What do you think of when you hear the word church?
Perhaps you think of a religious building, worship service, denomination, or even all Christians. However, this is not the correct meaning of the word. In our church you will often hear the phrase, “The church is a people not a place.” Where do we get this? Actually, it is from the definition of the Greek word used for church, “ekklesia” (pronounced “ek-klay-sea’-ah”). The word means a called-out assembly or congregation. In older translations, like the Tyndale English Bible, you cannot even find the word “church”. The word ekklesia is correctly translated as “congregation or assembly”. Ekklesia is used 115 times in the New Testament and in most modern Bibles it is always translated as “church” except in Acts 19:32, 39, and 41 where it is properly translated as “assembly”.
So, what’s the big deal? Why does it matter? It matters because a misunderstanding of the “church” has far reaching implications. For example, there are those who claim that the church is all the saved. However, if you use “ekklesia” and its correct definition of “called out assembly” what you are saying is that all the saved is an assembly that is called out. Contextually “ekklesia” in the New Testament is a local and visible assembly of believers who congregate for a specific purpose. The universal church is neither local nor visible and in order to be an assembly you have to be both. So, if you want a name for all the saved, call them the family of God as stated in Ephesians 3:15, “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” A church must be local, visible, and assembled. Anything else is not a church.
We do see all the saved referred to universally in Revelations 21:9 as the “bride of Christ”. However, it is interesting to note that at this time the rapture has occurred and all the saved are local, visible, and assembled together.
Another reason it matters is because when people misunderstand the true meaning of the word “church”, they misapply the practices of it. An example would be “home church”. While I understand the reason behind this movement it is still built on a cracked foundation. You can read about that here. Those that “home church” gather the family, read scripture, pray, and sing songs of worship. In truth, they are doing what God commands the family to do. He does expect the father to lead his family spiritually. This practice is what the older generations called a “Family Altar”. This should be done daily. But don’t call it “church”. It is not the assembly. Every Christian family should worship daily and then, throughout the week, gather with other like-minded believers for corporate worship. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Heb 10:23-25)
The practices of the local assembly do not work within a single family
unit. For example, church discipline as commanded in scripture is impossible in a single family unit. In a “home” setting the Pastoral Epistles that Paul wrote become unnecessary. Church ordinances such as baptism and communion are not individual ordinances and the word “fellowship” assumes a gathering or congregation. In addition, the roles of men and women within the assembly (as found in I Timothy) would not apply either. However, in scripture we do see a family of families assembling together as a local unit. This is necessary to fulfill the role of the ekklesia.