It is always precious to read God’s Word. I especially love when I see myself mentioned in Scripture, though. I certainly sit up and take note!
For instance, I get goosebumps when I hear Jesus pray for me specifically. When He met with his disciples on the evening before His death, He first prayed for each man gathered around that Passover table.
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word… I pray for them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one… I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:6, 9, 11, 14-15).
As Jesus prayed over those men, they had no idea of the protection they indeed needed. In the years following Jesus’ return to heaven, they boldly preached the good news of His resurrection throughout the known world. They were cast out of synagogues and harshly persecuted. History records that all but one died a martyr’s death. They gave up everything to proclaim Jesus to all.
But Jesus prayed for me, too.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:2-23).
And His prayer?
“…that all of them may be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
“…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them…”
I receive a lot of email, and I love each one. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a definite trend in the questions I receive, and one trend has really been thumping around in my noggin.
“Anne, we are struggling in our rural area for a body of believers who are like minded. It is so discouraging!”
“Anne, how do we find a good church?
“Anne, what do you do when your family disagrees with your church? When do you know it’s time to leave?”
I’m a firm believer in the Church. I capitalized that word for emphasis. I believe that God is in the business of calling His people out from every nation, language, and people — and I am one of those He has called. I believe He is grafting me into His body, into His people. I believe that the purpose of the age of time in which we live is for God to show His mercy to all and to call… call… call…
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of YHWH rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but YHWH rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the arm” (Isaiah 60:1-4)
“Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise YHWH:
YHWH looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
So the name of YHWH will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship YHWH” (Psalm 102:18-22).
The word church is how we translate the Greek word ecclesia (Strong’s #1577). It’s a noun that means “those who are called out,” or “called-out ones.”
It’s not a bad word. 🙂 You “call out” your children for breakfast each morning, or to come quickly because Grandma is on the phone. When you call your children, they become your ecclesia, your called-out ones, your “church.”
God has been calling out His people since the beginning of time.
- He called out Noah from among the wicked of his generation.
- He called out Abram and promised to make of him a great nation.
- He called the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel) out from their slavery in the land of Egypt.
- He called the people of Israel to repent of their sin and turn from their idols.
- He called His people back from their exile in Babylon.
And in this age, He is calling all the nations of the world.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And hemade known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spiritof wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church [ecclesia, called-out ones], which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful natureand following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 1:1-22:22).
And I could go on and on. The book of Ephesians is filled with the wonderful truth that God is calling out His own from all nations, both Jew and Gentile, those near and those far.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church [ecclesia, called-out ones]” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Peter tells us that the day of God’s judgment on the world is coming, when He will destroy heaven and earth by fire because of the ungodliness of mankind — just as He destroyed the world by water in the days of Noah.
God is sure taking His time! In our frustration with the sin and unbelief we see around us, we beg God to come quickly!
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
We tend to forget that God was patient with us. Seriously, think how patient He has been!
This is 2012! It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus prayed protection over His disciples and sent them out to proclaim His resurrection to the “called-out ones.”
God has been very patient. Why? He wanted you and me to come to repentance.
He loves us so much.
So why are we so impatient with others? We want others to see in a moment what it has taken us a lifetime to see.
We lose patience with them very quickly, wanting to turn them over to the eternal judgment of Almighty God — but forgetting the mercy and patience He showed to us, waiting for us to come to repentance (to change our minds).
And so it is in this context that I’m starting a new series here on my blog. You see, the writer of Hebrews had the patience of God in mind when he wrote,
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
What “Day” was approaching? The Day of God’s wrath and judgment.
These words were penned almost 2,000 years ago — and oh, the horrible doctrinal perversions and sin that have crept into the ecclesia.
Jesus told His disciples that this would happen.
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
Jesus says that the Father is calling the whole world to repentance. Sometimes “weeds” get mixed up with his ecclesia. The servants who spread the seed understandably get frustrated, and they ask the Father if they should pull up the weeds.
“No,” He replies. The servants can’t tell which are which, at least not as well as the Father can. He wants us to be patient and let Him separate them at the day of judgment. (See also Matthew 13:47-50 and 25:31-46).
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
So 2,000 years later, the “field” of the ecclesia is filled with weeds and wheat, all mixed together. So should we give up on the whole “meeting-together thing”? No! “Let us not give up meeting together… and all the more as you see the Day approaching!”
Did you see that? Just like Jesus’ prayer, where He prayed for ME, the writer of Hebrews is talking to ME.
“Anne, you’re much closer to that Day of Judgment. Everyone around you will be in the habit of giving up on meeting together — but don’t you do it! Instead, encourage one another. Think about ways to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
I’m sure this topic will stir up a pot of comments, so let me briefly share what I’ll be writing about in the weeks ahead:
- The universal church and what it pictures
- The local church in the first century
- The history of the church (past the first century)
- The future of the church
- What local church looks like today
- The leadership of the church
- Women in the church
- How to find the “perfect” church 😉
To prepare for this study, I encourage you to download e-sword or visit Blue Letter Bible, and to look up the following Greek words:
- ecclesia (Greek 1577)
- sunagoge (Greek 4864)
- sunago (Greek 4863)
- episunago (Greek 1996)
- episunagoge (Greek 1997)
Until next time,
>> Read the entire blog series on the Church here.
Good article. I have not been to church in quite some time. Prior to that, almost every church experience I had was terrible. I never felt welcomed and therefore did not develop a sense of belonging. I now realize that my expectations were too high, and I think that left me disappointed. Anway, thanks again for posting this good article.
I can’t wait to post the rest! I’ve been VERY blessed by studying this. 🙂
Beth Werner Lee says
Anne, I have been struggling with staying in a mainline church that my husband doesn’t want to leave. What you wrote about weeds spoke to me. I worry over our daughter being choked out by the weeds, yet I am so glad for the opportunity to homeschool her and study the word, memorizing the book of James with her. Still, I struggle with “continuing to meet together” at that church!
Anne Elliott says
Hang in there, Beth! I’m going to definitely talk about this issue. (My blog posts are so long already that I’m sure everyone wants to just groan.) But this is a huge problem for many people, so it IS coming. 🙂 In the meantime, I have found the book of Ephesians to be very helpful AND practical, especially chapters 1-3 for the “why” and chapters 4-6 for the “how”.
Tanya Thorne says
Anne, I always appreciate your articles and the timing of this is great for me. Our family has decided that for the present we are stepping away from the church we have been a part of for 13 years. It’s a tough decision, but we have been trying to make this work forever and it just feels like banging our heads against a wall. It’s to the point where our older children are feeling disillusioned in their faith because of youth group problems and feeling judged by others because of our stands on several biblical issues. It was never our intent to home church and there’s no bitterness, just a feeling that we want to go deeper and church just feels like an obligation. We still meet with other believers at every opportunity, but not in the institutionalized church. Do you think it’s possible to grow to the point that you just have to leave a church behind? I know that sounds weird, but that’s the only way I can explain it.
I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of this series!
I think we need to look at the verses in Hebrews again: Heb 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLING OURSELVES TOGETHER, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
This phrase that is so glibly thrown around by some (not by you, not saying that ~smile~) to keep people in the Christian church I don’t think means the way it is used. It seems to take for granted that there is a command somewhere to assemble…hmmm…if that is so, where is/are those commands? (c: The only place I know of is in Torah, where YHWH commands His people to assemble for Sabbath and some of the Holy Days (Lev. 23; Num. 28-29) The word we see used a lot (in the KJV) is holy “convocation”. Convocation is Strong’s H4744:
From H7121; something called out, that is, a public meeting (the act, the persons, or the place); also a rehearsal: – assembly, calling, convocation, reading.
Also, the “Church” did not begin in the “New” Testament. The same Greek word is used for the congregation of Israel in the Septuagint, the “Old” Testament Greek translation. There is only ONE bride…and her name is Israel, imo.
Just some things to think about… (c: