Hebrews 10:19-25 (KJV) reads:
“19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Christian community and fellowship are such important things. Since these words are often pretty synonymous, let me just clarify a little. I mean meeting together and, more than that, becoming one with another, just as we are one with Christ. Positionally we are one with each other and Christ through the adoption that was made possible by His Sacrifice and the Father’s Grace, which the Spirit confirms in our hearts, bearing witness of the eternal truth.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13, KJV)
“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6, KJV)
This is, if you like, our ‘legal status’. A family is always a family by blood: it is a fact of history that your parents had you and your siblings – you cannot change that. But a family is only close when people spend meaningful time together, when they come to know and like each other; when they understand each other; and when they love each other – even to the point of sacrifice.
We must also remember that we are no ordinary family. Look again at the passage from Hebrews 10. We are to have fellowship with each other so that we may provoke each other to good works (as prompted by the Holy Spirit) and to encourage each other as the Day of the Lord draws near. What is this Day? It is the Day of Revelation: Christ Jesus, King of all Creation, the Firstborn from the Dead, will be revealed in glory, and we shall be revealed as sons of God, raised in the glory of the heavenly, resurrection body. It will also be a revelation of righteousness, sin, and judgement. Not for nothing is it called the Day of Wrath (Dies Irae).
The linguists among you will know that the word ‘church’ (Old English: ‘cirice’) is derived from the Greek adjective κυριακη (kyriake) which means ‘of the Lord’. Κυριος (kyrios) means ‘Lord’ in Greek and is the standard term used to translate Adonai and YHWH (Jehovah), terms used in reference to God in the Hebrew Bible. In classical Greek κυριος is actually an adjective and means something like ‘sovereign/absolute’. It is used in reference to laws, meaning they have absolute authority.
The word translated ‘church’ in the New Testament is εκκλησια (ekklesia). It means ‘assembly’ – people called out of their normal activities to meet for a particular purpose. From this word the Romance languages derive their word for church (e.g. French: église), since Latin just imported this Greek word for church purposes rather coming up with a word of its own. Thus, through Latinization/Romanization, we have ‘ecclesia’, and from it words such as ‘ecclesiastic’.
Synagogue also comes from Greek (συναγωγη) and it has a similar meaning to ekklesia. It means people led or gathered together, often for a particular purpose. Thus when Jews first started meeting in ‘synagogues’ they were fulfilling the commandment (adapted for their changed circumstances): “Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13, KJV)
That being said, there is a Latin word that is equivalent to ekklesia and synagoge (synagogue) and that is ‘congregatio’, whence our word congregation. Congregatio means a gathering together of people (often for a specific purpose – e.g. voting). The Latin word for flock or herd (animals) is ‘grex’, which is really the greg stem plus S (g+s = x) to make it nominative singular (this S is a standard ending for 3rd declension nouns).
Εκκλησια, lest anyone think it a purely New Testament word, is found in abundance in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, and in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Old Testament. Next time you read from the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and you come across a phrase like ‘the Assembly’ or ‘the Assembly of the Lord’, dollars to donuts you’re reading ekklesia. The phrase could be rendered ‘church’. This is why Catholics such as Servus Fidelis and Chalcedon451 refer to the ‘Old Testament Church’ or the ‘Old Testament Congregation’. They are acknowledging that the New Testament Church is a continuation of God’s pattern and purposes as revealed in the Old Testament.
Now, lest anyone think that I adhere to Replacement Theology, let me state again that I am a Christian Zionist. I do not believe God has broken his promises to Abraham. God does not lie and He does not break His promises. A German Keiser once asked Bismarck what the proof was that God exists. Bismarck replied, ‘The Jews, Sire, the Jews.’ God has preserved them and always will. One of the purposes of the New Testament Church is to provoke the Jews to jealousy, to bring them back to God:
“I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” (Romans 11:11-12)
There is coming a day when the House of Israel will acknowledge that Yeshua is the promised Messiah:
“And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:9-10, KJV)
Indeed, it is a sign of the times that more Jews have come to Christ in this century and the last than in the many intervening centuries between the very Jewish early Church and our own times.
In this age, then, we are the εκκλησια κυριακη, ‘the Assembly of the Lord’. Just as the Israelites assembled to hear the Word of the Lord and to worship Him, so Christians assemble, aided by the Holy Spirit and enlightened by the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
How we assemble is another matter. The Church fundamentally is people. Those who seek God will find Him and other like-minded people. How they choose to meet is up to them and the Holy Spirit. Church is where the people are. It could be what we conventionally call ‘church’ on a Sunday morning or it could be me having fellowship with a dear Catholic friend of mine on a Wednesday morning when we volunteer at our local charity shop. The important thing is that we should have openness, fellowship, and love with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do not cut yourself off from the Assembly of the Lord, from the Lord’s Family.