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The Church - a court

by André Schwartz last modified Jul 23, 2014 03:50 PM
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A church is a physical gathering of people, assembled under God’s authority and for His sake because of the work of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. But the Church is much more — it’s a reality that transcends ordinary space and time, an entity that encompasses far more than a single gathering of believers. The foundational truth that Christ is the divine Messiah forms the basis for the existence of the single largest and most powerful human “organization” on earth — the ekklesia. Therefore it can be seen as a “subversive” community, a body or even an army. And we will see, also a court.

Not all people attending a church would like to hear that the Church is also a court. You see, Jesus tells us that we will have differences and that we will hurt one another (Matthew 18:15). Sometimes this will be unintentional, but often times it may be deliberate. If wrongdoings can’t be dealt with in private or with a witness, it must be brought before the church (ekklesia = gathering) (Matthew 18:17)

Is this just any gathering? You see, as pointed out many times now, the term “Church”, like the term “Christian”, has been so used, abused and confused that many people don’t even know what it means any more. Some think that a couple of Christians hanging out at the local doughnut shop form a church. They’ll even quote Jesus as saying:

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)

The problem is that those verses are actually speaking of church discipline (check the context)! Our Lord gave us the whole disciplinary procedure from private rebuke to public censure. Then He authorised the ekklesia saying:

Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:18‑20)

So the verse most used by those who argue they don’t have to attend church is actually supporting a formally structured and duly authorised assembly!

Is this something new? In the Old Testament the qahal (assembly = ekklesia) gathered to judge or deliberate on a matter. You can see this in Ezekiel where the assembly gathered to judge and execute judgment (Ezekiel 23:45‑47). It can be the whole assembly of all of God’s people (2 Chronicles 1:2), or a smaller group duly appointed to represent them (1 Chronicles 13:1‑2).

So, if you look at the Old Testament’s qahal or the New Testament’s ekklesia, it must be formally structured, organised and authorised to count as a true assembly. Two or three individuals gossiping around the water cooler can make judgments, but that doesn’t mean it counts.

Does this mean the church operates like the worldly courts? No! Or do we solve our ekklesia problems in the civil courts? No! Listen to what Paul says:

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? (1 Corinthians 6:1‑5)

Do we sin against each other? Yes! Do we sometimes feel hurt? Yes! The Biblical way of dealing with these sins and hurts is clear — it should be addressed between brothers or sisters on a personal level. But sometimes things can get out of hand. Are you then willing to submit to the ekklesia, as represented by its elders (presbuteroi)? It’s the Biblical way.