When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush and Moses turned aside to see a bush on fire (but not consumed), God said, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exo. 3:5). Moses was commanded by God to treat this site with reverence and respect for it was holy ground. The church also is “holy ground.” We must reverence and respect it also.
When Peter had confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), Jesus promised, “I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church ant the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The church belongs to Christ. He planned it from eternity (Eph. 3:8-11); He purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28); He is head over all things to it (Eph. 1:22-23). Someday He will present the church without spot or blemish to Himself, to be His holy bride (Eph. 5:27). We must not treat casually this body that existed first in God’s mind, then came into being by the shedding of the blood of God’s Son.
In every age when God entered into a covenant with men, He also showed that the holiness of His will was not to be lightly regarded. Men would think that eating of a forbidden tree would be a light offense, but that sin brought separation between God and man, or death (Gen. 3:19). When the law was given and the Sabbath enjoined, a man violated that with a simple infraction: he picked up sticks on the Sabbath. He was stoned to death (Num. 15:32-36). When the tabernacle service began, Nadab and Abihu offered incense with “strange fire.” They were consumed by fire (Lev. 10:1-2). In the early church a couple named Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about how much they had received for a piece of land they had sold. Both died (Acts 5:5, 10). All these incidents warn that the church is not to be lighted regarded. We must respect it for Jesus built it.
We know the church was planned by God (Eph. 3:10-11). Our knowledge of what that church was to be, to do, to teach all depends upon revelation from God. We cannot know God’s mind for “who hath known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counsellor?” (Rom. 11:34). Moses said, “The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God, but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children” (Deut. 29:29). Apostles teach us the same thing is true today. Paul urged Timothy to “abide in the things which thou hast learned knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (2 Tim. 3:14). He commanded the Corinthians “not to go beyond the things that are written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Peter wrote the same: “If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God” (1 Pet. .4:11). About one hundred and ninety years ago those who sought to return in doctrine and worship to the first century church said, “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where it is silent.” These words were not inspired but they expressed a principle that was inspired. We must not intrude upon the silence of God. We must strive to abide in His revealed instructions.
The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which means “to call out.” The church is a “called out” body. The scriptures tell us God calls us through the gospel (Gal. 1:6, 2 Thess. 2:7). We are called to be saints (1 Cor. 1:1), called “from darkness to light” (1 Pet. 2:9), and called into his kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12). Our calling is high (Phil. 3:14), holy (2 Tim. 1:9), and heavenly (Heb. 3:1). We are to give diligence to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). The word ekklesia sometimes refers to a lawful assembly, and in one instance describes an unlawful one (Acts 19:41). The word “assembly” in Acts 19:40 and the word “church” in Matt. 16:18 are from this same word ekklesia so the word was used to describe any kind of assembly — lawful or unlawful, sacred or secular.
The word “church” is used to describe the church in a universal sense. Jesus built His church (Mt. 16:18). He saves this church (Eph. 5:23). He purchased His church (Acts 20:28). In all these instances “church” is singular but it includes every person saved by the blood of Christ. On the other hand, the word “church” is used to describe a local body of people: the church at Philippi (Phil. 4:15), Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1). In these instances the word “church” (singular) is used in a restricted sense: not including all those Jesus saves but rather a group of people bought by Christ’s blood in a certain location. One never reads of the church in its universal sense functioning as a unit. One does read of the church in the local sense functioning as a unit: the church at Philippi was the only church that assisted Paul in preaching the gospel (Phil. 4:15). Churches of Galatia and Corinth were commanded to take up a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1f). Several churches helped Paul at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:8). There is no record of any functioning as a unit beyond the level of a local congregation. This is all God reveals and to act otherwise is to “go beyond the things that are written.”