Understanding the Church

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In the past few months, I’ve observed a trend online in which some Christian folks who claim to be “watching the church in Nigeria” virulently attack churches in a manner that sounds more cultic than Biblical, and they succeed in brainwashing their followers because many seem to be ignorant of basic ecclesiology.

In my interaction with Catholics too, I also find out that they have a rather idiosyncratic and elastic definition of the word “church.” This area seems to be the benchmark of their deception.

Interestingly, this confusion wasn’t unknown in the early church. For example, Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in contending against the Novatian schism wrote that:

The catholic church is “the sole Ark of salvation” and that “he cannot have God for his father who has not the church for his mother … He that rends and divides the church of Christ cannot possess the clothing of Christ” (Henry Scowcroft Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, London, 1967, p. 108)

The major snag in Cyprian’s view is his refusal to clearly distinguish between what is meant by “visible” and “invisible” church. This is also the same error prevalent today, hence a succinct look at ecclesiology will help.

Ecclesiology is a combination of two words: Greek “Ecclesia” meaning church, and English “logy” meaning study. Therefore, ecclesiology is the study about the church of Jesus Christ.

Smith’s Bible Dictionary says:

“Ecclesia (ekklesia) the Greek word for church, originally meant an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by the legitimate authority. It was in this last sense that the word was adapted and applied by the writers of the New Testament to the Christian congregation. In the one Gospel of St. Matthew the church is spoken of no less than thirty-six times as “the kingdom.” Other descriptions or titles are hardly found in the evangelists. It is Christ’s household.”

The New International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has this to say about “ecclesia”:

“Although Gk. Ekklesia became a distinctively Christian word, it has both a Greek and an OT history. In the Greek world it was used of a public assembly summoned by a herald (ek, “out,” and kalein, “to call; cf. Acts 19:32, 39f). In the LXX it was used for the Heb. Qahal, which denotes the congregation or people of Israel, especially as gathered before the Lord (cf. Acts 7:32).”

Easton’s Bible Dictionary has this to say about the word “Church”:

“Derived probably from the Greek kuriakon (i.e., “the Lord’s house), which was used by ancient authors for the place of worship. In the New Testament it is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew kahal of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found.”

The word “Ecclesia” appears in the NT 115 times and in each case except 5, it refers to the Church of Christ. The word nowhere refers to a building or a denomination as it is commonly used today. It is used for the Church of Christ in two major ways:

1. The Invisible Church

The invisible church is the combination of all the regenerated persons since the beginning of the church till the second coming of Christ. It consists of the whole body of the redeemed in all nations, all those whom the Father has given to Christ.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18)

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over … If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15, 17).

“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the Church of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:32)

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).

The invisible church is made up of all born again Christians in all nations, hence it’s also called the universal church.

It is from this word universal that the Greek adjective katholikos is derived. Tragically, the word ‘catholic’ has been snagged on by Roman Catholicism and much baggage has been read into its meaning. But in its proper usage, the term “universal” cannot be “Roman” anymore than it’s “Gaelic”” or “Egyptian.” So the term Roman Catholic is an oxymoron.

Once a person is saved, he/she automatically becomes a member of the invisible church regardless of tribe, race, language or nationality.

One doesn’t become a member of the invisible church by natural birth, joining a local church or by marriage, but by repentance and belief in the Gospel (Acts 2:47).

The invisible church is the only body of Christ. Christ has one Body, not many bodies. Therefore, neither a local church nor an individual Christian should regard itself or himself as the body or a body of Christ. They are simply a part of Christ’s body.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12).

2. The Visible churches

These are the assemblies of believers in various locations such as provinces, cities, or homes etc.

Wherever the children of God may be gathering, whether it’s a living room, classroom or church building, they are the visible churches of Christ and Christ is in their midst (Matt. 18:20).

It is called ‘visible’ because its members are known and its assembles are public.

“News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22)

“And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” (Acts 15:4)

“And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5)

“… All the churches of Christ send greetings” (Romans 16:16)

“The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house” (1 Cor. 16:19).

“Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house” (Col. 4:15)

“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia” (Rev. 1:4)

While the invisible church is one and indivisible, the visible churches are many. Not every member of the visible churches is a part of the invisible church.

The invisible church is within the visible. In the visible church is a mixture of “wheat and chaff;” of saints and sinners. In fact, some visible churches are not true churches of Christ.

While the invisible church has Christ alone as its head (cf. Eph. 5:23), visible churches are led by ordained ministers, elders, pastors, deacons etc.

The visible church can be also be divided by schism, heresies, rebellion or drift into apostasy (1Cor. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 1 Tim. 6:3-5, 2 John 10)

No church can save, Jesus does. No church died on the cross for our sins, Jesus did. No church is the Ark of salvation, Jesus is.

To become a part of the invisible church “whose names are written in Heaven” (Heb. 12:2), you first need to acknowledge you have been a sinner, repent and believe the Gospel. Then in order for a believer to grow in love, faith and mutual nurture, he/she needs to be part of a visible church.

The Ties that Bind

The Bible indicates that two or more persons can be spiritually joined together by ties or bonds. They are called “soul ties” – spiritual ties or supernatural linkages that bind people together. There are different types of spiritual bonds which I classify into:

1. Positive soul ties

(a) Godly ties

These are ties with which God binds His people together in love, compassion and peace. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed” (Hosea 11:4).

This is a bond fostered by the Holy Spirit and it’s geared towards a godly or benign intent. This is the kind of tie we see between David and Jonathan: “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan” (1 Sam. 18:1 ESV)

There’s no evidence that David and Jonathan had sex for their souls to be so joined. It’s atrocious to find some modern gay advocates gnawing their unwashed fingers through the Bible to point at David and Jonathan as biblical gay icons because of the statement: “Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Sam. 1:26).

Really, it takes someone with a perverse spirit to see this scenario in such a grossly distorted and perverted fashion (That’s a topic for another day).

In the New Testament, Christians are commanded “to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This bond is sustained by the Holy Spirit in every believer. This is something we all need – a fellowship of Believers who love and care for one another regardless of status, race or tribe.

(b) Marital bond

This is a covenant link that is formed when a man and woman come together sexually to become one flesh. Jesus said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt. 19:5).

God created sex as a powerful force to sustain the marriage bond and participate in the creation of life. The devil too understands this, thus, one of the first things he did was to pervert both the physical and spiritual aspects of sexuality.

Though the secular world has trivialized sex, thrown chastity to the winds, distorted marriage and reduced humanity into ‘animals’, the coming together of two people in the act of sex is not merely a physical act.

A spiritual link is formed between two people through sexual acts and when this is abused outside the confines of a godly marriage, it results in one common problem in many marital relationships today: incomplete ‘leaving’ and incomplete ‘cleaving.’

Both spouses are unable to truly bond with each other as they should, because they still have unbroken ties to other persons (or themselves) before or after they got married. This leads us to:

2. Negative soul ties

(a) Illicit sexual bonds

1 Corinthians 6:15 says “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” This passage also applies to sexuality and it comes in different forms:

  • A negative type of soul link is formed through premarital and extramarital sexual affairs and the more sex partners a person has, the more soul links (and demons) he acquires. So, when a “swinging single” eventually gets married, these spiritual factors may cause some problems.

A victim may find himself/herself emotionally entangled to his/her ex-lovers even if they are married to someone else. Some would have fragmented minds. Others could experience strong, tormenting sexual urges that make them seek their old sex partners when they were unbelievers. Some would find themselves constantly dreaming of them.

I heard of a man who before marriage had been with many women. His wife said after they got married, every night for several weeks, she would have vivid visions of different women coming over to share their bed until she began to learn how to address it through spiritual warfare.

The usual front line of satanic attack is sexual seduction. This is because the enemy understands the power of sexual soul ties. He knows that once you become one flesh with his own agents, it will be fairly easy to bring you down because the luggage of unclean spirits inhabiting them is transferred to you and they start to mess with your mind. These soul ties enable demons to move from one person to another and they can be traced in the spirit realm.

In Numbers 25, after Balaam’s effort to curse Israel failed, the next strategy was to send the women of Moab into the camp of God’s people. When the children of Israel began having sex with them, the next step was to join them in Baal worship. Talk about soul ties. This is why when you see a fervent Christian who dabbles into promiscuity, it’s only a matter of time before he’s backslidden.

  •  Sexual ties are also formed through rape or child molestation. In Genesis 34:2-3, after Shechem the Hivite raped Dinah, “his soul was drawn” to her even though she was an unwilling victim.

Many victims of sexual assault or molestation are held in bondage to their past even if they later became Christians. I have come to realise that sexual molestation doesn’t always stop at one experience. Even when a victim keeps that experience hidden, s/he still ends up being molested by other people s/he meets later in life, if not addressed.

These folks don’t have to know the victim’s childhood history because there seems to be a “link” established in the victims’ soul through their first sexual abuse which invariably attracts the demons in other perverts to them.

It’s not an accident that ladies that were abused as children are curiously drawn to men who physically, verbally and sexually abuse them and they tenaciously cling to them. Psychologists call this Stockholm syndrome. When a person is unwilling to break out of controlling, abusive and destructive relationships, he is bound by negative soul ties.

  •  This also comes into play with those who have engaged in homosexuality and lesbianism. This is why they often return to their sexual sins and former partners even if they claim to be married to a “straight” spouse.

(b) Selfish or Inverted soul ties

These ties are forged by a person with his own flesh. The victim’s soul is spiritually “locked” up within himself and is unable to normally connect with others.

He/she may be an admirable, charismatic or socially exposed fellow, but because of this soul tie, his/her intimacy would be like a running tap blocked with a cork – unable to form intimacy with anyone. This can be a result of a traumatic experience. A guy wrote to a Vanguard columnist, describing his abuse:

We had to leave the school premises to his house, and immediately he finished doing the thing to me, he told me to do what he did to me, to him. I had no choice but to have sex in return. Afterwards, he gave me money. I felt ashamed of myself and could not look him in the eyes. I was angry that my parents had caused everything that happened, because if they had been able to pay the examination fees, I would not have found myself in that situation.

“…After that day, another problem started for me. It seemed as if everything died in me that very day… now I don’t have any friend at all. The same applies to female friends as well. I have lost all emotions and interest where friends and relationships are concerned.”

Unless this guy gets help, he will find intimacy very difficult. The intense shame and anger fixated into his mind by that abuse have made his soul inverted.

This can also happen in the case of masturbation, an act which undercuts one of the purposes of human sexuality: to relieve loneliness. Thus, sexual fulfillment and intimacy in marriage may pose an uphill task for many involved, because they have created a covenant link to always please their sinful flesh first.

Unless they renounce such selfish ties, those addicted to it also observe they find the act more satisfying than sex with their own spouses. It results in “incomplete cleaving.”

(c) Direct demonic linkages

In this case, a demon steps in when (a) or (b) becomes a besetting sin, and attaches itself to the victim through the cords of their sins. The class of demons known for this are called “spirit husbands” or “spirit wives” – because they bind themselves to their victims, sexually wear them out and war against marriages.

These demons can impersonate anyone, especially former or present lovers known to their victims. Some are resident in their hosts while others come from outside, but they bind themselves to their victims and feed off of them.

People involved in the occult commonly have sex with demons. It’s believed that a female demon (succubus) draws seed from men and changes to a male partner (incubus) to molest a human female.

Another type is when a person has a link with a familiar spirit or demon spirit guide. I read a man’s testimony years ago. His sister died about 3 years prior, but in his dreams, he kept seeing her playing and discussing with him and at times, he’d see a sort of rope joining them together.

During a church service, his pastor invited all who have such experiences to come forward for prayer. He responded, and they were prayed for. He said after that day, the only time he saw her again in his dream, she was standing at a distance and waved him goodbye and he did the same and the dream stopped abruptly.

Was that really his dead sister? No, it was a familiar spirit.

(d) Ungodly, non-sexual ties

These are negative ties that emerge from relationships in which strong bonds are formed. These could be parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, mentor-student relationships or friendships which could degenerate into emotionally and spiritually destructive relationships.

When you are in a relationship with someone who stands between you and all that God wants you to be, or uses your mutual bond of affection to control or manipulate you, you are getting into ungodly soul ties. This can happen so subtly even in the name of a parent-child relationship which borders on manipulation.

The sad reality is that many people have passed through life either dominating or being dominated by others. They are being pushed here and there even though they have a mind of their own and know what to do. Many of them can’t make any meaningful decision unless they first consult that person to whom their soul is tied.

(e) Occult ties

These are ties wielded by an occult individual, group or organization to exert demonic control over their victims. These links are forged by rites, sexual and/or non-sexual acts, but generally function as dark bridges through which demons can pass from one person to the other.

From the Bible, we can see that almost every instance of reference made to pagan worship is associated with sexual sins. In Western witchcraft and satanic covens, ‘The Great Rite’ or ritual sex is often performed during which male and female members engage in sex orgies.

This is often done to raise a ‘cone of power’ – an etheric energy generated in occult magick circles. Sexual rites are also performed during higher level initiations to pass the mantle of evil spirits to the intending.

There is also Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) during which dozens of sexual contacts are forced on a victim (usually a child) in a ritual setting. It’s done to break the victim’s mind – through drugs, torture and sexual brutality – so as to allow powerful demons enter them and become their power totem or guardian, which others can use to work the occult through the child.

Through demonic links, the satanists control the victim, making him/her their puppet. Even if the victim doesn’t get involved in the occult later in life, s/he is still a mind-controlled slave for satanic elites and other covens.

Generally, there’s an occult bond that binds every witch and wizard together making it very easy to know and work with one another even when they change their geographical location.

People involved in Masonry and Mormonism can also have spiritual ties binding them to these groups through temple rites, baptism, Lodge oaths, initiation rites etc. which may need to be broken.

Finally, these can be dealt with by:

Repenting of the sin through which negative soul ties were formed. Renouncing vows, oaths, pacts or covenants and rash commitments you’ve made or that was made on your behalf and prayerfully cancel their effects upon your life.

It’s also necessary that you walk in forgiveness. This particularly applies to those who have been sexually abused or emotionally drained by dominating relationships. You can’t break yourself free from people whom you still hold in unforgiveness.

Verbally renounce and break every negative soul tie in the name of Jesus. Note: It’s not necessary to remember all the names of former partners to do this, once you make a broad statement (e.g “I break and renounce soul ties forged with every person with whom I had sex with”), it’s taken care of.

Gehenna and “the Society’s” Dark Lenses

In 2015, the Watchtower Society published a simplified edition of What Does the Bible Really Teach? named What Can the Bible Teach Us? In one of its end notes on Gehenna, it says:

Gehenna is the name of a valley near Jerusalem where garbage was burned and destroyed. There is no evidence that in Jesus’ time animals or humans were tortured or burned alive in this valley. So Gehenna does not symbolize an invisible place where people who have died are tortured and burned forever. When Jesus spoke of those who are thrown into Gehenna, he was talking about complete destruction. – Matthew 5:22; 10:28. (Chap. 6, par. 5; Chap. 15; 1: 17)

JWs believe Gehenna is a figurative place where the wicked dead who won’t be resurrected back to paradise earth would go. This seems hard to sustain, that someone will be “in a place” and still be non-existent. This is pure nonsense. But to a JW it makes perfect sense.

According to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Gehenna is the Greek translation of the Valley of Hinnom which was used as garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Refuse, waste materials, and dead animals were burned here. Fires continually smoldered, and smoke from its burning debris rose day and night. Hinnom thus became a graphic symbol of woe and judgement and of the place of eternal punishment called Hell.

There is no need for living animals or humans be thrown into a literal site for it to be used to symbolize hell fire. Jesus used a physical place the people were familiar with to give them an idea of what hell is like, particularly its unquenchable fire. There is no human expression or description that can accurately explain how terrible hell is.

The two Bible texts cited are:

Matthew 5:22 “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Both verses refer to eternal judgement and are not “symbolic”. Now, there are different Greek words rendered as “hell” in the New Testament and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), but I will discuss only two which are germane to this topic: Gehenna and Hades.

Gehenna is a place of punishment, torment and destruction. It is associated with fire (Mt. 18:9, Mark 9:43; James 3:6) and from the verses cited by the Watchtower Society, it’s clear that those that will be there will have bodies. It is a place of eternal punishment after the general resurrection of the damned and their judgement at the Great White throne (John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:11-12).

From the way the lake of fire is described in Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14, 15 etc.) it suggests it’s one and the same with Gehenna. This is different from Hades (hell), the current abode of the wicked after death (Luke 10:15).

Those that are currently in hell are disembodied so to speak, but in Gehenna they will be in their immortal bodies, and the punishment will be far, far worse than hell, because hell will be thrown into the lake of fire. So we can say hell – as terrible as it is – is like jail where the damned are held until the judgement, while the lake of fire/Gehenna is the prison – their final destination.

It should also be pointed out that it is in Gehenna that Satan, the antichrist and his demons will be tormented as well. The Bible calls it “the second death,” a death which is the final outcome of a life of sin and unbelief resulting in a place of torment (Rev. 21:8).

The Bible also used the term “destruction” to describe it. The Greek word here is apoleia which actively refers to utter destruction of vessels (as in Romans 9:22) and passively refers to perishing, ruin, loss of eternal life, eternal misery and perdition (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, 2011).

The term “destruction” does not mean it ceases to be, but that it is so ruined that it no longer serve the use for which it was designed. The Greek word apoleia is also used in Luke 19:10, 2 Peter 3:7,16 and Philippians 3:19 and not once does it mean becoming non existent or annihilation. For example, old bottles are said to be destroyed in Matthew 9:17, yet no one would say they ceased to exist.

In Revelation 17: 8, 11, we read: “The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction … The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction

The Bible later defines what it means by this destruction:

“But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 19:20)

“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Rev. 20:10).

The Watchtower leaders have horribly deceived Jehovah’s Witnesses in the most crucial area they ought to be seriously concerned about: their eternal destination. This is a tragedy.