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The Ecclesia Which Is His Body - By John H. Essex
The phrase which forms the title of this article, occurs at the end of the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Its position in this very sublime chapter of the Scriptures emphasizes its importance. It is a phrase only used by Paul, for though Jesus spoke of an ecclesia, He never referred to it as His body. In fact Jesus is recorded as making only two references to the ecclesia throughout His ministry, and both are in Matthew’s account. Mark, Luke and John have no record of the term, so it could not have been a very prominent feature of our Lord’s teachings. With Paul, however, it was quite different. He makes use of the word "ecclesia" in eleven of his thirteen letters, and in one of his letters, he uses it over twenty times.
The word "ecclesia" means "that which is called out," or a "called out company." In the Scriptures, it invariable signifies a body of people called out by God from their compatriots for a special service for Him. That is why we prefer to use the word "ecclesia" rather than its English equivalent, "church," which is very often used to designate a building of stone or brick rather than the people congregated inside, and which is also tagged to different religions, so that we have the "Roman Church," the "Anglican Church," the "Methodist Church," and many others.
By using the Greek form "ecclesia" (which has an English derivative "ecclesiastical," so that the term should not be strange to us) we may be able to eliminate all side issues connected with the word "church," and at the same time keep before our minds the fact that there must be a "calling out" in connection with its membership. No one can become a member of the ecclesia of his own volition. The call to such membership is not of ourselves, but entirely of God. Look at Romans 8, verses 28 & 29.
"Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand also to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also."
Who is doing all these things ? God! It is God, Who is working all together for good to those who are loving Him; it is God Who foreknows, Who predesignates, Who calls, Who justifies and Who glorifies. What part have we in all this ? We are the happy objects of His actions, the receivers of His favours, and the only thing in the whole passage that we are asked to do is to "love Him," Who, in fact, does all for us. Love Him, and let Him do the rest; love Him with full acquiescence so that He may work out in all its power His purpose in each of us. And what is the purpose of this call ? We have it in this same passage. "That Christ should be the Firstborn among many brethren," all of whom have been conformed to His image.
Earlier in this same chapter of Romans, Paul tells us that we have "the spirit of sonship," by which we are crying "Abba, Father." And this implies that we should also have the spirit of brotherhood, for as we are all sons of God, then we are brethren of each other. Brothers may not always agree, may not always see eye to eye, may not always show the love in each other that they should, but as long as the Father elects to call each His son, they cannot help but be brothers. It is God Who makes them brothers. We should remember this! We have many brothers whom we have never seen because they died before we were born. Are they not our brothers ? And shall we not rejoice to see them in that day when we are all caught up to meet our Lord in the air ? We have many brothers whom we shall never meet in the flesh because they live too far away. We shall see them too, in that day. And we have many brothers whom we do not meet, not because we are divided from them by time or space, but the differences of opinion. Yet if they hold fast to the fundamental truth of 1 Cor.3:11, the foundation which Paul laid, Jesus Christ, they are our brethren. No other foundation may be laid beside that which is laid, and all who build on that, whether of gold, silver or precious stones, or wood hay and stubble, are saved, even though, in the latter case it may be "as through fire." I am convinced that it would be a great mistake to regard membership of the ecclesia as being confined to those who build only one way, just as I am equally convinced that when the foregathering in the air does take place, we shall have many surprises, and the number may be far greater than at one time we may have imagined. Seeing that our salvation is made to depend entirely upon grace, and not upon any merit of ours, I would think that that grace will be displayed with a magnitude that at one time we would not have thought possible.