The Model Church
The Baptist Faith and Message says, “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a local body of baptized believers….” Although its definition contains much more, this brief partial statement provides a starting place. Most theology books or Bible studies on the subject of the church will then generally begin their discussions with reference to the Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament, e,kklhs,ia (ekklēsia). The word “church,” they will tell you, comes from the word ekklēsia, meaning “called-out ones,” making the church a body of called-out people. In fact, Baptists usually define the New Testament church as an “assembly of called-out believers,” a fact which is certainly true, but only in part.
“Church” does translate the word ekklēsia, but it does not come from that word. Instead, the word “church,” in a round about way, comes from another Greek word, kuriako,s (kuriakos). Kuriakos literally means “belonging to the Lord.” Although this word is not used in the New Testament specifically of the church, it is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the linguistic source for our word “church.” This bit of information changes the focus of our study significantly. No longer should we focus on ourselves as just an assembly, but rather on the Lord to Whom we belong and Who called out the assembly.
The character of the church as a unique possession of God gives it an importance far above any “called-out assembly.” Other assemblies have been called out for various reasons. In fact, the term ekklesia was used by the Greeks before New Testament times to designate their city councils, assemblies called out to discuss and legislate the laws governing their cities. The New Testament borrowed this word from the prevailing culture and gave it a new meaning, an assembly called out by God to worship Him. As a result of this new meaning coupled with the significance of kuriakos, no other assembly has the distinction of being called out by and of belonging to the Lord.
In addition to our calling out by and our possession by the Lord, what marks distinguish the church from other assemblies? In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10, Paul offers a few characteristics.
1. The Word of God dominated their assembly. Paul says they “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (v. 6) Further, “the word of the Lord has sounded forth from [them].” (v. 8) In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul adds that he thanked God for them because they did not receive God’s Word as the word of men, “but for what it really is, the word of God.” If we belong to the Lord, we will love His Word, we will live by His Word, and we will fill our hearts and minds with His Word so that His Word literally saturates our lives both individually and collectively.
2. They recognized the Lordship of Christ. Paul repeatedly called Him, “Lord Jesus Christ,” “Lord Jesus,” or just “Lord,” as he discussed their faith in Him and their response to Him. This is not a concession to the so-called doctrine of Lordship Salvation, but recognition of a relationship that follows our maturing in the faith as we grow and get to know Christ in all His glory. Paul; describes that Lordship even more clearly when he commends their repentance. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul notes that they turned to God from idols, an excellent description of what repentance really involves. They turned to God “to serve [because He is Lord] a living and true God [not dead, false idols].” Again, they serve Him because He is Lord.
Their response to Him is first one of love, then a response of obedience, obedience because of love and gratitude, no doubt, but obedience nonetheless. He is Lord and Savior at this point, not merely Savior. In our salvation the Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14; see also 2 Peter 1:11) Our salvation not only places us in this kingdom, but also makes us servants as well as sons. Salvation begins with receiving the gift of eternal life through Christ, but it also eventually includes submission to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
3. They “mimicked” the apostles and the Lord. That is, they lived lives that transparently revealed the power of Christ living in them. They did this by first imitating the example of the apostles (cp. v. 6). Christ’s power working through the church showed the world that they were truly Christians—“little Christs,” they truly were a kuriakos, a prized possession of the Lord.
I’ve given you here only a few characteristics of the model church at Thessalonica for you to think about and meditate on. Read all of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 and see how many more characteristics of the model church you can find. There are more, many more. How many of them does your church measure up to? How many do you measure up to?
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Version.