Thursday, September 4, 2014

Not a Numbers Game

John Hammett, in Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline, writes:
“At least 13 [usages of ekklesia] seem to refer clearly to the church in a universal sense, as encompassing all the redeemed of all the ages. . . . But the New Testament pattern of usage indicates that we should think of the church primarily in terms of a local, visible assembly, for that is how the word is overwhelmingly used.”
It seems like I hear this kind of argument a lot, but I’m not sure it really shakes out. This isn’t a numbers game. Just because ekklesia is most often used in Scripture to denote a local assembly, doesn’t necessarily mean we should think of the church primarily in local terms. I can understand why that might seem reasonable at first blush, and there may be an element of truth in there somewhere, but I think the argument misses something important.

Local churches are visible expressions of the universal church, which means that the universal nature of the church is logically prior to its local nature. In other words, the church is universal before it is local. Furthermore, the local church will eventually become obsolete and pass away, while the universal church remains for all time. Thus, the church should be understood primarily (i.e. in its most prime sense) as universal, rather than local.

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