When we use the word church in our modern society, what comes to our
minds? Most likely we think of a building where Christians gather. Maybe
we think of a church as a group of organized Christians, with a pastor,
deacons, and so on. The question can be asked, when the first century
Christians used the word "church", what came to their mind? What
did they mean when using this word?
In our culture the word church has a narrow definition. That is, it is
applied to Christians only, or possibly to a religious gathering. Church
then is a religious word, which is not used in our secular society. Yet
the Greek word "ekklesia" which we translate into our English
word church has no such narrow definition. "Ekklesia" is derived
from two other Greek words; "ek", meaning "out of",
and "klesia", meaning "a calling". Thus a good
definition for "ekklesia" is a group of "called out
people", a smaller group separated from a larger group.
It is important to realize that in the first century "ekklesia"
was not a Christian word. It was not even a religious word, as our word
church is today. "Ekklesia", you might say, was a secular word.
It was used for any type of gathering of people. Even in New Testament
writings you can see "ekklesia" used in many different ways.
In Acts 19:39 "ekklesia" is translated as a "legal
assembly" of Greeks. In Acts 19:32 "ekklesia" is translated
as "an assembly" of Jewish leaders. In Acts 19:41 "ekklesia"
is translated as an "assembly" in reference to an angry mob. So
here we have this word translated three times in on chapter as "an
assembly" of people, yet the assembly each time is a different group
of people, all of which have nothing to do with the church, or religion.
The point is then made that "ekklesia" in its original usage
had a much broader definition than our modern day word church. So does
this mean anything to us as Christians today?
I think this distinction has much to say to us today. First of all we
should note that when "ekklesia" is used in a Christian sense in
the New Testament, it is used in a couple of different ways. In Rev. 3:1
(along with the other 6 churches mentioned in Rev.) "ekklesia"
is used of all Christians in a particular city, in this case Sardis.
Note also in Rom. 16:3-5 that Pricilla and Aquila had a church, or
"ekklesia" that met in their home. Could this be the only "ekklesia"
or church in the city of Rome? Not likely.
So in the Christian usage of "ekklesia" we have a gathering
of Christians in a whole city, or also a gathering of Christians in one
So once again, what does this mean to us today? I think that we have
placed to much emphasis on our English word church. We have narrowed its
definition down to mean a group of "structured" Christians who
meet in a building that some even go as far to call a church. In reality,
the original usage of this word had a much broader definition. In my
thinking the first Christians viewed church as merely "an assembly of
Christians", no matter if it was a city wide assembly, or an assembly
of people in a home. The assembly might have been ten people, or then
thousand people. The assembly might have been organized or unorganized. It
was merely a gathering of Christians.
Today we would not call a home Bible study group of 10 people a church,
but really it is an "ekklesia". It is a gathering of Christians.
It is a church, even though there may be no pastors and no deacons. It is
an "ekklesia" according to the original definition of "ekklesia".
It may not be a church according to our modern definition of church.
This may paint a different picture of what we view the church as being.
Some say that there are many different churches in a city, many different
denominations. Some say that there is only one true church in a city.
Others say that there is only one real church in the world, and each city
church is an expression of the world wide church. Yet if we use the first
century definition of "ekklesia", and not our modern definition
of "church" we should admit that church in any gathering of
Christians, whether organized or unorganized, whether large or small.
As with other Biblical words we as Christians have Christianized many
words to the degree that they have lost their original meaning. Church may
just be one of those Christianized words, once having a broader meaning
than its modern day counterpart. If this is the case then, we do not think
in the same terms as the first century Christians did when it comes to
Church (ekklesia) is simply a gathering of Christians. Thatís it.
Maybe we should think in terms of "a gathering of Christians",
and not in terms "church".
One last note. There was another first century word that is often
translated as "an assembly" and that is the Greek word, "synago".
You might look at this word and think you recognize it. It is where we get
our English word "synagogue". "Synago" was also a
"gathering of people" but mostly used in Jewish terms in the
Jesus could have said that "He would build His synago", but
He did not choose to use this word. For some reason He said, "I will
build my ekklesia". Why this was the case may be speculation.
Possibly He wanted to use a more secular word because His assembly would
not be taken just from His Jewish heritage. His assembly that He would
build would be "a called out assembly from all nations of the
earth". It would not be "religious", in nature, but