“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth…” 1 Corinthians 1:2
In AD 63, or thereabouts, a parchment appeared in Corinth bearing a title that had never appeared before. The title was, unto the ekklesia of God which is at Corinth. The word ekklesiawas not new nor was the word God but never before would residents of Corinth have seen the two words associated together. They would have been familiar with the word being used to designate the body which made up the town council. Indeed this last was a group of men called out to manage the affairs of the city. In fact the word ekklesia was used in Acts 19:39 and 41 of an assembly of citizens called out of their dwellings by an official summons. It could not be questioned that the word referred to a called out company for the wordekklesia is composed of two parts: the preposition ek, meaning out of or out from within and the verb kaleo which means to call. Additionally, if a reader of this parchment to which we refer had any communication with the Jewish residents of Corinth, or if he himself was a Jew, he perhaps would have known that the word was used of that company of Israelites that that had been called out of Egypt and were making their way through the wilderness towards the land of promise (Hosea 11:1, Acts 7:38). They were a called out company but were not referred to in the Scriptures as ekklesia of God for that designation was reserved for a company yet future when it was introduced by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:18 in its universal aspect and in Matthew 18:15-20 in its local aspect. In Matthew 16:18, the Lord said, I will build My church. Not only was it then future but it was a new entity in the previously unrevealed councils of God.
If we were to digress for a moment on the word ekklesia, we would notice that it is translated in the KJV as church and in JNDs New Translation as assembly. It refers to a called out company, an assembly that has been called out, and its universal aspect is expressed by James in his address to the Jerusalem Council in the words, Simeon has declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). This is Gods work in this dispensation, the dispensation of the Church. The phrase of God tells us three things. First, its origin is in God; it is not a human institution. Second, its ownership rests with God for it is His. Paul said to Timothy, that thou mayest know how it is necessary to behave in the house of God, which is the church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1Timothy 3:15-16). Third, it takes its character from God for that also is contained in the phrase, of God. Origin, ownership, and character are all implicit in the expression with which we are dealing. Incidentally, and very importantly to our discussion, the expression church of God always refers to the local aspect and never to the universal aspect of the church.
Lets take a look at this ekklesia of God and see how it is different from the other uses of the word with which people of that generation would have been familiar. We know from Matthew 16:20-21 that the Lord Jesus was breaking off His relationship with Israel because at this turning point in the dispensational Gospel of Matthew He charged His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ. He had been rejected by the nation and so no longer would He be using the Jewish Messianic title but He instead introduced the fact of His suffering at Jerusalem, and His death and resurrection. It is just at this time that He had announced the bringing in of a new order, the birth of a new body, the Church. He distinguished this new body from any other. It was born on the Day of Pentecost as seen in the second chapter of Acts. Let us notice a number of things about this church of God from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.
We have noted before that since it is called church of God, it is Divine in its origin. It was not a product of the fertile mind of Paul. In a previous covenant, there was a tabernacle constructed with every detail of its building having been given by God to Moses with the injunction, And let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it (Ex 25:8-9). In this dispensation also there is a dwelling place of God, a sanctuary, an inner temple, an assembly of God, the pattern of which is revealed to us in the New Testament. That pattern will not be of our making, nor can it be of our choosing, but must be in conformity to the pristine footsteps of the early church. We must therefore always ask, What saith the Scriptures? As we emphasize its origin, its ownership, and its original Divine pattern, we must also notice that it is church of God which is at Corinth. Thus we see the church in its local character. What the Lord introduced in Matthew 16:15-18 was the Church which is His Body. This is the aspect of the church which is the focus of the Ephesian epistle. What He introduced in Matthew 18:15-20 was the church in its local aspect, this last being the theme of the first epistle to the Corinthians.
To be continued.