Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Selective Reformation pt. 5

We would all be better off if all we cared about was whether the Bible actually taught something or not. Instead, we trumped that idea with keeping together coalitions and being popular with the world. I think this is most obvious in the refusal to give serious consideration to what Scripture says about the church.

I've called this series Selective Reformation, because the Protestant Reformation was supposedly about getting everyone back to the Bible, since we now could have a Bible to read and didn't have to accept what Roman Catholicism said it was saying. Of course, Baptists still didn't have the freedom to believe and practice what they wanted, because they held no political/religious power. They didn't believe in a state church like the Protestants still did. So the Baptists were still running around for their lives, barely able to publish what Scripture taught.

The Reformers contradicted, albeit in a still somewhat confusing way, Roman Catholic salvation by works. However, they still held Catholic interpretation in eschatology and ecclesiology. Since the Reformation, many Protestants have left Catholic eschatology, moving from amillennialism to premillenialism. However, the Catholic ecclesiology still maintains its hold over most evangelicals and many fundamentalists.

Nothing illustrates the faulty ecclesiology of Protestantism more than all the twists and turns and squabbles and contradictions about unity and separation. Since God is One, so He cannot deny Himself, a true position will not be one that is full of contradictions. Neither scriptural unity nor scriptural separation can be obeyed with the Catholic ecclesiology. Both should be able to be obeyed. And the Protestant/Catholic ecclesiology contradicts itself all over the place. Further reformation is necessary. Some Protestants took one more step of reformation in their eschatology, and they need to keep this momentum going and take the next big step, maybe the biggest step, into biblical ecclesiology.

What it takes is looking at the words, seeing how they are used. That's what we are to do with the rest of the Bible, so why not do it with the passages on the church too? In part four of this series, we looked at how Jesus used the word "church." If we are going to understand what the word means, it would be a good place to start to see how the One Who started the church actually used the word. What did Jesus mean by it? And, of course, when Jesus uses "church" (ekklesia), He uses it like the word means, "assembly" or "congregation," not a nebulous, cloudy, universal something-or-other, not assembling thing.

To understand how Jesus used "church," we employ the normal means for conceiving of what words mean. We look at all His usages, and we interpret the less clear in light of the clear. The place where the context does not shed light on the exact nature of the word, we understand according to all of the places where it is clear what the word means. In every usage of the word ekklesia, as used by Jesus, except for one, we know it is an assembly or a congregation, a local only institution. That too is what the word does mean. It is how the people understood it who were hearing it in that day.

So an assembly or a congregation is how people are going to interpret "church" today too, right? Wrong. They are going to see it as a non-assembling thing. They are going to see it as an invisible, universal concept. Can this faulty concept be corrected like the bad eschatology was? I'm afraid in most instances, no. Is it because of Scripture? No, it isn't. I'll let you consider why it is that people will not move to what is obvious from what is made-up and read into the text. It is some other reason than sound hermeneutics. That's not what is being used to come to something the Bible doesn't say. How did people see, and still do, amillennialism in Scripture? Same way they see a universal church there. Same type of thing.

We stopped last time on what Jesus said. I wanted the readers to start by pondering that, wrap their brains about how Jesus used the term. That would be strangely foreign to many readers. I think that many would just stop reading what Jesus said, because it wouldn't interest them. They had a Protestant theologian tell them what they were thinking and they wouldn't want what Jesus said to get in the way of that.

What about all the other over one hundred uses of ekklesia? One of my favorite places that give the typical usage of ekklesia is 1 Corinthians 1:2:

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth

That's the start of the verse. The church of God is at Corinth. If the church was all believers, every single believer would be at Corinth. But then you read this question in the pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:5:

For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?

Does one pastor take care of every single believer in the whole world? It even says "the church," not "a church," as if "the church," the actual church, was a single congregation led by a pastor. Weird, huh? Probably because that is what it is.

See, this is how the term "church" is mainly used in the New Testament. If you go to those hundred plus usages, this is how it reads. But then you will find some other types of usages of "church" that people have hijacked for their own purposes. They really gravitate to those slightly different ones to find what they want to insert into the text. Those don't mean something different; they are just a little different type of usage. I'm going to explain what I'm writing here, but first one other related point about hermeneutics.

I've talked about this elsewhere, but I want you to think with me again about how we interpret the Bible. To understand the parts of the Bible, we first understand the whole. We take each part within the understanding of the whole, like a tentmaker would do when he began cutting up the individual panels of his tent to fit within the whole tent. Individual usages of words must consider the all the usages of the word. We don't either allow a few different usages to guide the clear understanding of the many, nor do we add all of the usages together to form some kind of cumulative meaning, a hermeneutic that is employed by the Church of Christ denomination to interpret a few baptism passages.

Those few usages of ekklesia about which I'm talking are the singular, generic usages of ekklesia. A noun is either singular or plural in number. A singular noun is either particular or generic. That's how grammar works. In a grammatical-historical interpretation, that is, a literal interpretation, we understand meaning and usage according to grammatical rules. Those are the only two choices for a singular noun. If we are conforming to grammar, we don't get to make up another usage of the singular. We only get two choices: particular or generic. Obviously when ekklesia is in the plural (41 times), it is always speaking of individual churches, no doubt. One would think that this usage alone would settle this dispute. Most of the time, when ekklesia is used in the singular, it is also speaking of a particular church, as in the following samples:

Colossians 4:16, "And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea."

1 Thessalonians 1:1, "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."

2 Thessalonians 1:1, "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

2 Timothy 4:22, "The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians, was written from Rome, when Paul was brought before Nero the second time."

Acts 8:1, "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem."

Acts 11:22, "Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch."

Alright, enough samples, but you get what I'm saying. So what are examples of the generic usage of the singular noun? I'm going to give you one right now and then talk more about this in the next installment in the series. It really isn't that difficult and I'll show you why.

Here's one of the few generic, singular usages of ekklesia in the New Testament, Ephesians 5:23. It's also popularly used as a proof text for a universal church. I want you to read it.

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

Here are the typical arguments used by supporters of a universal church, an unassembled assembly. First, Christ is the head of more than one church, more than just the church at Ephesus, so it must be something bigger. Second, Jesus is the Saviour of more than one church, so "body" must be something bigger than one church. Are you saying that Christ is just the head of the Ephesian church and the Savior only of that church? And if Christ is the head of each individual church, wouldn't that make Christ some kind of multi-headed monster?

Answers. If "the church" there is universal and invisible, then "the husband" and "the wife" in the first half of the verse must also be universal and invisible. Is there a universal, invisible husband and wife too? Crickets. "The husband" and "the wife" are classic uses of the generic singular noun. It's like saying, "I answered the phone." Which phone? Not one in particular. It's the generic usage.

Christ can be the head of each church and still not be multi-headed. To start, that is taking the metaphor of "head" and "body" way too far. Christ isn't actually a head. That's not how someone understands that word. It's easy for Jesus to be Head of every church because He is omnipresent. Are you denying the omnipresence of Christ? How can Christ never leave us or forsake us if He weren't omnipresent? He is God. In addition to that, I've got a good grammatical parallel for you over in 1 Timothy 3:12:

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

Are several deacons to be married to the same wife? Of course not. That's another example of a generic use of the singular noun.

And then as far as Jesus being the Savior of the body, He's also the Savior of single people too, not just a single church. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says that Jesus "gave himself for me." Did Jesus give Himself only for Paul? Of course not.

In addition to those answers, the word "church" means "assembly," so it must be talking about an assembly, not something that doesn't assemble. And then the term "body" would be used because it also conveys something local only. A body is something meeting in one place, which is why that metaphor would be used for the church.

This is just plain meaning of the term "church." The generic singular usages of ekklesia do not pose any unique problem for understanding the term. But we'll talk more about this in the next post in this series.


William Dudding said...

When Jesus said "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

What did he mean if it is not in a universal sense?

If it is only speaking of the local church, then he's not talking about people, but rather an idea of a local assembly. Which brings up the question...which one? If the "church" here means all "individual local churches" then you have a universal church again. How do you get around that?

Kent Brandenburg said...

There is only a particular or generic singular noun. There is no universal sense. That universal sense is what defies grammar, because it is not an actual usage of the singular noun. This mystical, platonic sense of a singular noun contradicts grammar---Greek, English, whatever language.

An assembly (the meaning of ekklesia) is local only. The generic use of the singular noun is not the idea of anything. It is still an assembly, just like the phone is still a phone in the above illustration. If I told you we drove the car, it's still a car. Like "the husband" and "the wife" are also both local in Eph 5:23, so is the church. That is a perfect example of how to understand Matthew 16:18.

Jesus used ekklesia 22 times, 21 of which are clearly local only. The other time, which is Matthew 16:18 should be interpreted in the light of the clear. And even then, an assembly is still an assembly.

It really is a matter of limiting one's self to the only possible usage of a singular noun. If not, then we are doing what Catholicism does, and that is spiritualizing or allegorizing the meaning of words with no grammatical basis. Jesus would edify (oikodomeo) His assembly. What is His assembly? The one which follows Him.

Gary Webb said...

If you are having trouble grasping Matthew 16:18, just insert the word "assembly" for "church". Jesus is going to build His assembly, whether it is in Carrboro, North Carolina, or El Sobrante, CA or wherever. When Jesus spoke those words there was only one "my assembly" - the one He was building [oikodomew] right then.

Don Johnson said...

An assembly (the meaning of ekklesia) is local only. The generic use of the singular noun is not the idea of anything.

Kent, does your church exist when it is not assembled? Must a church be assembled in order to exist?

An assembly that is called will not meet until the appointed time. Is it therefore not an assembly until it meets?

What is it that will meet when the trumpet sounds?

Of course, I know you've heard all that before.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Don,

I don't mind questions and it doesn't matter if I've heard it before. Thanks for asking.

Ekklesiai did meet on a regular basis to govern on the earth. For instance, Israel was a congregation in the Old Testament and we don't make Israel universal and invisible. We assume that assembly or congregation is a meeting or it wouldn't be a congregation, but would be given a different term. That would be how people would have understood the word who were hearing it in that day. The universal, invisible idea is not moved forward in the Bible, not defined, not shown.

If that idea, that the church was invisible and universal, because it would be meeting in heaven in the eternal state, or in heaven during the tribulation period, was somewhere in the Bible, that would be a good argument. It isn't in the Bible though. The best argument for the universal church is to defy grammar by transforming a generic singular noun into an invented platonic, Augustinian spiritualized thing.