho kerux, and this is the very word that the Holy Spirit uses for the one who heralds, or proclaims, or preaches, the Good News, the Gospel, as we may see in 1 Ti. 2:7 and 2 Ti. 1:1, "I have been appointed a herald (kerux)." See New Translation. The one who preaches the Gospel is truly a Herald of Glad Tidings, sent out by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he calls people unto Christ, who makes them free, calls them out from this world, and makes them citizens of Heaven; and they become part of the Church, or Assembly of God.
But you will recall that in a Greek city not all had the rights and privileges of the ek-klesia, the Assembly, but those who were free citizens, and had not lost their citizenship; these only formed part of that Assembly. And so it is today in the Assembly of God. Only those who are citizens of Heaven (Ph. 3:20) belong to this Assembly; and these heavenly citizens are free, "Ye are called unto freedom" (Ga. 5:13).
But, sad to say, there are today, as in days of old, those who have lost their right to be part, openly, of that Assembly, as it is gathered unto Christ the Lord. Sin has come in, and like the man in 1 Corinthians 5, some have had to be put away from that Assembly.
How wondrously this word ek-klesia describes the true Church of God today - called out by the herald of the Gospel; called out from the world, for the one who answers this call is no longer of the world, even as Christ their Lord is not of the world (Jn. 17.16); gathered together unto the One we love, our Lord Jesus Christ; and so we form part of the Assembly, or Church of God.
‘Assembly’ is a better translation of ek-klesia than ‘congregation,’ for congregation has in it the meaning of to congregate, or come together, of one’s own voluntary will; whereas ek-klesia emphasizes the call that brings them together; God’s own call, through the herald of Jesus Christ our Lord. In Acts 19, we find this word three times translated ‘assembly’ in our Authorized Version.
But notice further: there was but one Roman Empire, with the Emperor at its head, and you may see that Paul’s Roman citizenship was recognized without question, regardless of the place in which he claimed it: Philippi or Jerusalem, it made no difference. The one Roman Empire linked together into one every Roman citizen in the whole Roman Empire. (Acts 16:37; 22:25-28). Even so, there is but one true Church of God, with the Lord Jesus Christ as its Head, and every true believer in the Lord Jesus, every one who has heard the call of the herald, and obeyed, belongs to that Church, or Assembly of God, quite regardless of place and race and language: they all form one body with Christ the Head. As there was but one Roman Empire, so there is but one Church of God (compare Mt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22; 5:23, and other Scriptures). And just as the Assembly of Roman citizens in any one city was recognized equally as representative of the whole Roman Empire - the Roman Empire in miniature, perhaps we might say - so the Assembly of true Christians in any one place represents the whole Assembly of God, the world over: and every true believer in the Lord Jesus in any one place, belongs to the Assembly of God in that place, even though he may not realize this, nor obey the call that calls him to that assembly.
The Scriptures speak of "the Church of God which is at Corinth," or "the Church of the Thessalonians." This does not mean there are many Churches of God, independent one of another, but each individual church is representative of the whole. In 1 Co. 15:9, Paul tells us, "I persecuted the church of God." He persecuted the church (or assembly) at Jerusalem, but then he tells us, "I persecuted them even unto strange cities" (Acts 26:10,11). Here we may see that all the true Christians in Jerusalem and those in the strange cities, all together formed "the church of God." It is but one ek-klesia, but one Church; and every blood-bought soul throughout the whole world is part of that one church.
We read of great gatherings almost every day. People gather together to help some cause they love and admire. They gather together to a Cause, to a Doctrine, for a Purpose; but how different such a gathering is to those who are gathered together unto a living person in their midst, whom they love.
You will note that the word we propose to consider is really made up of three words; and the second and third together, sunagoge, make a very common English word: "Synagogue." One is the Greek way, the other the English way of spelling the same word. As you may guess, it really means "A-Gathering-Together," and in this way it is often used in the Greek Old Testament. In the New Testament it has generally come to mean the place where they gathered. And today the Jews gather together in the Synagogues to hear the Law and the Prophets and to pray. This is "A-Gathering-Together," but not "A-Gathering-Together-Unto" any loved and living person. All over the world we hear of religious meetings of one kind or another, which for the most part are "Gatherings-Together," but not "Gatherings-Together-Unto" one they love. It is the living Person we love, unto whom we gather, that makes the difference.
This word, epi-sun-agoge, a "Gathering-Together-Unto," as a noun, is only used twice in the Greek New Testament; but the verb is used seven or eight times. We find it first in Matthew 23:37, in which verse it occurs twice: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem how often would I have gathered thy children together unto (Myself) even as a hen gathers together her chickens unto (herself) under her wings, and ye would not."
This, the first time the word is used, beautifully illustrates its meaning. We have all heard the mother-hen give that special little cluck that calls the little chicks - calls them, where? Calls them unto herself. That is just the thought in this lovely word. You may look up the other places where we find this verb, all of which, you will note, are in the Gospels, telling of our Lord down here on earth (Mt. 24:31; Mk. 1:33, 13:27; Lk. 12:1, 13:34, and perhaps 17:37; but the reading here is, I believe doubtful). If you examine these Scriptures, I think you will find that all, except the last, refer to gathering together unto our beloved Lord and Savior. CHRIST, and CHRIST alone, is the Object and Centre of our gathering. May the Lord help us to bear this in mind when we come together to remember our Lord’s death; it is not only a "gathering together," (the synagogue was that), but a Gathering Together Unto the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Many today gather together unto a Doctrine, such as baptism; others gather together unto a great leader, as Luther or Wesley; others to a Form of Worship or Church Government; or to a National Church. Such gatherings have no right to claim they are gathered together unto Christ, and Christ alone.
But let us look a little at the two Scriptures (and only two) where we find this word as a noun. The first is in 2 Th. 2:1, "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled." Here this word tells us of that great gathering in the air, described in 1 Th. 4:13-18, and in 1 Co. 15:51-57, when all the true believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, whether living or sleeping, shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. What a gathering together that will be, and all unto Him! Not one saint, from the thief on the cross to the last one brought to the Savior before He comes again, will be missing then; all will be gathered together unto their Lord, and He will be the Centre, the only Centre and Object, of that vast throng. And, note, the One unto Whom we are gathered is not left to be understood, (as it is in some cases), but is plainly told us - "unto Him" - unto the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The archangel will be there, and will utter his voice: but he is not the Centre or Object, the One to whom that vast throng is gathered! No! It is unto the Lord Himself, the Lord alone, He is the Centre of all: "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout." The Lord Himself is our only Object and Centre then.
Who would be willing to miss that meeting in the air, with the Lord Himself in the midst? Who then, at that moment, will want any other centre, any other object, than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Why any other centre, any other object, now?
The only other place where we find this word is in Hebrews 10:25, "Not forsaking the gathering-together-unto (Him) of yourselves, as the manner is with some." This tells us of our gathering together unto Himself down here on this earth, in the present day; just as the other occasion on which this word was used, told us of that mighty gathering together unto Him in that coming day, that gathering together unto Him in the air. How amazingly sweet that the Spirit of God should choose exactly the same word for each of these gatherings! Thus the Lord tells us that this gathering together unto ‘My Name’, as we get in Mt. 18:20 (for almost the same words are used), is, in His sight, the same as that wondrous gathering together unto Him in the air.
And in both these gatherings He promises to be there. In the one, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout," and in the other, "There am I in the midst of them." It is the presence of the living Lord we love that makes all the difference - the one down here, the other in the air - but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself present in each case: His presence makes these meetings different to all other meetings that can be arranged by men.
Very likely today that meeting is held in some upper room, or down a back street, or in a private house, as in New Testament days. Adornments are not there. The organ and the choir of the world, or even the music of Old Testament days, are all missing. It may be there are only "two or three" present, but, dear Reader, do not scorn it, for in the sight of God, it is just as truly a gathering-together-unto the Lord Jesus as is that glorious meeting in the air, with countless myriads, from the grave and from the earth; and HE HIMSELF in all His glory, the visible Centre of that mighty throng. Then we shall see Him with our own eyes for the first time: and through that sight, we shall be changed to be "like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
It is amazing, is it not, that the Holy Spirit chooses exactly the same word for each of these gatherings? It tells us that the Lord Himself is just as truly present in that bare upper room with the despised two or three, as He is visibly present in that glorious gathering to which we all look forward with hope and joy.
And just one word more. The Holy Spirit adds this admonition, "And so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Beloved, do we not see "the Day approaching" now? Never was "the Day" so near as in our day! May you and I love that blessed place where Jesus Himself is in the midst, and love and treasure it the more as we see the Day approaching now. May other gatherings-together lose their attraction as we find an irresistible attraction in that "GATHERING-TOGETHER-UNTO HIM"!!