Called Out vs. Gathered--(Ekklesia vs. Sunagoge)
I have some difficulty with the logic or reasoning; “If it does …, then ...,” and “If it does not …, then ....” This reasoning is based on a binary thinking; “If you are with us, then it is good,” and “If you are not with us, then it is bad.” This kind of approach makes it impossible to have a discussion and creates divisions. This is a general statement.
Are we being confused with “Ekklesia” and “Sunagoge”? The literal meaning of the Greek word EKKLESIA is “Called out,” and SUNAGOGE is “Gathered together.” In KJV, EKKLESIA is translated as ‘assembly’ three (3) times and as “church” 112 times. At the same time, SUNAGOGE is translated as ‘assembly’ once (1), as ‘congregation’ once (1), and as ‘synagogue’ 55 times.
When Christ said that He will build the assembly the word used is EKKLESIA. This word appears in the New Testament about 115 times. In KJV, it is translated as ‘assembly’ in three (3) places and as ‘Church’ in 112 places. The same Greek word is also used for unruly and unlawful gathering of people as well as lawfully designated groups. This is what we read in Acts 19:32, 39, and 41. In Matthew 16:18 the Lord Jesus Christ said that He will build the EKKLESIA. When He uttered those words, He said that as a future event and it was indicated by the expression, “I will build.” That EKKLESIA did not exist at that moment, when He made that statement. We have to remember which group is mentioned as EKKLESIA when we read the Scriptures. Is that about a called out people from the past, like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, we read in Acts 7:38? Christ was not talking about that group of people who were called out of Egypt, because He was using a future tense when talking to His disciples who were the children of Israel. Is that about the unruly people mentioned in Acts 19? Of course not, because they were not called out by Christ to be the EKKLESIA that He builds. They were a group of unruly people who were called out to be against the Apostles and their work. Let us limit our discussion to the one Christ said that He is going to build, in Matthew 16. What He told His disciples, as written in Matthew 16:18 is about something that He will ‘call out’ to be built in the future. He said, “… I will build My EKKLESIA, ….” In other words, “… I will build my called out, ….” We usually refer this as the Assembly or the Church.
This act of building the EKKLESIA started on this earth on the day of Pentecost and will end at the time of rapture. This is the complete Assembly or Ekklesia mentioned in Hebrew 12:23. In 20014, we could say that there is a group of “Called out” people on this earth, which is the equivalent to the one that was on earth at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. The group of ‘called out’ people, on the earth, by Christ in 2014 is the cross section of all those who are ‘called out’ by Christ as He said in Matthew 16.
We also read about assemblies at various locations. This is also true at the time of the apostles, as well as in the time in which we live. In all of these we are members, because it is Christ who called us out of this world and it is God who took us out of the nations.
We also read that God added daily to the assembly, God gave the increase, and so on. Of course, in the strictest sense of the word a local assembly consists of all the saved ones in that location. Now we are getting into the definition of a place or point, its neighborhood, and members. The best definitions can be attained from one of the branches of mathematics, called Real Analysis. I am not going to go into this, at this time.
Let us consider the first assumption: “If the EKKLESIA that Christ builds exists, then it might include all of the believers in a certain locality.” For simplicity, let me change the wording “believers” to ‘Indians’ and “locality” to ‘India.’ Can we say that the nation of India, which is replacing the word ‘assembly,’ exists because all the Indians are in India? We should remember that thousands of Indians, may be millions, are all over the world. It is practically impossible to make all Indians to come back to India at the same time. This could have been achieved under the Roman emperor Augustus, may be. Because of this difficulty, could one say, there is no nation called India? How can there be Indians, when there is no nation called, India? I don’t know. I am sorry about this dilemma; especially there are a lot of people who are proud to be called “Indians,” while not living in India. Many of them are proud of their heritage. Most of them are proud of their nationality.
Let us consider the next assumption: “If the EKKLESIA exist, then it is composed of those who are assembled at that particular time.” In Acts 14:27 we read, “... they were come, and had gathered (SUNAGOGE) the assembly (EKKLESIA) ...” Here they have to gather the assembly, or “Sunagoge” the “Ekklesia.” At other places we read about “The whole assembly” was gathered. What is the difference? When we read that they gathered the assembly, the whole may not be attending the meeting, but they were expected to. In the other cases, the whole assembly must be there. A partial gathering of the saved ones in a locality is accepted to be mentioned in the Scriptures, not by me or by any one else, but by the Holy Spirit. When we say “Local assembly” what we mean is those that are gathered together unto the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at a certain point or geographical location. We read about such gathering in Matthew 18:15-20.
In the general semantics, we do not have to have every member of a group to call it a group or a set. All we need to have is that each and every one should have the same characteristic. To talk about oranges or apples in a place, I do not have to talk about all the oranges and apples that are available in that geographical area. All I need is to talk about oranges or apples of that locality.
One last point, do we remember the incident about those who were casting out demons in the Lord’s name? The disciples asked Christ’s permission to forbid them from doing so. Our Lord replied that if they were not against Him, and then they are for Him. Christ did not ask them to join Him. Our Lord did not ask His disciples to join them either. He told them later, more than once, “If you love me keep my commandments.” If someone does not want to join us, then are we worried about it? Knowing the Lord and His commandments, it is their responsibility to join Him at His Table to remember Him. Why are we taking our eyes of Him, and be concerned about those who do not want to be with us. It is written, “Knowing good, and not doing is sin.”
To define ‘Local Assembly’ is difficult. We could accomplish this by understanding what is meant by ‘Assembly’ in the scripture and then adopting that to a locality. In defining a word or a concept from the scripture various methods are to be used singly as well as in conjunction with each other. I am using ‘the law of first occurrence,’ ‘the law of context,’ and ‘the law of relevance’ for making inference on what is an assembly.
Let us look into the law of relevance: The word assembly is the translation of the Greek word EKKLESIA. It is a compound word from EK and KALEO meaning ‘to call out.’ To the Greek, it stood for: The select group of free citizens convened for the transaction of public affairs, in which the common populace, strangers, and such as had forfeited civics rights, has no place. (We see such a group in Acts 19:22, 39, 41) In this sense the children of Israel in the wilderness is mentioned in Acts 7:38.
Now let us use ‘the law of first occurrence,’ and ‘the law of context’ in defining ‘The Assembly.’ The word EKKLESIA occurs 115 time in NT. In KJV it is translated 112 times as ‘Church,’ and 3 times as ‘assembly.’ The first occurrence of it is in Mat. 16:18, there our Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build my assembly.” In 1 Tim. 3:15 it is called “God’s house.” In John 14 we are told that our Lord will come to receive us to be with Him when He completes the abode. In Ephesians we read that it is His bride. In Revelation our Lord revealed it as the New Jerusalem. We understand from the scripture that it is built from the day of Pentecost till the rapture. This is further detailed in other parts of the scriptures, such as 1 Peter 2.
Using the law of context, we understand that in a given locality, those who are gathered together is also called ‘the assembly.’ Is should have the basic characteristic of being built by the Lord. In the New Testament, Christians in a house as well as in cities are called ‘the assembly’ to indicate the local assembly. The local assembly’s character come short of what it should be as we see in Corinth, Galatia, and other places. The falling short of its heavenly characteristic is evident among the seven assemblies in Revelation 2 & 3. Our responsibility to keep it pure is also given in the New Testament, especially in Revelation 2 & 3.
Our Lord Jesus Christ also told about our responsibility in keeping the assembly that He builds in its purity, while we are in this world. In Matthew 18:15-20 we read about the offender, the one who was offended, one or two others, the assembly (EKKLESIA) that Christ builds, and the gathering assembly (SUNAGOGE). That implies the assembly has more than the first three groups. That is, in a locality there may be more than four members of the EKKLESIA that He builds, but all of them may not come together or gathered unto his name together as one group. Our Lord stated this in verse 20, “For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This could be in connection with the ‘one offended’ with the ‘one or two’ meeting together, as in verse 16. This gathering (SUNAGOGE) has the same implication as that of an assembly. Without going into a longer dissertation, this is the justification of separation from those who hold unscriptural doctrines in places we live and gather together unto His name.
The following is my understanding of a ‘local assembly’: A local assembly is a group of Christians who are born of God (John 1:12,13; 1 Pet. 1:22-25) and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) are members of the body of Christ to which He is the Head (Eph. 1:22,23; 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:12,13; Rom. 12:4,5). A local assembly seeks to express the truth of one Body of Christ by gathering together unto His name, appropriating His promise to be in the midst (Mat. 18:20), and acknowledging the guidance of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-11). “That He might have the first place in all things” (Col. 1:18).