Don Styles
Principles of Ecclesial Life

Fundamental Points

The ecclesia Is God's idea

The ecclesial community is not man's idea; it is not a Christadelphian idea; it is God's idea.

Baptism is more than the individual being baptized into fellowship with the Father and the Son; it is inclusion into a community of believers established by God; we are all baptized into one body.

God's deliberate choice

God's design is a deliberate choice on His part. There are many alternatives to the concept of one community of believers.

The individual believer could continue in his former associations.

He would not come to meeting but would spend his time with family, neighbors and the religious group to which he originally belonged. Even today, some think this would be a more effective way of spreading the Truth.

But this is not God's design.

Believers could be divided into different groups following their favorite teachers.

The ecclesia in Corinth was in danger of being rent apart on just such a basis (1 Cor. 1: 12-13). The Jews were used to such a system in their loyalty to various rabbis.

Within Christadelphia, some would prefer to have ecclesias separated along lines of expositional emphasis: all favoring pioneer writings in one meeting, all leaning to a young earth view in another, etc.

But the followers of Christ are not to organize themselves in such a way.

Disciples of Christ could be divided into groups along ethnic, social and economic lines.

In New Testament times, this would have meant separate ecclesias for Jews, Gentiles, slaves and slave-owners. Such a structure would have made life much easier for most brethren and sisters. Jewish and Gentile believers frequently irritated one another because of their different dietary practices and attitudes to Jewish holidays. Left to themselves, they would, no doubt, have preferred to maintain one ecclesia for Jews and another for Gentiles, but this was not God's design. Slaves and slave-owners moved in wholly different circles in daily life. Why put them together in ecclesias where all are equal? In our own day, it is inevitable that in the ecclesia we have to get along with some people we find difficult. We have no choice as to whom is baptized. If a person believes the Truth and commits himself to living it, we can not refuse him. He may come from a background or socio-economic level that is radically different from our own. We may find dealing with him uncomfortable and would prefer that ecclesias were divided along lines of people with similar heritage and occupation. But that is not God's way.

We may find that some people have traits which irritate us.

We would, no doubt, prefer to organize an ecclesia where everybody in it had a personality we found agreeable to ourselves. Ecclesial life would be much easier if God's design were different. But it is not.

Believers are to put aside worldly differences and are to be bound into one fellowship by their baptism into the one body. From a human point of view, this will cause problems. But it is God's design.

One ecclesial body of all true believers

God set Christ "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 ... 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 ... there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling ... we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Eph. 1:20-23; 4:4; 5:30).

All true believers of all ages are united in the one ecclesia in Christ. Only in the kingdom will the reality of this association be fully manifested. In any one generation, distance dampens the relationship between members of the body in different geographic areas. As much as possible, however, the Apostle sought to make the concept of the one body a reality by inter-ecclesial introductions, associations and welfare projects. The technological advances of our own day have many negative aspects but one great positive effect is to facilitate drawing the worldwide body of Christ closer together. Our opportunity to benefit from and to minister to other members of the body is thus enhanced.

Local ecclesias by geographic area

"And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem." "They returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch ... and when they had ordained them elders in every church..." "Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus ... unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house" (Act. 8:1; 14:23; Rom. 16:3-5).

The word "church" (ecclesia) is clearly used in two ways: one referring to the total body of believers spanning all places and all generations, the other alluding to a specific group of believers who came together in one meeting place. The size of the local community was evidently determined by geographic distance and available facilities.

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