The word ‘church’ shows up 106 times in the New Testament. The first occurrence of the word is found on the lips of Jesus in Matthew 16:13-20. Though we could spend a little time on this Scripture alone, I am going to move on to something else, and maybe we will revisit this specific passage in the near future.
The English word ‘church’ is a translation of the Greek New Testament word, ekklesia. In its simplest form, the word ekklesia means ‘called out ones’ or ‘assembly’. This larger word comes from the root word kaleo, meaning ‘to call’, and the prefix ek, meaning ‘out’. Hence, we have the phrase ‘called out ones’.
Now, we could try and over-spiritualise the word and say, ‘Yes, we are the called out ones because we are the ones whom God has called out of darkness into his marvelous light,’ referring to 1 Peter 2:9. But, there is really no need to over-spiritualise the word. Ekklesia was actually used in general life during the first century, as seen in Acts 19:21-41 and the specific use of the word ‘assembly’ in vs32. Here it is used to describe a convened legal assembly. It is also used in Stephen’s speech in the New Testament to describe Old Testament Israel gathered in the wilderness (see Acts 7:37-39, the word ‘congregation’ used in vs38).
Thus, we see these examples show that the basic meaning of ekklesia is ‘a gathered people’ or ‘a people assembled for a purpose’. This all connects together when we look at the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, which is qahal. The Old Testament usually translates it as ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’. And actually, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (scholars refer to it as the Septuagint), the Greek word, ekklesia, is substituted for the Hebrew word, qahal (e.g. Deuteronomy 9:10; 2 Chronicles 6:3). As a result, we see that the two words are synonyms with one another, and they both have that basic meaning of ‘a people called together for a purpose’.
So, what is my point, you ask? This is a lot of theological mumbo-jumbo.
Well, do you see the underlining meaning of the word ‘church’ (or ekklesia and qahal)? Are you becoming aware that ‘church’ doesn’t really have much to do with a particular building, or a particular day of the week, or particular programs happening in the middle of the week? I hope it is becoming clearer that church is about PEOPLE. It is about US (not America, but you and I), as the people of God.
We actually derive our word ‘church’ from the Old English/Scottish word, kirk, and the German word, kirche. These words actually do refer to the building, hence, someone might ask, ‘Are you going to church?’
But, if we get into the Biblical roots, and that’s what we are called to do, we begin to see that church, or ekklesia, in its essence, is about a called out people, the community of God’s people together for a purpose. As Acts 14:2 says:
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
I wonder where they met, and I wonder if this even happened on another day besides Sunday?
And so, the alarm has been sounded. Let us remember that church is about US, about the people whom Christ has called to Himself. You might meet on Sunday mornings, you might have a decent building structure as a base, and you might gather to that base a few other nights a week. But in the end, church is about the Bride, God’s community of people called together for a purpose. And knowing this breathes a whole lot of life into our understanding of God’s heart for church.
To read the next article concerning the topic of church, click here.
Yeah, I’m not much for over spiritualizing anything, however, on the other hand, I wonder about flatly assuming only one meaning when more are possible, even plausible. Paul likes his puns and I imagine this double entente was too good not to use 100+ time.
Back to the point, is the church about people or about God? Or is that even a fair question? Man-centered worship is always in vogue… 🙂
Church, in the essence of the Greek word, is about the called out people. It is a very needed reminder that the church is here for the glory and worship of God. Man-centered worship is rampant in America and other parts of the world. Since, this was a first post on the topic, and trying to stay somewhat shorter, I might need to pick up this side of the coin down the line.
But also, the belief that church is about “that place we go to on Sunday” does inhibit people from true understanding of God’s heart for the church. And, I have a hunch, that as people started understanding the “definition” of the word church, they might start serving the kingdom of God with much more life and power. And that is the goal, a practical life-changing understanding.
I agree Scott and i like the quick greek lesson. For me i see from the Garden of Eden onwards (in fact before creation) God has desired a community of people to be in relationship with. Before the cross this was the nation of Israel and since then it has opened up to all those who profess faith in the saving work of Jesus.
The question i might ask is whether in the same way we shouldn’t get caught up in the english meaning of the word church, neither should we get too concerned about the original greek. The truth is when the English coined the term church it was to describe what ‘church’ was to them, namely a group of people that meet every week in the same building. For the early church no such building existed so their term for ‘church’ was exactly what they saw, a gathering of people.
I wonder whether the best biblical word to describe what church should be is kingdom. Rather than naming what he saw, Jesus taught what the community of his believers should be like. I agree that the building, meeting day, program and name is all unimportant. The real issue is whether the gathering of people, whatever it’s appearance, is bringing a glimpse of Gods kingdom here on Earth. The love, grace, power, holiness and disciplne of his Majesty.
All said i’m loving the blog so far Mr Lencke and i have RRS’d you on my bookmark toolbar so keep ’em coming.
Thanks for the comments, Paul. It’s been a while…
You are right – the word church was used in context to explain what it meant for that people who formed the word – possibly a place they went to on Sunday. And in the first century, the word ekklesia meant what it meant to the earlier church, taking a word used in general life. It is truly semantics, and church can mean the building. Most of us know what we are talking about, but something in me feels the necessity to be clear in the understanding of our words.
“I wonder whether the best biblical word to describe what church should be is kingdom.” — I do understand what you are saying here, but I would try and differentiate the two. By this, I mean the church should be proclaiming and advancing the rule of God, but it is not synonymous with the kingdom of God. The rule of God continues whether or not the church does. I believe the church will continue (not even gates of Hades will prevail against it), but it is subservient to kingdom, and, though, the church is the greatest agent of the kingdom, God can use even the enemy for His glory. So I try and distinguish the two, yet calling the church to realize the kingdom of God is its great mission.
Yeah. The kingdom of God is not the church but the church should give a glimpse of the kingdom.
Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing your link to this post. 🙂
Obviously,as an “unchurched” Believer, I’m in agreement with the semantics you laid out in your post.
As someone who has been a member of several churches (organizations) in the last decade and a half, I have to say that the problem (lack of power, passion to evangelize for Christ) comes because of compromised doctrinal issues and not neccesarily one’s understanding of what church is.
When the integrity of sound doctrine is restored to church organizations abroad, the Holy Spirit, by Faith, can breathe new life into those who profess to believe and worship Him. And the understanding of what Church really is (Spiritual) comes along with doctrinal correction.
I like your statement:
“But I also find myself asking this question, “For whom did Christ give himself up for?” And the answer to this question shows me it might be about a little more than semantics – Christ died for his Bride; not a building, not a day, not an institution”
It reminds of Mark 2:27 where Christ says:
“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:”
Thanks again for stopping by and God bless. 🙂