It’s become a popular thing to reject the church and still claim to be a Christian. But I think that people that do that are unfamiliar with just how important the church is.
To begin with, let’s look at the work church as it appears in the New Testament. The Greek word used in the New Testament is ekklesia. It appears 118 times in the New Testament, from Matthew through Revelation. The Hayford Bible Handbook has this to say about it:
- “Used in secular Greek for an assembly of citizens and in the Septuagint for the congregation of Israel.”
- “an ancient Greek term for the people of a kingdom who are called to take their role as responsible citizens.”
- used “mostly in the Book of Acts and the writings of the apostle Paul and the General Epistles. At least ninety-two times this word refers to a local congregation. The other references [26 times] are to the whole church, or to all believers everywhere in all ages, to all who follow Christ, without respect to locality or time.”
Ekklesia is defined as a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly. In a Christian sense, it is an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting.
As part of my morning devos, I’ve been spending some of the time reading through the writings of the early church fathers. It’s not scripture like the New Testament, but it is good reading for historical purposes, and to see how the Apostles trained others. And some of it is amazing. One of the letters that really sticks out to me is Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. Ignatius was a disciple of John the Apostle, and was martyred in 107, so all of his letters were written before then. Considering that the book of Revelation was written in the 90s, some of Ignatius writings were written close to the same time as Revelation. Chapter 5 of his letter to the Ephesians really stuck out to me.
Ignatius letter to the Ephesians Chapter 5
For if I, in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop
A bishop was a priest over a city and over all the churches in that city
—I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature—how much more do I reckon you happy, who so depend on him as the Church does on the Lord Jesus, and the Lord does on God and His Father, that so all things may agree in unity! Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power that Christ stands in the midst of them,
This is interesting in that it appears that our modern interpretation of Matt 18:19-20
19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
looks like it can be traced as far back as Ignatius
how much more will the prayer of the bishop and of the whole Church, ascending up in harmony to God, prevail for the granting of all their petitions in Christ!
When 2 of you agree on earth concerning anything, think of how much more it is with the local church!
He, therefore, that separates himself from such, and does not meet in the society where sacrifices are offered, and with “the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven,” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, while he presents a mild outward appearance.
not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching
A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
He rages against all wise judgment.
Ignatius says that someone who separates himself from the church is a wolf in sheep’s clothing! Even if he presents himself in a mild outward appearance.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
Ignatius continues, and I think that his closing to chapter 5 sums it up best:
Do ye, beloved, be careful to be subject to the bishop, and the presbyters and the deacons. For he that is subject to these is obedient to Christ, who has appointed them; but he that is disobedient to these is disobedient to Christ Jesus. And “he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” For he that yields not obedience to his superiors is self-confident, quarrelsome, and proud. But “God,” says [the Scripture] “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble;” and, “The proud have greatly transgressed.” The Lord also says to the priests, “He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that heareth Me, heareth the Father that sent Me. He that despiseth you, despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me.