Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Church 2

The Church 2

We have steadfastly defended the idea that Hebrews 12:22-29 constitutes the only absolute and acceptable definition of The Church.  This is the Catholic[1] Church.  This is the Orthodox[2] Church.  There is no other.

But you have come to mount Sion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, which speaks better things than that of Abel.

See that you do not refuse Him that speaks, for if they did not escape, who refused Him that spake on earth; much more, we shall not escape, if we turn away from Him that speaks from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.”

And this word, “Yet once more,” signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom, which cannot be moved.  Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.[3]

This Is The Definition of The Church.

This single passage defines, not only the constitution of The Church, but also its worship, which must be “with reverence and godly fear.”  Now we have no desire to offend anyone with this passage, but our words must be strong words, so we hope that they will not sting too much and that you will eventually grow accustomed to them because Hebrews 12:22-29 is the Word of God, and it is not subject to private human interpretation or negotiation.  It says what it says; and what it says bears the Absolute Authority of Almighty God.

We Regret All Offenses Out of Love.

Nevertheless, we are deeply sorry if we offend anyone.  We want you to know that what we write is out of deep and abiding love for The Church as Hebrews defines it, and the earnest desire for Her fullness and wholeness here on earth.  Fortunately, we can have no doubts about the status of The Church in heaven.  But, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death:” so, no matter how pathetic our earthly human behavior may be, we have an “anchor for the soul,”[4] and to this anchor we must all cling.  Better yet, we have the assurance that this anchor is fastened to us with a threefold cord, which cannot be broken.  We love The Church because we love Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Ghost; and we are striving to be as obedient to them as we know how to be.  We hope that this mutual love of our God will eventually win the day and draw us together in complete unity.

We want you to know that we write out of love for you as well, so that we may embrace you in the bonds of Christian fellowship for what you are, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are not offering to embrace the widespread apostasy of the post-Christian era, or the anything-goes theology that approves every sort of abomination and corruption known to man: these things we openly condemn.  If we offend it is out of concern that this fracturing of Christianity be ended, and the divisions between us be peacefully resolved.  Nevertheless, when we perceive the Blood of Christ active in your life, we have no concern that you are called Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or anything else.  The pure Blood of Christ and the evidence of your sincere faith already assures us that you are our brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what our differences are.

Here Is The Nature of Human Organizations.

Human organizations, like human individuals, fall into sin.  This is frequently due to the sin of a prominent leader.  However, God is fully capable of punishing such sin, and bringing about the gift or repentance, both to individuals, and to great nations.

We have only to remember the history of the Israelites to prove the certainty and universality of this truth.  The history of the Israelites does not hang upon their evil behavior alone, for God is faithful, and His rich mercy is everlasting.  How many times did the Israelites fail in the wilderness, even under the leadership of such saints as Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb.  Yet, no sooner had these faithful leaders fallen asleep in God, than the Israelites fell repeatedly into gross sin: Chushan–rishathaim; Eglon; Jabin and Sisera; Oreb and Zeeb, Zebah and Zalmunna, the four princes of the Midianites; Abimelech; the Ammonites; and the Philistines all conquered and oppressed the Israelites.  They fell in at least six cycles of gross sin.  Yet, each time God showed mercy and raised up deliverers: Othniel; Ehud and Shamgar; Deborah, Barak, and Jael; Gideon; Jotham, Tola, and Jair; Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon; Samson, Eli, and Samuel.  Finally, after the failure of Saul, God raised up David, and Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant was restored.

But even then, after Solomon there were many kings: some good, some extremely wicked.  The kingdom was divided.  Israel was dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire.  Judah was displaced to Babylon, when God deserted them.

Yet even in their despair and punishment they learned to stop serving idols.  And after the Glory of God had departed, he sent them comforters: Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.  Then finally, in the fullness of time the Christ came to save His people from their sins.

And yet we have to this very day, the promise that Good is not done with Israel.[5]

So, in the nature of earthly churches, we shall not be surprised to see them fail in sin, yet rise in repentance, for God is rich in His great mercy.  Nor will we be surprised to see these earthly churches fall in the clutches of evil leaders: false popes, false apostles, false bishops and corrupt archbishops, wicked deacons, antichrists, and Satanists.  Wherever tares are sowed among the wheat; wherever the Church is in the world, but not of it; there evil will creep in.  It is naïve to think otherwise.  The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance.  Yet, even though a church has fallen into sin, does not mean that it is lost.  These failures are part and parcel of our earthly testing.  And such churches may still rise in renewed repentance and forgiveness.

We have nothing but respect for the Roman Catholic Church.  Yet, she has stumbled many times: what of it.  She is our sister: we pray for her, we seek her best interests, and she continues to show flashes of God’s Glory in her.  She has been faithful, where other churches have failed.

We have nothing but respect for the Orthodox Church.  Yet, to suppose that her hands are perfectly clean is absurd.  All the abominations of the West abide in her: what of it.  She is our sister: we pray for her, we seek her best interests, and we freely hope for God’s absolution.  We do not continue to oppress her with railing accusations, and hard-hearted, obstinate failure to forgive.

We have respect for Protestant churches, as well.  However, the universe does not have sufficient words to describe their failures: what of it.  These are our sisters: we pray for them, even for the ones that have fallen in great evil, we seek their best interests, and we eagerly hope for their restitution.

Is The Church Flawless and Perfect?

Yes, absolutely, The Church in heaven, even with her earthly membership is perfect and flawless.  She is perfect and flawless only because Christ makes her so.[6]  There is only one perfect Church.

There are no perfect earthly churches.  No earthly church can claim uninterrupted purity.  All have sinned and fall short of God’s Glory.  Every member of every earthly church is a sinner.  The solution to this entangled web of deception is not to erase one another from our diptychs.  The solution is repentance, forgiveness, absolution, and restoration to fellowship.  We must learn to wash each other’s feet.[7]

We provide a link to a brief overview of Church history.[8]  Many such studies are available.  We agree with the basic historical construct of this study, but we disagree with its conclusion.

This particular study emphasizes the failures of the Roman Catholic Church, which are many.  Rome is an easy target.  Yet, we cannot conceive of The Church in the absence of the See of Paul and Peter.

However, the same study implies that Eastern skirts are clean.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This study draws the conclusion that the East is The Church in all its purity.  With this we disagree.

All churches on earth have been soiled by corruption; the solution is repentance, and forgiveness.  There is no room for this, we’re The Church, sort of arrogance here: this sort of hubris and pride solves nothing.  We reject the megalomania of both East and West wherever it is found.  In the words of Bilbo Baggins, “This is Madness.”  The corrupted church on earth today abides by Thorin’s rubric, “Your kind will never understand war, hobbit.  This is WAR!”[9]

Is The Church Dependent On Apostolic Succession?

Yes, Apostolic Succession is essential: but the only reliable records are kept in heaven.

Others assert that some churches are no churches because they have inadequate credentials.  The book of Judges is filled with the stories of illegitimate children, outcasts, and unwanted, who God raised up to save Israel from all his troubles.  An illegitimate child is still a child, in God’s eyes.  The early church is noted as picking up deserted, orphaned babies from fields; raising them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, when their human parents abandoned them, leaving them to die.

A baptised person, without a certificate of baptism, is still a baptized person, in God’s eyes.  God is able to raise up children for Abraham from rocks.[10]  Those who pride themselves in their titles and credentials may be surprised to find themselves cut off, and unwanted, illegitimate outcasts grafted in.[11]  Titles and credentials do not a Christian church make, but an assembly of circumcised hearts.[12]

The Church on Earth Has Its Membership in Heaven.

The definition of The Church is given quite clearly in Hebrews 12:22-29.  No one whom Christ includes in this group may be excluded by mere earthly authority.  No single earthly body, no matter how large constitutes the fullness of this Church as Hebrews defines it.  Nor can this Church be explained away as the heavenly Church Triumphant, for Hebrews 12:22 clearly says, “you have come.”  Since, indeed, we have come, Hebrews makes no distinction whatsoever between the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant, for both are One.  Hence we have the true and absolute definition of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that written in letters so large that no one can mistake their meaning.  This is the truth.  This we proclaim.  This we shout from the mountaintops.  This is the Church.

This is the Catholic Church.
This is the Orthodox Church.
There is no other Church.

We Regret the Prefixing of Adjectives to The Church.

We Regret the Prefixing of Adjectives to The Church with one exception.  We are not ashamed to call The Church, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: for indeed, She is built on such a foundation, as it stands written:

“Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in Whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: in Whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”[13]

And in that same context, it clearly declares that we are “One.”[14]

Strong Medicine is Hard to Swallow.

Again, we do not wish to offend.  However, it should be obvious to all, that as soon as we have appended words like: Independent, Orthodox, Protestant, Roman, or any number of other adjectives in common use, that we have tampered with and destroyed the definition of The Church.

Let me repeat this because it is strong medicine and hard to swallow.  Nor is there any way to sugar coat this lesson.  A wise professor once said, “Any organization that claims to be The Church, probably isn’t.”

Independent churches are not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: they are seriously divided into roughly 30,000 denominations, and ought to be considering how they might come together as loving brothers and sisters to confess “One Lord, One faith, One baptism.”[15] 

Orthodox churches are not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: they assert that they are The Church, but this assertion is preposterous, since the promise to Abraham was “to all the families of the earth.”[16] 

Protestant churches are not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: they don’t usually make assertions; instead, they hide behind some false idea of spiritual unity.[17]

Roman Catholic churches are not the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: they assert that they are The Church, but this assertion is equally preposterous, since the prophecies of Daniel to fill the whole earth cannot be denied.[18]

Indeed, all these churches put together cannot hope to fulfill the glorious totality defined by The Church.  It should be clear from this that we have a lot of work left to do, The Church is not yet complete, and we would be a lot better off if we could do this work together.

Is The Church Hierarchical?

Well yes, as a matter of fact, she is.  However, her hierarchy is one of humility and not of dominance.[19]  Every Christian has received the baptism of the Holy Ghost.  The highest-ranking church office on earth is the priesthood of the Laity.  The fundamental structure of church organization is the Collegiality of the Laity: Congregational structure.  However, such churches have every right to choose the details of their form of government.  Nevertheless, all such earthly forms must bow to the Lord Jesus Christ, their King, and build their structure on the only foundation of Apostles and Prophets.

Is The Church Liturgical?

Certainly, The Church is liturgical.  The details of that liturgy are fully specified in Revelation.  Christ opens the Book, Christ preaches the sermon, Christ conducts the baptism, Christ wages war with His enemies casting fire down upon them.  Blessed are they who are burned a little, and thereby find repentance.  We need to give more serious thought to Revelation.

Is The Church a Physical or Spiritual Union?

Assuredly, The Church is fastened together by an invisible spiritual bond.  Nevertheless, it is corrupt to maintain that the result is not physical.  The Church of Hebrews 12:22-29 is both visible and audible.  The Church of Revelation is both visible and audible.  Her Savior took on real, literal human flesh and was Crucified on a real, literal wooden cross with nails.  He is the One Whom we have touched.[20]  Saint Thomas based his faith on hard evidence.[21]  There is no room for Existentialism in The Church.  The Apostles and Prophets were real, literal people.  I am my real, literal brother’s keeper.  I am not free to say, “Depart, be warmed and filled.”[22]  When I leave the Communion Table, my obligation of love to The Church is not fulfilled: it is not ended, it has just begun.  I am bound in brotherly and sisterly love to every sincere Orthodox, Protestant, Roman, and other Christian person on earth and in heaven.  The effects of this bond are real, literal and mandatory.

To assert and hide behind the idea that The Church is an invisible, spiritual unity is a hopeless obfuscation, a cop out, a subterfuge, the avoidance of a real, literal responsibility within The Church.  They will know that we are Christians by the real, literal and tangible love we have for each other.[23]  The raw, honest kind of love that does not know how to pull punches, or to hide truth.

Compromise Only Leads to Annihilation.

I am not suggesting, not for a single moment, that we need to make compromises to get this done.  Many churches continue to use the word Christian, but are so compromised that they have in fact left the faith.  There is good reason for churches to cling to historic dogma.  There is good reason for Roman Catholics to adhere to the Magisterium.  These things protect us from gross heresy, but these things are far less than perfect.

In some respect or other, all of us are out of step with The Church in heaven, and it behooves us to hunt down our own errors and destroy them.  If we do this diligently and faithfully we will eventually come together because all of us will have taken seriously, our duty to draw closer to, and get in step with heaven.

As a starting place, we might start to listen to each other’s complaints.  If my brother has a complaint against me, maybe it has some credibility.  Maybe I have sinned against my brother in some subtle way that I don’t yet understand.  As a starting place, we might stop throwing rocks at each other.  The amount of gross disrespect floating around popular Christianity is truly amazing.

I have been blunt with you in the quest for truth.  Nevertheless, I hope you never think that I do not respect you.  The only reason I write is because of my deep love and respect for you.  The only reason I write is to seek the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  This is my Holy Grail.  Compromise can never find it.

Sowers of Discord Do Exist Among Us.

It is sad to observe, but there are elements within the churches who would not seek peace under any circumstances.  There are elements so bent on maintaining division that they would not repent if the Lord Jesus Christ Himself stood in our midst, and said to their face, “You are wrong.”  Such obstinacy is hard to comprehend and even harder to deal with.  Nevertheless, if we let it go unaddressed, like any other weed it will continue to grow, until it has taken over the whole garden.


But you have come to mount Sion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, which speaks better things than that of Abel.

See that you do not refuse Him that speaks, for if they did not escape, who refused Him that spake on earth; much more, we shall not escape, if we turn away from Him that speaks from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.”

And this word, “Yet once more,” signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom, which cannot be moved.  Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.[24]

This is the truth.  This we proclaim.  This we shout from the mountaintops.  This is the Church.

This is the Catholic Church.
This is the Orthodox Church.
There is no other Church.
This Church is without flaw or blemish.

[1] The word Catholic simply means Universal.  Hebrews 12:22-29 describes the Universal Church.  We must not give up a perfectly good word, like Catholic, simply because it carries distasteful connotations for some people.
[2] The word Orthodox simply means Right Glory, Honor, or Worship.  Hebrews 12:22-29 describes the Glory of God as it is Rightly expressed in The Church.  Again, we do not intend to give up a perfectly useful word, like Orthodox.
[3] Hebrews 12:22-29 KJV Paraphrased:
[4] Hebrews 6:19
[5] Romans 11
[6] Ephesians 5:27
[7] John 13:14 — Foot washing is a continual renewal of the Sacrament of Baptism.  It signifies the cleansing that proceeds from confession and absolution.  The Apostles are to remain accountable to one another, by maintaining the unbroken bond of forgiveness.  Earthly churches that insist on a broken bond, are playing with fire, and will be burned.  Ironically, many tracts portray The Church with all her branches severed, save one: this is an abomination.  Christ severs.  Christ grafts in again.  It is not for man to determine.  The goal of all church discipline is forgiveness and restitution; severance is an abject and bitter failure.  Yes, Judas was severed.
[9] — J. R. R. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic:
[10] Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; 19:40
[11] Romans 11:23
[12] Romans 2:29
[13] Ephesians 2:19-22
[14] Ephesians 2:14, 15, 16, and 18
[15] Ephesians 4:5
[16] Genesis 12:3
[17] Isn’t it clear from the fact that “we” are included and subject to judgement by “consuming fire” that The Church is a bodily organization, with far more than merely spiritual ties.  The resurrection of the body should tell us that even The Church in heaven is both a physical and spiritual organization.  I am my brother’s keeper on this earth, as well as in heaven, and I have no authority whatsoever to explain away my brotherly or sisterly duties using the words spiritual unity.  It is inescapable that The Church is a physical, visible entity, not merely a spiritual one.
[18] Daniel 2:35, 44
[19] Matthew 23:11
[20] John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-3
[21] John 20:28
[22] James 2:16
[23] John 13:35 — The hymn “They'll Know We Are Christians” was written by a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Peter R. Scholtes:'ll_Know_We_Are_Christians
[24] Hebrews 12:22-29 KJV Paraphrased:
[25] Ephesians 5:27

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Church 1

The Church 1

The Importance of the Question

What, exactly, is the Church?  That’s a profound and vexing question; one that I’ve puzzled over for many years, one that troubled me so deeply, over which I was thrown into a pit of despair and deep darkness, about ten years ago.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Question

You would not need to spend very much time with me nowadays, to realize that my life is largely driven by the sentence from the Nicene Creed, “We believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”  Confessional Christians usually say “I” today, but that is not true to the original confession.  (

Three hundred eighteen pastors met at Nicea in 325 AD, their primary concern was holding the Church together, while warding off heresy.  These pastors were painfully aware of the cost of discipleship, the need for Christian unity, and that they, as well as the whole Christian Church on earth were one in Christ.  They never let the word “I” escape from their mouths.  These pastors wrote a summary and prayer of what they found in their Bibles.

It took a long time to circulate this first Creed (Creed means Statement of Faith) to all the churches in the far reaches of the Roman world.  In 381 AD, a second meeting of pastors took place at Constantinople.[1]  The Creed now had the consensus of almost all Christians everywhere.  It was amended, ratified, and sent out again.

Today it stands as a monument to Christian unity.  Even so, these pastors, sometimes called The Nicene Fathers were not completely successful at holding the Church together.  The Oriental Orthodox hold a different view about the nature of Christ.[2]  Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopals, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and other confessional churches hold to this one creed even though tensions over wording[3] remain.  However, even many churches that are not creedal have written Statements of  Faith (Creeds) that are virtually identical in content to the Nicene Creed.

Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some Protestant groups all claim to be The Church.[4]  I do not know if the Oriental Orthodox make any such claim.[5]  How do we sort this tangled knot out?  I cannot answer that question for you.  I can only say how God has led me to peace in the matter and given me anything I can live with.  Here is that to which I cling.

A Foundational Biblical Definition

There is only One Church.  I fasten my entire hope concerning the Church on these three verses of Scripture, the foundational definition of Church.

“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”  (Hebrews 12:22-24 KJV)

And so, I have come in my pilgrimage to understand that there is only One Heavenly Church, of which all believers on earth are members, and with which all on earth, believers and unbelievers alike, are obliged to get in step.  To the extent that we on earth fail to engage this Church through baptism (not the mere act with water, as important as this is), or fail to get in step with this Church, we also fail at everything else to the detriment of our own lives.

If I am asked for a theological explanation of what this Church is like, I immediately consult the rest of Hebrews and learn how God talks to this Church; Who her King is; where the Glory, Ark, and sacrifice are located; about those who have gone before me by faith; and how I must proceed by faith; the necessity of regular Church attendance; and the clear mandate of discipleship.[6]

The bottom line definition.  The Church is the gathering and meeting of the disciples.  If you’re not a disciple, you’re not a Christian.  Christians, of necessity, struggle to get in step with their King, even though we all do such a sorry job of it here on earth.  Truly, we are an army of soldiers with two left feet.  Even so, our true Church membership is in Heaven.

However, if I am asked for a picture of what this Church looks like in worship; I immediately consult Revelation, which I believe is a picture of the Apostle John in Church attendance on Sunday.  John writes, “I was in the spirit on the Lord ’s Day (Revelation 1:10).”  Lord’s is the ordinary translation of Κυριακῇ (Kyriaké: means Lord’s) which is the standard Greek term for Sunday.  So I reject all the various schemes and scenarios of some doomsday Armageddon.

What I believe then, is that John came to the Church meeting on Patmos on Sunday and while he was worshiping there, had a vision of the heavenly meeting going on as well.  I suppose that Roman Catholics would call this the Beatific Vision, which is what I believe it is.  All of these things are going on around John, pretty much without regard for time, and pretty much all at the same time.  It is not that John does not see future things going on, he does.  It is not that some of these things are not terrifying, they are.  However, there is an utter folly in trying to build this scene into some sort of final plan, “in 1984 the world will end.”  This sort of thing, I see as an abuse of the purpose of the book, which I see as teaching us what is involved in worship, and how to go about it.  What is abundantly clear is that 777 trumps 666 every time; the works of man cannot overthrow the works of God.  It is important to John that his readers see Christus Victor, because terrible persecutions are coming and they must not faint; rather, they must remain constant in their worship in spite of these terrible persecutions.  In the undivided worship of Christ, they can see victory through pain and maintain a faithful witness until the Glorious end.

How Various Terms Enhance the Idea of Church

So, when Jesus used the term Church in His day, He must have in mind His heavenly gathering which He calls a πανηγúρει (panegýrey: pan is universal, a universal gathering, or Catholic gathering)[7] and an εκκλησίᾳ (ekklesia: calling out)[8] (Hebrews 12:23).  But the idea of συναγωγή (synagogue: bringing together)[9] cannot be dismissed either, since Jesus was in regular synagogue attendance with His disciples, and since Paul regularly attended synagogues to preach.

Ekklesia refers to the Greek practice of “town meetings.”[10]  Whenever anything significant took place, the citizens were called out of their houses, businesses, and daily affairs to attend to public duties: to witness, discuss, and when necessary vote.  Christians adopted the name.  The Church is called out[11] and called together for a significant purpose: namely, to worship the living God.

Synagogue is just another Greek word that describes a meeting, an official gathering-together, and everybody knows how that word refers to Jewish practice.  Paul commands this practice in Hebrews 10:25 where he uses the word επισυναγωγὴν (episynagogén: gathering together upon).[12]  The Church is most evidently what she is, when she comes together to be revealed as the One Body of Christ.  In this sense our little local meetings join with that great heavenly meeting which is always in progress.

The differences in cultural practice between a Greek town meeting and a Jewish gathering are of no special historic moment.  Both had buildings for inclement weather.  Both evidently also met outside.  It makes no difference because the book of Acts is full of reports about such meetings.  They met in the Temple, in the upper room, from house-to-house, by the river, in the homes of the wealthy, in larger buildings (Acts 20:9 – at least a three story building), in official courts (Acts 15), and elsewhere.  We also know historically that the Parthenon was converted to a Church.  So the exact hardware is not essential.[13]

The early Church, because it was an illegal organization owned no buildings, so buildings of any kind are not essential to our worship.  However, it seems prudent, especially in inclement weather to seek shelter from the elements.  When the Church became a legal organization (ca 312), its first buildings had simple rectangular, circular, or cross-shaped floor plans depending largely on the local building skills and customs.  Ceilings often resembled overturned boats, whence we get terms like nave and pulpit.

More Scriptural Architectural Evidence

What is very clear from Scripture is that the Tabernacle (A simple tent) of Moses and the Temple of Solomon were both representations of Heavenly Glory and Reality.  Our Tabernacle, our Temple, our Church is in heaven.  When synagogues were built, they mimicked the Tabernacle, or Temple architecture: that is, there was a main room called the Holy Place, and an inner room called the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, or the Oracle.  The point of all this elaborate iconography was not that God lived there.  The Psalms absolutely forbid any such idea as nonsense.  God does not dwell in temples made by hands.  While God could not possibly dwell in a Temple made with hands, the visible Glory of God, and Christ did dwell in such a Temple, “He shall suddenly come to His Temple.”

The point of all this elaborate iconography was to preach the Gospel of Christ in architectural shapes, in decorations, and in furnishings, as well as in the handling of Scripture, bloody sacrifice, and the use of incense in prayer.  All of these things preach the Heavenly Glory of the Christ to Come.  Consequently, it was entirely fitting that these things should be continued when the Church obtained legal status, and the right to own property.

The Nature of Church Activity

Having said all that, what went on inside or outside of such buildings was of far greater importance than the buildings themselves.


First of all, there is the Divine declaration, “I am your God, you are My people, and I dwell among you.”  God’s people are never far away from God.  The Shekinah Glory, the burning presence, is now placed in our hearts when we are first caused to believe.  This is our baptism.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is a baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire, for it quickly brings tribulation into our lives.  It is a work of God and not of man, which is why it is called Sacrament.  Most of the time this is accompanied by a baptism of water, as it must be, if at all possible.  This is the first definition of what it means to be Church, to be joined to God Himself in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, children should be baptized.  If the architectural remains of early baptisteries have any credibility at all, we are forced to believe (considering the meaning of household in Acts) that children were baptized, and that, by a combination of immersion and pouring.  Actually, early baptisms, as well as baptisms with the Tabernacle and Temple, went on outside of the Church or in the narthex.

Word and Communion

Once we get the idea into our heads that we are joined to Christ at hip, neck, mind, and heart, entry into the building or even outside takes on new meaning.  Church is joining Christ in His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  Church is coming with Christ from Olivet to be tried and Crucified.  The fact that Moses laid up the Holy Scriptures in the Tabernacle, and cleansed everything with sprinkled blood takes on whole new meaning, it come to life before our very eyes.  For Christ the Word of God comes bearing all His words into the Heavenly Temple, carving these very words into our lives.  Then Christ the Lamb of God comes bearing His own flesh and blood for our sins.  This is what it means to be Ekklesia, Synagogue, and Church.  His Word, Cross, and Crucifixion become our word, cross, and crucifixion.  Church is about putting self to death in order to live.

This is Church, this is how we preach the Gospel; first with our lives, and then with every expression of our lives: with our architecture, art, music, poetry, preaching, bells and smells; everything proclaims the Death and Resurrection of Christ.

The Function of the Holy Ghost in Defining Church

The activities within a building are more important than the building itself in defining Church.  By the same token, the leadership of the Holy Ghost is more important still.[14]

The Early Church

The first Church services compressed and expressed the first Pascha (Easter) week in pageantry.  Whether in a building or on the banks of a river, the early Christians were memorializing the death of Christ on the Cross, and His glorious Resurrection from the dead.  This is what Church means.  In the little entrance, reminiscent of Palm Sunday, the King of All, the Word[15] enters the Church bearing His words.  The pastor plays the part of Christ as he brings in the Gospel.  In the great entrance, reminiscent of Good Friday, the Suffering Servant enters as Sacrifice and Priest bearing His own body and blood.  Again, the pastor plays the part of Christ as he brings in the bread and wine.  Christ teaches nothing about change, He simply says, “this is my body,” “this is my blood.”

This format of Word and Sacrament dominates all Christian worship services.  The sequence of entrance, Word and preaching, entrance, Communion prevail in all known early worship services: although the evidence remains historically murky for nearly three hundred years.  In spite of this obscurity (murkiness), we believe this sequence to be accurate for two primary reasons.  First, the evidence from Acts shows us that early Christians were remembering the death and resurrection of Christ by every means practical.  Second, when the first services were recorded they remembered the death and resurrection of Christ by every means practical.  In between these two evidentiary reasons, Christians were illegal bands, often hiding and running for their lives; they didn’t get much written down.  While we may have considerable latitude in the shape of these things, some foundational principles are inescapable.  One, the Bible must be brought before the people of God and preached in a way that is clear and understandable.  Two, the Communion of the Crucifixion of Christ must be brought before the people of God so that they clearly understand the cost of discipleship, and that they are made into One Heavenly Body in His blood.  They are little Christs, etched with His Word and Stained with His Blood.  Everything about them shouts the message of Christ.

Three Ancient Worship Services Survive

Today we know of three ancient worship services stemming from, or even before the early fourth century: the Liturgy[16] of St. James, so named in honor of James the author of the book that bears his name;[17] The Liturgy of St. Basil, written by St. Basil the Great; The Liturgy of St. John, attributed to St. John Chrysostom.[18]  It is this liturgy of St. John, which is commonly found among Protestants today.  Even in non liturgical churches the rudiments of St. John’s liturgical form are easily found.


What remains constant in every format, whether from Acts or from early liturgies is the preaching of the Word and the practice of Communion in every service.  Sadly, many Christians today are being starved to death in their worship because one or the other of these essential elements is removed, and half a service is presented.  The Church, Christianity is defined by life in Christ, not by mere knowledge about Christ.  The Word must cut us, the Blood must stain us, we must be like Him.

The early Church had no problem with discipleship; being an ekklesia or a synagogue was a dangerous activity.  Spies were everywhere.  The doors or worship were barred and bolted.  When the persecutions abated in the fourth century, Christian concerns about complacency began to mount.

The early Church had no problem with evangelism; the going of the Great Commission meant leaving the Church gathering on Sunday, to live as little Christs before a broken world, into the foe, not out of the foe.  Good soldiers always run to the sound of battle, never away from it.  Relatively few Christians journeyed to far flung places.  All Christians were witnesses in their communities.

Gloriously, the Heavenly Church continues in unending praise and worship.  Sadly, we earthlings must leave this worship to go about our daily lives.  While we still abide in the bodies of this flesh, we have one goal, one objective, one purpose, to live and witness as little Christs.

This is my understanding of ekklesia, synagogue, Church.

[1] In 381 AD, Constantinople was a brand new city, founded on the site of a town named Byzantium, which is not far from Nicea in 330 AD.  It was the capitol city of the Holy Roman Empire and quickly became the largest and most prosperous city in the Roman Empire.  Although there were still persecutions to come, Christianity prevailed there until 1453 AD when the city fell to the Muslims and was renamed Istanbul.  γία Σοφία (pronounced Ayά Sofia), Holy Wisdom church was there, the place where the emperors worshipped.
[2] The Oriental Orthodox hold the Monothelitism viewpoint, which maintains that Christ has only one will (  Other Churches generally hold the Diothelitism viewpoint, which maintains that Christ has two distinct wills, one Divine will and one human will, both wills existing at the same time without mixture.  Monothelitism may have developed from the Monophysitism viewpoint, which maintains that Christ has only one nature ( as opposed to the Diophysitism viewpoint, which holds that Christ has two distinct natures, He is fully God, and He is fully man, without mixture of the two natures.  The general view is that the God the Son added a complete and distinct human nature to Himself at the Incarnation, and that this human nature remains inseparable from Him throughout eternity.  The Kenosis heresy asserts the opposing view, which is that Christ gave up His Divine nature (  Christians generally hold that Christ veiled His Divine nature, except on special occasions such as at the Transfiguration; they do not hold that Christ ever gave up His Divine nature.
[3] Even the word “essence” is contested.  Many, especially western, translations prefer the word “substance,” but this seems to imply that God has a physical, visible, tangible nature instead of an immaterial, invisible, spiritual nature.
[4] In the sense that their particular movement defines the Catholic (Universal or Whole) Church so that, all other groups, in some respect or other are heterodox (a term from building construction meaning not quite square or straight).  We hope that the ensuing discussion shows that this is simply impossible even though we have the utmost respect for many of those making such claims.
[5] The Armenian Orthodox frequently and proudly make the claim of being the first Christians.  This claim is based on the fact that Armenia is the first national entity to convert to Christianity as a whole nation.  However, by this time there were many Christians throughout Israel, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome as far as Great Britain.  Missionaries had probed deeply into Ukraine to the north, and as far east as India, possibly even China.  If the standard Church history texts are correct, there were roughly one million Christians in the Roman Empire at the end of the first century, two million by the end of the second, and three million by the end of the third century.  This rapid growth of the Church under persecution gave rise to the expression that, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  Discipleship was not a problem in the first three centuries.  Becoming a Christian was a death warrant, meant being branded as an outlaw, and during the more intense periods literally meant running for one’s life.
[6] Hebrews 1:1-2, 8-14; 4:14; 6:19-20; 7:117, 21-22; 8:1-5; 9:8, 11-12, 14, 23-24; 10:12, 25; 11:10, 13, 16, 25-26; 12:28; 13:14.  See Revelation 11:19, as well.
[7] According to Englishman’s Greek Concordance (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1970) page 585, Hebrews 12:23 is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament.  The word, γυρις, assembly is not found.  The prefix, παν, pan indicates an assembly of a whole people (i.e. Pan-American)
[8] According to Englishman’s Greek Concordance (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1970) page 227f all the occurrences in the New Testament are: Matthew 16:18; 18:17; Acts 2:47; 5:13; 7:38; 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:22, 26; 12:1, 5; 13:1; 14:23, 27; 15:3, 4, 22, 41; 16:5; 18:22; 19:32, 39, 41; 20:17, 28; Romans 16:1, 4, 5, 16, 23; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 4:17; 6:4; 7:17; 10:32; 11:16, 18, 22; 12:28; 14:4, 5, 12, 19, 23, 28, 33, 34, 35; 15:9; 16:1, 19, 19; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 8:1, 18, 19, 23, 24; 11:8, 28; 12:13; Galatians 1:2, 13, 22; Ephesians 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32; Philippians 3:6; 4:15; Colossians 1:18, 24; 4:15, 16; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 4; 1 Timothy 3:5, 15; 5:16; Philemon 2; Hebrews 2:12; 12:23; James 5:14; 3 John 6, 9, 10; Revelation 1:4, 11, 20, 20; 2:1, 7, 8, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 29; 3:1, 6, 7, 13, 14, 22; 22:16.  In Acts 19:37 KJV translates the Greek word, εροσλους, temple-robbers, as “robbers of churches”; this is unfortunate since the context reveals that pagan temples are clearly in mind.  Christians do not steal other people’s property.  Thus, everywhere in the New Testament the word Church or churches indicates a gathering of all or part of God’s believing people.
[9] According to Englishman’s Greek Concordance (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1970) page 709 all the occurrences in the New Testament are: Matthew 4:23; 6: 2, 5; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54; 23:6, 34; Mark 1:21, 23, 29, 39; 3:1; 6:2; 12:39; 13:9; Luke 4:15, 16, 20, 28, 33, 38, 44; 6:6; 7:5; 8:41; 11:43; 12:11; 13:10; 20:46; 21:12; John 6:59; 18:20; Acts 6:9; 9:2, 20; 13:5, 14, 42, 43; 14:1; Acts 15:21; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8; 22:19; 24:12; 26:11; James 2:2 (assembly); Revelation 2:9; 3:9.  The ongoing Apostolic practice of preaching in synagogues, and of disciples worshipping in synagogues indicates the the words ekklesia and synagogue are virtually interchangeable.  This simply verifies our conviction that both are patterned after the Temple in heaven
[10] Acts 19:32-41 provides a sufficient idea of the Greek “town meeting.”  Considering the difference in size between a Greek city-state and the growing magnitude of Christianity as prophesied by Daniel (2:34, 44), the Church must be seen as that Empire which overthrows all Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.  Clearly, an Empire of this size experiences many partial meetings of its membership in various different locations.  Daniel’s prophecy prefigures the Church Universal and its many local churches.  Acts 19:32-41 gives us the defining idea of Church as national citizenship, with all the duties, privileges, and responsibilities attendant upon such an honor.
[11] It is doubtful that the idea of ekklesia refers to the idea that the Church is called out of the sinful world.  This idea is clear enough from other Scripture (“Be in the world, not of the world.”), but not from the meaning of ekklesia.  In the Greek idea of things, Ekklesia is a calling out of the citizenry to exercise their responsibilities and rights of rule.  In this context, the only ones left behind were freemen, and slaves, who had no right to vote.  Any equating of the slave-class with the sinful world would be unfortunate, since most Christians were slaves.  I believe that the word slave, one of Paul’s pet names for himself and other Christians is the highest possible human honor, privilege, and rank in the Kingdom of God, it indicates everywhere in Scripture, one who preaches the Scripture of God.  This is as true of Moses as it is of us.  What chief status, to be allowed to proclaim Scripture.
[12] According to Englishman’s Greek Concordance (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1970) page 287, only found at 2 Thessalonians 2:1 and Hebrews 10:25.
[13] The Church was assembled at various places: Acts 1:4, 12 (Olivet), 13-14 (upper room); 2:1-2 (house), 41-44 (together), 46 (in the Temple and house to house); 5:12 (Solomon’s porch), 42 (in the Temple and every house); 8:1, 4-5 (scattered abroad); 16:13 (where the Jews could not afford a synagogue they met at a riverside), 15, 40 (in Lydia’s house); 20:7 (in a large building); 20:20 (house to house); 21:5 (on the shore).  Prior to the scattering, they were primarily gathering in the Temple for worship where they also evangelized.  After they were scattered, they went to synagogues for both worship and evangelism: 9:20; 13:14-15, 42-44; 14:1, 7, 21 (and to the city); 15:21; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 7-8 (Justus’s house), 19, 26; 19:8-9 (in a school).  After they were ejected from a synagogue, they met elsewhere.  The Apostles were also active at a variety of locations: 3:1, 11 (Peter and John in the Temple); 4:3, 23; 5:18-23, 25 (in and out of jail); 12:12 (Peter in and out of jail).  Paul went to a variety of locations as well: 17:19 (Areopagus or high court) 21:26 (the Temple), 40 (the Castle stairs); 22:17 (the Temple); 28:23 (lodging).  This great variety shows that no rule of architecture is essential; rather the importance of gathering is revealed.  However, it is also clear that the early Church considered that both Temple and synagogue expressed important elements of their new life in Christ, so we can see a prototypical Church architecture developing, not as a rule, but as a preference.
[14] According to Englishman’s Greek Concordance (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1970) page 633 all the occurrences of Holy Ghost in Acts are: 1:2 (Jesus gives commandments to the Apostles through the Holy Ghost), 5, 8 (Apostles to be baptized with the Holy Ghost), 16 (Holy Ghost spake by the mouth of David); 2:4, 4 (cloven fire-like tongues appeared and sat on all present, who were filled with the Holy Ghost, Who gave them utterance), 17, 18 (Spirit to be poured on all God’s male and female servants), 33 (appearance of the Holy Ghost triggered by Christ’s enthronement), 38 (receive the Holy Ghost upon baptism in the name of Jesus); 4:8 (Peter filled with the Holy Ghost speaks), 31 (all assembled were filled with the Holy Ghost and spake the Word); 5:3 (Ananias lied to the Holy Ghost), 9 (they tempted the Spirit), 32 (the witnessing Holy Ghost is given to those who obey God); 6:3, 5, 10 (Deacons were full of the Holy Ghost); 7:51 (some resist the Holy Ghost), 55 (Stephen was full of the Holy Ghost); 8:15 , 17 (Holy Ghost was received at Samaria after baptism by laying on of Apostles hands, 18, 19 (Simon sought to purchase the power of bestowing the Holy Ghost by laying on of hands), 29, 39 (the Spirit sent Philip to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch); 9:17 (Ananias lays hands on Paul when Paul is filled with the Holy Ghost), 31 (churches walked in the comfort of the Holy Ghost and multiplied); 10:19 (the Spirit spoke to Peter), 38 (God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost), 44 (the Holy Ghost fell on all that heard Peter speak), 45 (the gift of the Holy Ghost was poured on the Gentiles), 47 (they were baptized after they received the Holy Ghost); 11:12 (the Spirit bade Peter go to Caesarea), 15 (the Holy Ghost fell on the Caesareans), 16 (Jesus promised, you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost), 24 (Barnabas was full of the Holy Ghost), 28 (Agabus prophesied by the Spirit); 13:2, 4 (the Holy Ghost said, Separate Barnabas and Saul for the work), 9 (Paul was filled with the Holy Ghost), 52 (the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost); 15:8 (God gave the Holy Ghost to Gentiles), 28 (the Holy Ghost set the legal requirements for Gentiles); 16:6, 7 (the Holy Ghost prohibited Paul from entering Asia and Bithynia); 19:2, 2 (the Holy Ghost was not received after John’s baptism)), 6 (Paul laid hands on them conferring the Holy Ghost on them); 20:22 (bound in the spirit?), 23 (the Holy Ghost witnesses about Paul’s future bonds and afflictions), 28 (the Holy Ghost made overseers); 21:4 (the Spirit informs disciples that Paul should not go to Jerusalem), 11 (Agabus relates, the Holy Ghost says the Jews will bind Paul and deliver him to Gentiles); 28:25 (the Holy Ghost spake by Isaiah).
See also 5:16; 8:7 (unclean spirits); 7:59; 19:21 (Stephen’s and Paul’s human spirits); 16:16, 18 (spirit of divination); 17:16; 18:5 (Paul’s human spirit); 18:25 (Apollos was fervent in spirit); 19:12, 13, 15, 16 (evil spirits); 23:8, 9 (Sadducees do not believe in spirits) which were excluded from consideration, because they seemed irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
[15] Logos is one of the names or titles of Christ.  He, the Logos brings the Logoi to us, the Living Word brings the words that we call the written Word of God.
[16] Liturgy emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the work of Christ.  There is the Liturgy of the Word in which the life of Christ is read and preached, originally from the Old Testament; early Christians did not have a New Testament, they were busy living and writing it.  There is the Liturgy of the Body and Blood, the Communion, which guarantees that no Scripture could be completely and finally preached until it was related to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ (Luke 24:25-27, 44-49).  Nowadays we use the words liturgy and litany interchangeable, this usage is not accurate.  Litany, within the Church, refers to a list of oft-repeated prayers.
[17] It is possible that James actually wrote this liturgy himself.  This liturgy was preserved in Anglican-Episcopal practice until relatively recent times.  A few Western-rite bodies continue its use today.
[18] Chrysostom is not a name; it is a title of honor that means golden mouth.  Evidently John could preach the socks off any audience.  His sermons still stir me today.  The name alone shows that excellent, Christ centered preaching should be central to the first half of well ordered worship today.