What Is A Church?

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)

Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:15-22

One of the saddest things about our generation is that Baptists are quitting being Baptists. They are becoming too inter-denominational . I believe we should treasure our Baptist heritage. Few preachers today mention anything about the church. It is almost unheard of. They may preach on being faithful to church and attending church, but not the doctrines of the church. I am going to cover some things that I believe should be taught in every Baptist church in America.

I am a Baptist. I have no animosity towards anybody else. There are saved people in many different groups. I have dear friends who are fine Christian people, yet are not members of Baptist churches. But, I do thank God that I am a Baptist, and I love my Baptist heritage.

The word church comes from two words. One word is ek which means out, and the other word is kaleo which means to call. The word

is ekklesia and it means a called-out group. That is the word for church in the New Testament. It is a called-out group. When I refer to the church, I am referring to a called-out group. In the Bible it is often called an assembly, but it is not just an assembly. It is a called out assembly. Let me explain further.

1. In order to be a church, the people called-out must have been a part of another group.

2.They must have been called out of that group.

3. They must have formed another group.

The church is a called-out assembly because they were called out from the world to assemble. So, they must have been in the world, they must have been called out from the world, and they must have formed a new group in order for them to be a called-out assembly.

This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us. Acts 7:38

Israel was called a church in the wilderness, but Israel was not a church when she was in Egypt because she was not yet a called-out assembly. When she was in Canaan she was not yet a church because she was not a called-out assembly. God called them out from Egypt, and they assembled in the wilderness. They were then a called-out assembly. They were called out of Egypt to assemble and form another group in the wilderness. So, God calls Israel a church in the wilderness.

Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused. Acts 19:32a

Paul was in jeopardy because of the uproar of the silversmiths in Ephesus. People were getting saved and the silversmiths, who made little goddesses of Diana, were having their businesses hurt. They were upset with Paul. That word assembly is the word ekklesia. That mob of people assembled from Ephesus which was trying to do Paul harm was a part of another group. They were called together out of that group to form another group. The purpose of forming that group was to do harm to Paul. So, in the Bible there were many different churches. I do not mean religious organizations, but groups of people who were called out to assemble.

But if ye inquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. Acts 19:39

Once again the word assembly or ekklesia is used. The governing body of Israel was called an assembly. It was an ekklesia, or a church. They were not a New Testament church, but anytime there was a group called out from another group to assemble, that assembly was called an ekklesia. In the United States, our Senate and our Congress are called out from us to assemble in Washington, DC. That is what was called an ekklesia or an assembly. In fact, in many states the State Legislature is called the State Assembly. That is exactly what it was in those days.

The word synagogue comes from a word which means a group of people meeting, but to be an ekklesia it had to be people of the same kind. For example, if a group of lawyers come out from the rest of society, meet in some city, and have an assembly or convention, that is an ekklesia. If there is a medical convention, it is an ekklesia. There must be a common bond in order for it to be called an ekklesia. It would be called a synagogue if there was no common bond.

In the New Testament church our common bond is that we have received Jesus as the living Son of God. It was upon this that the church was built. "Upon this rock I will build my church." What rock? Not Peter, but on the profession that Peter made when he said, "Thou art the Son of the Living God." We have a common bond. The world knows nothing about that bond. We have a common Book that we love. We have a common Saviour Whom we love. We have a common Holy Spirit Who lives in our bodies. A group of people which assembles because they have a common bond qualifies them to be called an ekklesia or a church.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write... Revelation 2:1

And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write... Verse 8

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write.. . Verse 12

And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write... Verse 18

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write... Revelation 3:1

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write... Verse 7

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write... Verse 14

All of these were churches. They were assembled, they had a common bond and a common purpose, but it was not the same purpose that the church of Philadelphia had. The Catholic church across the street from our church in Hammond is a church. It is not a New Testament church, but it is a church because it is a called-out assembly. That means that the church at Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamos, Philadelphia, Thyatira, and even the wicked Laodicea were all churches. So, liberal churches are churches. They are not New Testament churches, but they are churches.

Jesus started an ekklesia of His own. He did not start the ekklesia. The word ekklesia was used before Jesus started His ekklesia. There was an ekklesia in the wilderness back in the Old Testament days. Jesus started His own ekklesia based on the bond of accepting Christ as Saviour and as the Son of God. There is no bond like the bond which is in a true New Testament church, because He is that bond.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea of Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that Jam? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock! will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16: 13-18

Jesus was building one of the following when He started the church.

1. a church consisting of all believers.

2. a denomination.

3. a congregation.

All three cannot be true, and no two can be true. Either Jesus started a local assembly, a denomination, or the church is composed of all believers (an invisible church). Jesus said, "upon this rock! will build my church." He did not say, "I will build my churches." We must then decide which one is right.

Some people say that the church is composed of all believers. Some people say the church is a denomination. Some people say that the church is a congregation of people. Which is right? Let's reason.

1. It could not be all believers.

If it is all believers, what happened from Adam to Christ? If the church was started on Pentecost, which it was not (that will be covered in a later chapter), then what happened to all of the Old Testament people? Were they not saved? If, when a person gets saved, he is baptized into the church, (an invisible body of all the same people), then Moses and Abraham were unsaved. Therefore, it could not be all believers.

2. The church that Jesus started in Matthew 16:8 was not started then.

He said he was going to start it. It was the same church which was mentioned in Matthew 18:17.

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Matthew 18:17

The word church used here is the same word ekklesia which is mentioned in Matthew 16:18. How can you tell something to an invisible church? You cannot tell it to every Christian if every Christian forms the church. When He said to tell it to the church, He was referring to a group of people who have been called out of the world. When you get saved, you are called out of the world, but God has an institution he wants you to join, so you can reassemble. It must be a local body of believers. If it is the local body of believers, then it is not invisible.

The average Baptist does not believe or know this. We do not teach it any more. Jesus started only one church. It cannot be visible and invisible. So, if it is the visible church, there can be no invisible church. I take issue with Mr. Scofield when he refers to the visible and the invisible churches. The true church is a group of born-again baptized believers, who have a common bond of having Christ in their lives, having been born again, made new creatures in Christ Jesus, and trying to propagate that wonderful message, so that others can receive the message of grace. That is the true church. This needs to be emphasized. We accepted inter-denominational teaching, and, as a result, have damaged the true church.

When the invisible church-goers want to raise money, they always go to a visible church to raise the money. Isn't that interesting? They do not send their money-raisers out to invisible churches, because invisible churches give invisible money. There is a mentality that is sweeping this nation that if you "Grow in grace" you do not need to have a local church. People have the idea that you can join the Gideons, Youth for Christ, Child Evangelism, or some other group instead of being a part of a local New Testament church. Any ministry can do better in a true church than it can outside of it. The greatest child evangelism program is in the local church. The greatest youth for Christ program is in the local church. More Jewish people are reached by the local church than in all of the Jewish ministries that are operated outside of the church.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will! sing praise unto thee. Hebrews 2:9-12

Jesus said that He was going to preach and sing in the church. The church could not have started on Pentecost. It had to have been started in the personal ministry of Christ because the Bible says that He sang and preached in it. It is not talking about His invisible presence in the church. It is talking about the fact that Jesus went to church during His earthly ministry. He would not start a church, and then not show up when it met.

Often, a businessman will get saved in a church like First Baptist. He loves it. He teaches a Sunday school class. He gets a bus route. Then these "super church" believers come in and "promote" him out of the local church. Because he is a businessman, he thinks he has risen above the local church. You will never rise above the local church. Men across this country by the thousands seldom go to their own church, because they have been given some job in a spiritual service outside the true church which is the local church. They eventually die on the spiritual vine.

What America needs is not more telecasts. We need more local churches. I do not like the phrase, “Electronic Church.” There is no such thing as an "Electronic Church." There will never be anything that can substitute for a place where people come and have the Word of God taught to them by a pastor, and a place where they can build their lives. The purpose of Hyles-Anderson College is to train men to go out and work in churches.

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all and to the spirits of just men made perfect. Hebrews 12:22, 23

The word church is the word ekklesia. This passage is talking about the rapture. The church is a called-out group. At the rapture, all believers will be called out from this earth, meet in the air, and assemble in the sky. Then, and only then, will we be a called-out assembly. That is what this passage is talking about.

There is a church being built right now, but it is not yet a church because it has not yet been called out and assembled. At this moment there is only one church and that is the local body. All believers are not a church because all believers have not yet been assembled. At the trumpet, the first resurrection, all believers will be assembled, and will become a called-out assembly, or a church. That is not the same as the New Testament church. It is the church of the first born which will be assembled in the sky.

What about the Scriptures that say the church is His body? That is a term of ownership. The local church belongs to Him. He is the head of it in the sense that He is the boss of it. Hyles-Anderson College is owned by the First Baptist Church. The local New Testament church is owned by Jesus. It is His possessive body.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30

Jesus wills that every person whose name is written in Heaven be part of a local church. Romans 8:28 is not for those who do not belong to a true church. You cannot be right with God and not belong to a true church. A family, who I loved very much wrote me a letter one day, that said, "Brother Hyles, we have had a wonderful time lately. For months now, we have not gone to church anywhere. We have just stayed at home and learned to know God better." No, they did not. Nobody learns to know God better outside the institution Jesus started than they can inside of it. You cannot be right with God and wrong with the ekklesia. You cannot be right with God and not belong to the ekklesia.

Our Baptist brethren in history died for this truth, yet many Baptists today do not even believe it. Never again talk about the invisible church, or the universal church. The word Catholic means universal church. Let the Catholics have that doctrine. There is no such thing according to the Bible. Jesus started one church. That church is the church in which you can hear a message. It is a church where Jesus preached and where Jesus sang. It is a church where people meet. It is a church that has membership and has people baptized. It is a church that has pastors and deacons. It is a local assembly of believers.

People write me letters saying, "Brother Hyles, we're moving to a certain town in a certain state, but we can't find a church there. What should we do?" I write back two words. "Don't move!" If you cannot find a church, God does not want you there. God wants every Christian in an ekklesia.

What this nation needs is more soul-winning New Testament churches in every neighborhood. We need men of God to start ekklesias all across this nation. That is why the Devil has attacked First Baptist Church so viciously. The Devil does not want ekklesias. May God in Heaven bring us back to the old-fashioned doctrine of the true church and not the dreamed up invisible church.