T. PIERCE BROWN
When we define the meaning of the term “church” we usually say something like, “It is derived from the Greek word `ekklesia’ made up of the preposition ‘ek,’ meaning `out of’ and `kaleo’ meaning `I call’. So its basic meaning is `the called out ones’ and refers to those who have been called out of the world.” Others who want to go into more detail may refer to the equivalent word in the Old Testament, `qahal,’ which is translated by such terms as assembly, congregation, company, etc., but all of which relate to a group of persons who have been called out of something for a particular purpose.
Regardless of the etymology of the word, the members of the Lord’s church have been “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians1:13). We are in the world (physically), but not of the world (spiritually) (John17:14,15). We have been “called out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). But my study, tentative and incomplete as it is, has led me to another truth, not contradicting this (for no one truth contradicts another), but giving a larger, more comprehensive and deeper meaning to the idea of the church being the “out-called ones.” I confess that in all the literature of the restoration movement I have never read anything suggesting the exact point I will be making, so you should examine it with care.
The word “kaleo” is defined by most lexicons we have had opportunity to examine as “to call, invite, or summon.” It is my judgment, however, after an examination of the 146 times it is used in the New Testament, that the primary meaning is probably not “to bid, or invite,” but “to designate, name, or appoint.” We do not have space to list and discuss all of these, but anyone with a Young’s or Strong’s Concordance can find them. Matthew1:21is one of about 90 examples of such. “Thou shalt call (kaleseis) his name Jesus.” It is not hard to see how it got its secondary meaning, for when a king called–invited–one to a position, he was designated as having that position, for his “calling” and his “appointment” were practically synonymous. In Ephesians 4:1, when we are told to “walk worthy of the vocation (kleseos) wherewith ye are called (eklethete),” he simply means to “live in a manner worthy of the position in which you were placed.” When God added you to his church, act like you belong there! When Paul says in Romans 8:28, that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called,” he does not mean simply those “who have been invited,” but those who have actually answered that call and have a certain position. You are the “heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1), not because heaven invited you, but because you answered that call properly and the Lord added you to his group of followers (Acts 2:47) when you chose to let him be the Lord of your life in his appointed way, namely, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins upon acceptance of the truth that Jesus is Lord and Christ. So it should be easy to see that although the lexicons may give this definition, the only way they have authority to find the definition is the same way you can–discover how it is used in the Bible.
Most of us probably know all of this, but I am now suggesting that since “ek” means “out of” and is used with the ablative case–a case designating source–and since “kaleo” refers primarily to the relation or position of the person with reference to that source, the term “ekklesia” is primarily referring to those whose position is “out of Christ” as the source, rather than “out of the world” as a condition of separation from. This does not deny any truth that we have known and taught–such as that a Christian must “come ye out from among them and touch no unclean thing” (2 Cor.6:17). However, one can come out from the pollution or practice of sin and still not be in the ekklesia of Christ! Repentance which does not relate to Christ and his death has nothing to do with salvation! Being ‘called out’ necessarily suggests being ‘called into’ something. But it does not necessitate one being called into Christ! A drunkard might be called out of drunkenness into sobriety, but is not therefore in the ekklesia of Christ.
So, to be the called out (ekklesia) of Christ, in the sense that Christ is the source of our calling, and the basis of our position, and to be called out in the sense that we are ceasing our sinful activity are two different concepts. Both ideas meet, of course, in the church of our Lord. But if one thinks of the ekklesia in the primary sense of being separated from the world, he is thinking primarily of what a person does not do, the sins he stops committing. But if one thinks of the ekklesia as the called out of Christ, for Christ is the source of our attitudes, actions, calling, life and position, then one has a different (and may I say, deeper and more comprehensive) understanding, perspective and focus. He then thinks not only of what sins he has been called out of, but of the many things into which he was called by Christ. A branch that is “out of the vine” in the sense of separation is one thing–dead. But a branch that is “out of the vine” in the sense that the vine is the source of its life and fruit is alive and fruit bearing! A man who is just called out of the world has stopped doing certain things. But a man who is called “out of Christ” as the source of his life has not only stopped doing certain things, he has begun doing certain others which are very important.
I am suggesting that you think of your life as being “out of Christ” in the same sense that the foot and ear of 1 Corinthians12:15,16 are “out of the body” (ek tou somatos). They are not out of the body in the sense of being separated from it, but in the sense of coming out of it as they derive their life from it.
The whole term “the churches of Christ” (hai ekklesia tou Christou) must involve that idea, for they are his churches and must have been produced by his authority, spirit and power! When Jesus said in Matthew16:18, “Upon this rock I will build the church of me (mou ten ekklesian),” he may well have been thinking of source rather than merely ownership or possession. Whether he was or not, we have no doubt at all that we would do more comprehensive and meaningful teaching on the nature of the ekklesia if we would emphasize that the position we have as the “outcalled” of Christ is that the source of our position, nature, work, knowledge and power is Christ rather than that the position we have is simply by virtue of the fact that we have been called out of sin. The former includes the idea that we must follow the admonition of Paul in Colossians 3:17, ” And whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The idea of just being called out of sin does not involve that vital principle.