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.