THE BUILDING AND FUNCTION OF THE CHURCH
First, the word “church” is from the Greek, “ekklesia” (ecclesia). The ecclesia is not a building or synagogue, but it’s the people. It has to do with people and their relationship with each other and with Christ. In Rom. 16:3 “the ecclesia” was in the house of Aquila and Priscilla. The church was in their house. The edification process was taking place in their home, not because of the house itself, but because of the Spirit operating within the people/the ecclesia within the house.
All individuals today who believe the evangel of our salvation (Eph. 1:13; 1Cor. 15:1-4) belong to the ecclesia which is referred to as “the Body of Christ” (Eph. 1:23; 1Cor. 12:13). This is the ecclesia of which Paul became a dispenser in accord with the administration of the grace of God that was given to him for us, and is part of the information that completes the Word of God (Col. 1:24-27; Eph. 3:1-2).
Now the ecclesia/the Body of Christ has within it many smaller ecclesias scattered throughout the world. All such ecclesias (churches), though they are small, together, make up the ecclesia/ the Body of Christ/the complement of the One completing the all in all (Eph. 1:23). As believers today we all belong to this one Body (1Cor. 12:13; Rom. 12:5; Eph. 2:15).
Paul was a called Apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God (1Cor. 1:1), and was severed for the evangel of God (Rom. 1:1), the evangel that he described as “the evangel of uncircumcision” (Gal. 2:7-9). This is the evangel of which Paul was appointed a herald and an Apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles (2Tim. 1:11; 1Tim. 2:7).
Now since God appointed Paul as our Apostle and teacher, we need to look at how he founded churches and what he thought was important about them.
A PRACTICAL SEQUENCE
With this in mind, we will begin in Acts 14:19-23. In these verses we are given a pattern for the building and functioning of the local churches.
First, Paul proclaimed the evangel to the city (v. 21). The evangelist precedes the pastor and teacher. Individuals have to hear the evangel and believe before they receive teaching and grow in maturity.
Then after some respond to the evangel, the next step is for their souls to be established along with the encouragement for them to remain in the faith (Acts 14:22). This is the work within the local ecclesia (see Eph. 4:12-13; Gal. 6:10).
Yet what does Luke mean when he writes, “establishing the souls of the disciples”? The soul is linked to our feelings or emotions. Faith, however, is not based on feelings, but on spiritual fact. Then our faith causes our feelings to keep from being up and down like a roller coaster. Our feelings, when based on our faith, will become more steady and established. In this current administration of grace, God establishes us in accord with Paul’s evangel (Rom. 16:25).
Along with the necessity of our souls being established, we all need encouragement to be remaining in the faith (Acts 14:22). Note – “the faith” – also refers to the complete set of doctrine and instruction that the Apostle Paul received from our Lord. We are entreated to be remaining in “this faith.” Why? One reason is because as we begin to live devoutly, we shall suffer persecution and affliction. As Paul states, “through many afflictions must we be entering into the kingdom of God” (v. 22). This is another reason why we need to be established. The more established we are, the more we will be able to remain in the faith, not being tossed to and fro with every wind of teaching (Eph. 6:10-18).
Here too, when Paul mentions the kingdom of God in verse 22, he isn’t referring to the future kingdom that Israel is looking forward to when that nation once again becomes God’s covenant People. The kingdom of God that Paul is referring to has a present aspect to it. In Rom. 14:17 he defines it as “righteousness and peace and joy in holy Spirit.” Likewise, in Col. 1:13 Paul thanks the Father Who makes us competent and rescues us out of the jurisdiction of Darkness, and transports us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” These are blessings that we as believers are a part of now! Nonetheless, through many afflictions must we be entering into righteousness and peace and joy in holy Spirit.
Later when Paul writes to Timothy, he reflects back to his first missionary journey as we have recorded in Acts 13 and 14. He writes,
“Now you fully follow me in my teaching, motive, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings, such as occurred to me in Antioch, in Iconium, in Lystra: persecutions such as I undergo, and out of them all the Lord rescues me. And all who are wanting to live devoutly in Christ Jesus shall be persecuted. Yet wicked men and swindlers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2Tim. 3:10-13).
Notice the order of the cities—Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. This is the same order in which Paul passed through them in Acts 13 soon after he and Barnabas were severed by the holy Spirit (Acts 13:2). Among the things Timothy is to follow Paul in is his persecutions and sufferings such as occurred to him when he was in these cities. It is just a fact that all who live devoutly in Christ Jesus shall be persecuted, yet it is worth it, for it is through such sufferings that we also enter into righteousness and peace and joy in holy Spirit.
So then, “within the local ecclesia the believers are to be exhorted in the faith!” (“UVB” note #1377).
Third, there needs to be an emerging of elders as a means of the ecclesia perpetuating itself (Acts 14:23). Notice “they did not send young people away to seminary school to learn how to run a business. They were taught the word of God by the local ecclesia and if they were faithful and desired the office of leadership it was prayed about. If the individuals were qualified they were then appointed to office” (“UVB” note #1376).
We have an example of this in Titus. Paul had left Titus in Crete and had given him instructions—first to amend what is lacking (perhaps because they had deviated from Paul’s teaching) and then constitute elders city by city (1:5). Paul wanted a purity of doctrine and evangel proclaimed clearly. In order for this to be done, the establishing of saints was necessary and then people who were faithful had to be selected in order to perpetuate the teaching within the ecclesia.
Similar instructions were given to Timothy. Paul writes, “You, then, child of mine, be invigorated by the grace which is in Christ Jesus. And what things you hear from me through many witnesses, these commit to faithful men, who shall be competent to teach others also” (2Tim. 2:1-2).
So Timothy was to entrust others of what he heard from the Apostle Paul. Paul wanted individuals to be raised up who would be faithful and would be competent to teach others. In this way the message and teaching would be sustained. He knew he wasn’t always going to be there for these ecclesias. Therefore it was critical that others would be able to carry on the work that God had begun with him. This was on Paul’s mind when he told the elders of the ecclesia at Ephesus, “Now I am aware that, after I am out of reach, burdensome wolves will be entering among you, not sparing the flocklet. And from among yourselves will arise men, speaking perverse things to pull away disciples after themselves. Wherefore watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I cease not admonishing each one with tears. And now I am committing you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to edify and give the enjoyment of an allotment among all who have been hallowed” (Acts 20:29-32).
If the establishing of souls and faithful men and women competent to teach others were important in Paul’s day, how much more are these things necessary today? We are told to put on the panoply of God, to enable us to stand up to the stratagems of the Adversary, for it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials” (Eph. 6:11-12). “The enemy comes against us hard and the local ecclesia is the first line of defense against such attacks. As believers come together, things lacking in their lives can be set in order and they learn how to live in the status of who God made them” (Bill Petri). It is in the local ecclesia where we have the establishing of our souls taking place and we are being exhorted and encouraged. As individual members of the ecclesia/the Body of Christ, as we have occasion, we work for the good of all, yet specially for the family of the faith (Gal. 6:10), in order that we may be adjusted for the work of dispensing, for the up-building of the Body of Christ, unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man…(Eph. 4:12-13).
This is the work of the local ecclesia. As unbelievers hear and believe, they need to gather together with other saints (believers) where their souls should be in the process of being established, along with the entreaty to be remaining in the faith, and faithful men and women emerge who will be competent to teach others also. In this manner, the evangel and “type of teaching” to which we were given over (Rom. 6:17), will continually be perpetuated until Christ comes for His ecclesia—His Body (1Thess. 4:13-18).
Article by Ted McDivitt