James E. Finley

A very accomplished "Bible Belt Orator" gathered a great multitude to him and taught them in parables. "Now hear the parable of the pews," he said. "A teacher called his students and instructed them in the wisdom of pews by making the following statements:

(1) Pews are made of wood.

(2) American pews are made of hickory wood.

(3) The pews at Podunk, Texas are dirty.

(4) The pews in the South are not ornate."

The students looked at their notes with great wonderment for they did not understand such depth of teaching. The orator continued, "The meaning of the parable is this: The word pew has a universal sense as in statement one, a national sense as in statement two, a local sense as in statement three, and a regional sense as in statement four. Without this understanding of pew sense no man can be truly great." The eyes of the students grew large and round. They nodded their heads wisely and in unison said "OHHHHHHHH." For they knew that on that day they had acquired great wisdom and knowledge concerning pews.

Many times over the years, I have heard preachers present sermons in which they explained the "sense" of the word ekklesia. These sermons usually make the argument that the Greek word ekklesia means assembly, congregation, or church and that it is used in several senses in the New Testament. Then, there will be a discussion (with quotations from appropriate scriptures) of the local sense, the universal sense, the national sense, the regional sense, the geographical sense, etc.

I have often wondered why so much time and effort is spent laboring over the "sense" of this word. Is it difficult for anyone to understand that the ekklesia in Texas would be God's people in that State and that Texas is a geographical area? But here is what always bothered me. Notice that Texas is the "geographical" word and not ekklesia. Ekklesia does not have a geographical sense or connotation and it is only with the addition of a word such as Texas that we begin to understand that we are discussing a geographical location.

Recently, while thumbing through a well-worn Bible that I carried several years ago, I noticed some statements that I had penciled on the fly leaf as I listened to a sermon like that described above. I remember the occasion well. The preacher (a man I did and still do admire a great deal) was talking about the "senses" of the word ekklesia and it occurred to me that we could do the same thing with just about any noun. Since I was seated on a pew, that is the first word that came to mind.. The statements I composed at that time are those in the above "parable."

Does it not make just as much sense to speak of the sense of a pew as it does to speak of the sense of an assembly (ekklesia)? In what way does all this talk of sense add to our understanding of the words pew or assembly? When all is said and done, a pew is still a pew and an assembly is still an assembly. All of God's people are simply His assembly, the people he has gathered out of the world. All His people at Podunk, Texas are His Podunk assembly, those people He has gathered out of the world who are live at Podunk. All His people in America are His American assembly, that portion of His people who are located in America. All His people in the South are His Southern assembly, that portion of His people who are located in the South.

Some will say that I am "making a mountain out of a mole hill" but I believe that all this nonsense about "ekklesia sense" is just as beneficial as teaching about "pew sense." It interferes with understanding a very simple word. EKKLESIA MEANS ASSEMBLY! Why add to that? Other words may further describe or restrict that assembly but it is still just an assembly. There is nothing about the word assembly that connotes local, universal, national or regional.