Monday, August 31, 2015

The Meaning of the Word Church According to ReligiousAffections.Org

Religiousaffections.org (RA) will help you discern. You should read the works by Scott Aniol, its president.  I recommend the site and most of the work done by its contributors.  It doesn't surprise me that it differs on the nature of or definition of the church, but in light of the purpose of RA, it intrigues me that it posted on the meaning of the word "church."  I want to review what Pastor David Huffstutler has written there in an article entitled, "The Meaning of the Word Church and What It Means for Us Today."

I want to evaluate the linked article for two main reasons.  First, Huffstutler presents a defense of the universal church and I want to investigate the scriptural premises provided, whether they prove his assertion.  Second, I want to diagnose the effect of the content or theology of the post on the religious affections of professing believers.

My experience with those who write about a universal church is that they assume what they don't and can't prove.  A first assumption comes in the first paragraph, last line, "Ekklesia. . ., as applied to believers in the present age, . . . refers to people who have been called out of this dying world to be part of the church, the body of Christ."  Not one verse in the Bible makes that point.  I wouldn't even call it speculation, because it's made up.  I would be happy to admit it if it were true, but it reads something into the Bible that isn't there.  One should not assume ekklesia, which means "assembly" and is used in that way exclusively, is an unassembled thing and never in time will be an assembled thing.

Hufstutler says that ekklesia is used four ways in the New Testament, two of which are never assembled and belie the meaning of the word.  The first is its usage as an assembly other than the institution Christ founded, four times in the New Testament.  The nature of ekklesia is still an assembly, a point Hufstutler should have mentioned in a post about the meaning of church.  These referenced usages key an understanding of the word, a group of people assembled for a particular purpose, how people would have understood it in that day.

The second usage for ekklesia Huffstutler says is "the universal church," terminology absent from the Bible even in descriptors.  You can't locate that universal idea anywhere, which should be tell-tale. He lists three references to prove that usage.  His fourth usage is closely related, what he calls "the entire church on earth at a given point in time."  He uses four New Testament references to buttress that point.  He briefly cites a second usage, "local church," not mentioning that of the 115 and more usages of ekklesia, the majority speak of particular churches.  Obviously, when ekklesia is used in the plural, those are assemblies and then when it is connected to a locale, it is again, an assembly there.

What some might call the more ambiguous usages of ekklesia are nothing more than generic singular nouns, referring to the church as an institution.  If you are not talking about a particular church, that doesn't change the meaning of the word "church."  A church is local only, because it is an assembly, and assemblies are always local.  There can't be a universal church.

Huffstutler's first proof text is "Ephesians 1:22-32."  There is no Ephesians 1:24-32, but guessing he meant Ephesians 1:22-23, you don't have a basis for believing that "church" in Ephesians 1 means "all believers."  There are only two grammatical usages of the singular noun in language, a particular or a generic.  It is true that there is only one church, the church, and it is local only.  Jesus is the Head of the church.  If I answer the phone, it doesn't mean that I'm answering a universal, mystical phone. That doctrine would need to be established somewhere in order to assume it some place.  If it hasn't, then we should assume that it is a generic use of the singular noun, what it would always be unless otherwise communicated, which it isn't.

Next Hufstuttler uses 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 to say “all the members of the body… baptized into one body,” proving a universal church.  What is "the body?"  If it is all believers, then Paul excludes himself later in the chapter, when he writes in verse 27, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."  Paul says the church at Corinth is "the body of Christ," excluding himself from what he calls "the body of Christ."  That alone clinches the argument that the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 is local only -- or else Paul wasn't a Christian.

The point of "one body" in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is not that there is numerically one in the entire universe, but that the body is unified where it is.  1 Corinthians teaches the unity and then diversity of a church.  Plural diversity becomes part of singular unity.  One body, many body parts.  One is not numeric one, but the oneness of each body.  That is clear through the teaching in the chapter and similar references are found all through the New Testament, like Philippians 1:27, "ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel."  "One body" in 1 Corinthians 12:13 doesn't mean numeric one any more than "one spirit" and "one mind" are numeric one in Philippians 1:27.

Then Hufstuttler references Ephesians 5:25 as a usage of the "universal church":  "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."   Two verses earlier, Paul writes, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church."  To be consistent, if "the church" is universal and invisible, then "the husband" and "the wife" both need to be universal and invisible too.  "The husband" is a generic singular noun.  "The church" is a generic singular noun.  It is not talking about a particular husband or a particular church, but in both cases, the meaning of the word doesn't change.

Christ gave Himself for "the church," but Paul also writes in Galatians 2:20 that He "gave himself for me."  Did Christ give Himself only for Paul?  We can't assume that Christ's giving Himself for the church means that the church is all believers.  And if "the church" is universal in verse 25, then "the husband" and "the wife" must be in verse 23.

Regarding the usage of 1 Corinthians 15:9 and Galatians 1:13, identical usage, at the time Paul persecuted the church, there was only one church that we know of.  Believers had been scattered, but there was only the church of Jerusalem.  Even if there were another church besides at Jerusalem, Paul was persecuting Christ's assembly, His institution.  It is either particular or generic.

1 Corinthians 7:17 doesn't prove a universal church, when Paul writes, "And so ordain I in all churches," and in 1 Corinthians 14:33, "in all churches of the saints."  Why would Paul write "churches of the saints" if "the church" means "the saints"?  That proves the opposite of what Huffstutler is writing.  According to his proposed belief, Paul would be saying, "churches of the church," but he doesn't.  "Churches" and "the saints" are not identical like Hufstuttler himself is asserting, and this is seen in the text he references.  He's seeing something there that isn't there because of his predispositions.  He's not getting his teaching from the text, but reading into it.

Huffstutler asserts the universal church teaching to get to a particular point of application in the last two paragraphs:

Theoretically, if all the true, local churches indeed belong together as the one church and body of Christ, we should be able to perfectly get along. Unfortunately, there is great divide in understanding many important passages in Scripture, which has led to scores of denominations today. The choice one is left with is to limit one’s message and increase their connections or to decrease their connections but have a high level of commonality with others by means of a confession. For the sake of practicality in relating to others and in accord with my own doctrinal convictions, I encourage opting for the latter of the two.

For those who are truly our fellow Christians, we should strive to have what level of fellowship we can. And for those who are sister churches in both cardinal doctrines and distinctives, we should strive for fellowship all the more.

The application of his universal church teaching contradicts his universal church assumption.  If the church really is universal, he says that all the churches should get along.  He's right.  The Bible doesn't teach unity among all believers.  When Paul says there should be no schism in the body, he's saying there should be no schism in a particular church.  The unity taught in scripture is in individual churches.  Each church can have it.  It isn't "theoretical," but real.  Huffstutler treats the very unity of scripture as theoretical, as though it is no more than an ideal.

As a result of Huffstutler's wrong understanding of the nature of the church, he is obviously struggling with an application.  It's impossible, so he resorts to calling the unity required in the New Testament as theoretical (if you want a non-theoretical teaching, showing what the Bible says, buy and read A Pure Church), like most of the rest of fundamentalism and evangelicalism.  The Bible is not like this in any doctrine and practice.  It doesn't offer a theoretical, impossible teaching.  Evangelicals and fundamentalists are constantly looking for the sweet spot between separation and unity in article after article after article.  They assume that you have to give a little on both unity and separation and never have biblical unity or biblical separation, but settle for a compromise between the two.  The debate and argument and articles are about where the proper line or balance is.

The idea of a "level of fellowship" isn't taught in the Bible.  The idea of "cardinal doctrines and distinctives" isn't taught.  Fellowship is like what occurs between the Father and the Son (John 17).  This isn't theoretical.  It's real.  Much of the New Testament tells us how to have that fellowship.  The assumption of the New Testament isn't that you can't have it.  Huffstutler thinks it's theoretical, because what he's teaching about the church is wrong.  The New Testament works.  If it isn't working, you aren't getting it right.  This is foundational to the only view of truth and a Christian worldview, which brings me to the application to religious affections themselves.

Religiousaffections.org can never and will never protect religious affections with the wrong ecclesiology.  Scott Aniol and his fellows there don't separate from an apostasy of religious affections.  They just talk about religious affections.  They exhort.  They warn.  They do not separate.  God separated the culture outside the ark from the inside.  He didn't leave it muddled.  God expected Israel to separate from outside culture.  The only way to preserve the right way is to separate from the wrong way.  This theoretical unity and separation will never get it done.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The idea of a "level of fellowship" isn't taught in the Bible. The idea of "cardinal doctrines and distinctives" isn't taught. Fellowship is like what occurs between the Father and the Son (John 17). This isn't theoretical. It's real. Much of the New Testament tells us how to have that fellowship. The assumption of the New Testament isn't that you can't have it. […] The New Testament works. If it isn't working, you aren't getting it right. This is foundational to the only view of truth and a Christian worldview, which brings me to the application to religious affections themselves."

Very well said!

On the idea of generic nouns. "And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5). This is clearly speaking about mankind, about every human on earth except the eight saved ones who went into the ark. One thing that helped me understand how "church" in the NT is sometimes used in the singular was seeing the use of the singular in this OT verse. Sometimes "man" means "all human beings" in a generic sense, and each one has all the characteristics of a human. I.e., the broad or generic use of a word doesn't allow it to refers to something different in nature, kind or essence. Clearly, sometimes "church" in the NT means "all the assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ." But the broad (generic) use does not change the definition of the word. That's the problem I saw with the universal church view. The definition of the universal church defines something inherently different in kind than the local church. The universal church does not have elders/pastors/bishops responsible for all allegedly in it. The universal church does not have a defined and do-able process for discipline. The universal church does not have a defined membership (although the local churches of the NT did, since it was clear who the people were that were "without" or outside of them [e.g., I Cor. 5:12]). It is extent or number that the generic use of a word changes, not nature, kind or essence.

Diakonos

Mark Schabert said...

One reason RA may have posted this article is to justify their parachurch status. RA states, “Religious Affections Ministries is accountable to a board of directors in all matters of organization, finance, and philosophy.” Although each board member is a member of local church, the ministry is not under the exclusive authority of one local church. The article does not surprise me. I applaud them for at least being honest.

I have read Aniol’s Worship in Song and appreciated much of what he said there. However, as Bro. Brandenburg stated, “Religiousaffections.org can never and will never protect religious affections with the wrong ecclesiology.” With the wrong ecclesiology in its position and practice, one needs to be on the lookout for this faulty ecclesiology bleeding into other areas, particularly in the application of truth. Only the local church is the pillar and ground of the truth.

Thanks for the post.

Daniel said...

We know from Acts 2 that there were thousands of people in the Church in Jerusalem, and we know from Josephus that the city of Jerusalem had a population of close to 2 million people. That's a big city even by modern standards.

We also know that the Church in Jerusalem did not meet in one single place. They met in homes, and perhaps a few other places, but there was not one venue where the whole Church in Jerusalem was able to meet all at once.

The Church in Jerusalem was a group of assemblies, that met in different geographical locations within the city.

I fail to see how this Church is a church in one place. I think you are wrestling with language.

Acts 2 tells us that there were people in Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire, and many thousands of them were saved on that day. 2:47 tells us that the Lord added to the Church those who were being saved, but clearly many who were saved went back to their homes in other nations. I think that they too were added to the Church. That is what the text is telling us.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Daniel,

Tell me if I'm wrong, but you do not make one argument above from scripture. You don't even make an argument from Acts 2:47, which you mention. I'm not wrestling with language. The Bible is language and I'm seeing what that language says. Wrestling it is reading something into it that isn't there. I don't do that. You mention Acts 2:47 and then make an argument that isn't there. What is there is regenerate church membership. We also already know that they they were baptized, not just regenerate, so they were regenerate and immersed church members. I can go further, but we can start there.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Mark,

Thanks. Agree.

Diakonos,

Thanks. Appreciate it.

Farmer Brown said...

Daniel said:
"We also know that the Church in Jerusalem did not meet in one single place. They met in homes, and perhaps a few other places, but there was not one venue where the whole Church in Jerusalem was able to meet all at once.

The Church in Jerusalem was a group of assemblies, that met in different geographical locations within the city."

How do we know these things? You say "We know" as though it is a fact. How do we know the things you are claiming to know?

Kent, (or anyone else) do you know why the translators did not translate "Ekklesia" as "assembly"? They did in Acts 19:32, 39, which is an excellent example of how a native Greek speaker used the word.

I have researched this and found some opinion that they did not want to offend the king, although the source of that opinion eludes me. It was in line with using baptize instead of immerse. I do not have real evidence of that, though.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Daniel,

Did you notice my response to your identical argument on the page below where you made it before?

http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2013/09/answering-david-cloud-on-church-pt-4.html


Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Farmer,

Tyndale translated ekklesia "congregation." KJV Translators didn't because King James told them not to. Yes, that would be trouble for the church of England. Church isn't wrong though, because an assembly is an assembly, any assembly. We can say "church" is a unique assembly.

George Calvas said...

It is amazing that all the times you have written on this subject, I corrected your teaching, yet you just continue to ignore my biblical points much in the same way they ignored Brother Stephen when they "stopped their ears" and "ran upon him with one accord".

All you local church only advocates continue to separate, divide and create unnecessary schisms in the body of Christ.

Let just take one example of "reading into the text" that Kent accuses others of doing.

"One body" in 1 Corinthians 12:13 doesn't mean numeric one any more than "one spirit" and "one mind" are numeric one in Philippians 1:27."

So it is not ONE body? How many wives does Jesus Christ have for HIS body? Does he have a harem of local assemblies in heaven?

It says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that "For by ONE...ONE...ONE SPIRT we are ALL baptized into ONE body...". The word Spirit is capitalized in the verse, therefore Kent, is there more than one Spirit? Are we ALL baptized into one body or are we not? It does not say we are baptized INTO THE CHURCH!

I can spend 10 pages correcting your misconceptions. In a nutshell, the church is one and it assembles locally, but can function together if we would BELIEVE THE BIBLE and correct the error. The United States is one (with a presbytery of men overseeing it), yet it has 50 states and they are organized as ONE as well as organized as MANY (with a presbytery of men overseeing it).

The church is one (with a presbytery of men overseeing it), yet it has many local assemblies (with a presbytery of men overseeing it).

If a bunch of lost people can get it and make it happen in creating the USA, why is it that you guys cannot?

Kent Brandenburg said...

George,

Let's go one at a time. Does one always mean numeric one in scripture? Does the church at Rome in Romans 15:6 have one mind and one mouth, as in one giant brain and one giant mouth? Does each person have a mind and a mouth, or is there just one, numeric one in the entire church?

George Calvas said...

"Let's go one at a time. Does one always mean numeric one in scripture? Does the church at Rome in Romans 15:6 have one mind and one mouth, as in one giant brain and one giant mouth?"

All those passages you mention (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 1,2, etc.) go beyond any local church only doctrine. Sometimes ONE means ONE church, as in ONE body, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13- Universal)and sometimes ONE means the particular assembly as part of the church (v27- local). BOTH are true. If it is not, where is the "local church at Rome" that Paul wrote found this day? How about Ephesus or the seven churches of Revelation? NONE are with us today, and for that matter, NONE of the "local churches" that Paul wrote to are in existence today!

Deal with it. It is not that difficult, but instead you FORCE your "private interpretation" where instead you should believe what is says and then fit your understanding of how the church is to function.

David Cloud wrote well when he said the following:

"In my experience, many proponents of the “local church only” doctrine try to bully people similar to the way that many Calvinists do. They want to force you into an either-or position. You are either a Calvinist or an Arminian. You are either “local church only” or “universal church.”

But I won’t be bullied in this way. I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian, local church only nor universal church by the standard definitions. I am just a Biblicist. That has been my passionate objective since the first day I was saved, and I have held to promises such as John 7:17 and 8:31-32 for encouragement that I can know the truth."

To that brethren, I say... Amen.

Kent Brandenburg said...

George,

I can understand that you and David Cloud are sensitive guys, but presenting a biblical argument isn't bullying. Claiming to be bullied isn't an argument, and you spent half your comment on it.

Here was my question for you, which you quoted: "Let's go one at a time. Does one always mean numeric one in scripture? Does the church at Rome in Romans 15:6 have one mind and one mouth, as in one giant brain and one giant mouth?"

You didn't answer it. Please reread your answer and look to see if you answered those two questions. You didn't. So I'll wait for that again. You wanted to talk about it, so it can't be bullying to expect you to answer the question.

By the way, it's not hard to be believe in a universal church. Most evangelicals and a large percentage of fundamentalists believe in one, so you're not really suffering by taking that position.

Farmer Brown said...

Kent, I think the bully stuff was a Cloud quote. Maybe you knew that, but I could not tell. I like David Cloud, but it is an odd quote.

He says he is neither local nor universal. Does that mean you believe in neither? I understand neither Calvinist nor Arminian, those are position that are based on men and their followers are menfollowers. But local or universal is not a position based on men. It is a question of which the Bible teaches, not which Great Man of God you follow.

Perhaps he means to say he is both, but I do not think so. I read that article when it came out a few years ago and could not make sense of it then. It is almost as if his position is that he will not commit to a position. Is there a third option?

George, I am trying to understand your point. What does it matter if those churches are not in existence today?

By the way, you completely disagree with the article you quoted. Your position on churches is nothing like Cloud's position.