Should we be concerned about the use of the word “church“? It is possible that to many believers and unbelievers it either connotes a building or a denomination. That is a far cry from what it means in the scriptures since there were no church buildings or denominations.
So what does “church” mean? Understanding the definition of Ekklesia (and its alternate spelling ecclesia) is an important component of understanding the role of the church. Ekklesia is a Greek word defined as “a called-out assembly or congregation.” Ekklesia is commonly translated as “church” in the New Testament.
Usually, the reference to the called out assembly of disciples was geographic oriented to a city. It was not a reference to a building or a denomination.
- For example, Acts 11:26 says that “Barnabas and Saul met with the church [ekklesia]” in Antioch. This is the type of normal reference.
- “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” Romans 16:1
- “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” 1 Corinthians 1:2
- “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” Colossians 4:15
- “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.” 1 Thessalonians 1:1
- And in 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul says that he had persecuted “the church [ekklesia] of God.”
- The “called-out assembly,” then, is a congregation of believers whom God has called out of the world and “into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
- The Greek ekklesia is the basis for our English words ecclesiastical (“pertaining to the church”) and ecclesiology (“the study of doctrine concerning the church”).
The word in the New Testament was used to refer to any assembly of people. In his address to the Sanhedrin, Stephen calls the people of Israel “the assembly [ekklesia] in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). And in Acts 19:39, ekklesia refers to a convening of citizens to discuss legal matters. However, in most contexts, the word ekklesia is used to refer to the people who comprise the New Testament church.
Should there be no more “church talk“? It is important that we understand the definition of ekklesia and what it means to be a called out assembly of disciples. For clarity, we could stop using the word entirely. It is dangerously confusing. We may, at least, want to take care to clarify what we mean when we use the word.
The church needs to see itself as being “called out” by God. If the church wants to make a difference in the world, it must be different from the world. Salt is different from the food it flavors. God has called the church to be separate from sin, to embrace fellowship with other believers, and to be a light to the world.
God has graciously called us unto Himself: “Come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you’” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Church — What is God’s purpose for the called out assembly of disciples? — To praise God! One of the primary purposes of the assembly of disciples is to praise God and glorify Jesus, our Master.
- 1 Peter 2:9 — But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
- Ephesians 1:5–6 — He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus the Messiah to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
- Ephesians 1:11–12 — Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in the Messiah would be to the praise of His glory.
- Ephesians 1:14 — Who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
- Hebrews 13:15 — Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.
- 1 Peter 2:5 — You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus the Messiah.