The Church of Colossians
CHRIST HAS ONLY ONE KIND OF CHURCH
ACCORDING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
"And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the
beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things
he might have the preeminence." (Col. 1:18.)
Proponents of the universal church idea abuse and misinterpret the epistles
of Ephesians and Colossians perhaps more than any other part of the New
Testament in their vain attempts to produce some scriptural support for their
fantastic theories. In another study I have shown how the use of the word
"church" in Ephesians corresponds to the abstract, generic,
institutional, or distributive use of other singular nouns with plural
connections. Let us now examine the same subject in Paul s letter to the
In the first place it is axiomatic that words ought to be understood in their
ordinary sense unless the context demands otherwise, or unless the writer or
speaker explains that he is using a word in a sense different from what would be
naturally understood by his readers or hearers. The question in Biblical
interpretation is not what meaning modern religionists may like to read into the
scriptures, but what meaning was clearly intended to be conveyed by the original
writers, according to the ordinary usages of language.
Meaning of Ekklesia
Honest translation requires that the Greek word ekklesia be rendered
"assembly" or "congregation" a fact attested by competent
scholarship and easily confirmed by anyone who will examine the word in context
in all its occurrences in the New Testament. The fact is so self-evident that
even the most rabid advocates of a universal church are compelled to recognize a
literal assembly in the great majority of all Biblical uses of the word.
Satan s ministers, enemies of our Lord's church, needed about half a
thousand years to get much acceptance of the idea of a "universal" or
"catholic" church in opposition to New Testament churches, and a
thousand years more to sell the idea of a "universal invisible"
church. Of course, a universal or worldwide assembly is a contradiction in
terms, and even more so is an invisible assembly of visible mortals. There is no
such confusion in the New Testament.
Stubbornly shutting their eyes to the abstract use of singular nouns, enemies
of our Lord s real churches dream of what they call "the true church"
as something that exists only in imagination, something that never assembles,
something supposed to include all Christians and yet leaving them all out of any
definite or recognizable obligations to Christ.
For readers whose minds are open, I cite a few of more than a dozen instances
in Colossians of various singular nouns used with the definite article and with
plurality of application: that is, the singular does not have an immediate
particular reference, nor does it suggest anything universal; but it is to be
applied plurally (distributively) according to context.
Col. 1:4: "Your faith" and "love." The possessive pronoun
is plural; the "faith" and "love" are singular. Not
universal faith and love, but individually and collectively the faith and love
of all the Colossian saints.
Col. 2:11: "Ye are circumcised.., inputting off the body of the sins of
the flesh." Note the plural subject. The Colossians did not all at once put
off one big universal body of sins, but each of them individually put off the
body of the sins of his own flesh.
Col. 2:12: (Literally) "Buried with him in the baptism." The
subject is still plural, but "the baptism" (singular) is not one big
universal invisible splash; the reference is to the baptism of each individual.
Col. 3:8: "Your mouth." Plural possessive (genitive) pronoun;
singular "mouth." Devotees of a universal church may have nightmares
about a universal mouth; other readers will have better sense.
The Church The Body
"Ekklesia," traditionally mistranslated "church," appears
four times in the letter to the Colossians. The first two times, in verses 18
and 24 of the first chapter, it is figuratively declared to be the body of
Very little intelligence and only a moderate amount of thinking will be
needed to discern how apt is this figure when applied to an organized assembly
and how ridiculous it is to try to apply it to the imaginary "universal
church." Reduce a human body to smoke and ashes, dispel the smoke around
the world, and scatter the ashes across six continents and seven seas: then try
to get some work done by that "universal body"!
The figure of the church as the body of Christ is enlarged upon in Romans 12
and in I Corinthians 12. It is a beautiful and meaningful figure when we think
of a real union of God s people organized under the headship of Christ, holding
a common faith and purpose, bound together in mutual love, sharing one other s
joys and sorrows, believing and obeying the word of God in the unity of the
Enemies of Christ's church are they who destroy this figure, making it
ridiculous with their "invisible church" nonsense. The figurative body
of Christ of the New Testament is no mere figment of the imagination, but can be
found in real life wherever an assembly of baptized believers, recognizing only
Christ as their Head, carry on business for Him.
Suffering For the Church
In verse 23 of Col. 1, Paul says he became a minister of the gospel; in
verses 24 and 25 he says he became a minister of the church. There can be a
difference, but Paul was both. In verse 24 he wrote of himself as one
"Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is
behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body s sake, which is
Perhaps we shall never fully understand this scripture in this life.
Certainly we must not confuse the meritorious, substitutionary sufferings of
Christ which He alone bore for our redemption with other sufferings in which we
are called upon to share.
Whether we can understand it or not, Christ and His apostles had an interest
not only in individual souls but also in the church as an institution. Those
ministers of the gospel who attach no importance to the church, who imply that
"one church is as good as another," who thereby despise the only kind
of church that Jesus ever organized, are surely not led by the Spirit of Christ
or of Paul.
The Church in a House
In Col. 4:5 is the third mention of "church" in this letter:
"Salute... Nymphas, and the church which is in his house."
Notice: not that part of the church which is in his house, as it would
have to read if the church were something scattered all over the world, but
"the church which is in his house." Whether Nymphas had a very large
house, or whether the church that met there was a rather small church, we are
not told. What we are told is enough to let us know (1) that the church is not
universal; (2) that a church is something different from a house; and (3) that a
church may be contained in a house. All this is obvious in a single verse.
Churches in Fellowship
Fourth mention of the word "church" in Colossians is in 4:16:
"And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in
the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from
The only organic connection between real New Testament churches is that they
have the same Head, but this is enough. We are complete in Him. (Col. 2:10.)
Real churches cannot scripturally join together to form a higher organization,
whatever it may be called, to exercise authority over them. When they transfer
their allegiance from Christ to men, they cease to be Christ s churches.
But this does not mean that churches ought to exist in isolation. On the
contrary, having one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc., we have every reason to
enjoy and profit from fellowship with one another.
No doubt there were differences between the local conditions and
circumstances of the Colossian church and those of the Laodicean church, but
their needs and interests were similar enough that an apostolic letter to either
church merited the attention of the other.
It is not good for a church to cut itself off from others of like precious
faith. New Testament churches enjoyed fellowship with one another in the worship
and praise of God, in ministering to the needy, and in missionary undertakings.
If we will maintain good fellowship with our Head, we shall also have good
fellowship with one another.