the weblog of Alan Knox

Which church?

Posted by on Sep 28, 2006 in definition, scripture | 2 comments

The singular ekklesia (“church, assembly, community”) is used in several respects in Scripture:

  1. The “church” meeting in a house though considered part of the “church” in a city (Rom 16:5).
  2. The “church” in a city (1 Cor 1:2).
  3. (Possibly) The “church” in a region (Judea, Samaria, Galilee) (variant: could be “churches”; Acts 9:31).
  4. The “church” composed of all believers of all times (Matt 16:18).

I have been thinking about these different uses of ekklesia and how they relate to our modern use of the term “church.” Here are some of the questions that I have been asking:

  1. Does it matter how I use the word “church”?
  2. Is the word “church” the best word to use when translating ekklesia?
  3. When I think of the “church” which biblical usage best matches my usage?
  4. If my usage of “church” does not match the biblical usage, should my usage change?

As I continue to think about these questions, I would love to hear how others would answer these questions.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-29-2006


    1. Absolutely – As you know, I practice (or at least attempt to) and encourage others to speak of the “church” as only the body of believers – not the Time, Service, or Buildling (or anything else that I may have missed).

    2. Lately I have been questioning that. The word “church” really has no meaning. It may have in the past, but now, because of the vastly different meanings it can be taken in vastly different ways. Perhaps we should just cease to use the word “church” when refering to the assembly of believers, and just start calling it the assembly.

    3. I think the four examples you gave all refer to the same things, perhaps in different quanities. It would like something like this:
    Church = (4 (3 (2 (1) ) ) )

    The numbers represent each definition.

    In fact, now that I think of it, if “church” (ekklesia) refers to a body of believers, all 4 of those definitions meet that requirement.

    #1. Is a body of believers (in Christ)
    #2. Is a body of believers (in Christ)
    #3. Is a body of believers (in Christ)
    #4. Is a body of believers (in Christ)

    Some might say that #4 is “the” body of believers (in Christ). If so, we could say that the word “church” is best defined as “an assembly and the assembly.” I wonder if there is any wiggle room with the fact that ekklesia is not just an assembly of Christians. Perhaps church is always “an assembly” and in definition #4 it is “an assembly consisting of every believer.” I think if you go with that the “a” and “the” distinction might go away.

    4. I would love to say “Absolutely!” here, but I am afraid that my answer to question 2 does not grant me the ability. So, my answer is this:

    If you decide to continue to use the word “church” then yes, you should absolutely change how you use it, if – and only if – your usage does not match the biblical usage(s).

    If you decide to stop using the word “church” there are a few things you should do:
    First, decide on a better translation of ekklesia and always use that instead.
    Second, never use the word “church” in a way that matches the translation of ekklesia.

    Someday I am going to be tarred and feathered.

  2. 9-30-2006


    Although I am not here directly answering your questions, I thought I’d throw out the following quote I like, and which I think gives some good insights to the questions you are asking, from John Newport’s essay on “The Purpose of the Church” from the book “The People of God,” edited in 1991 by Paul Basden, and David Dockery…

    “The apostle Paul used the word ‘ekklesia (church) more than any other New Testament writer. The majority of his writings were addressed to a group of believers in a specific city. However, we should note that the individual congregation, or group of believers in a specific place, is never regarded as only a part or component of the whole church. The church is not a sum or composite of the individual local groups. A better statement would be that the local congregation is the church in local expression. The one church of God expresses itself locally in the fellowship of believers. The church in Ephesus is ‘the’ church of God, not merely a part of the church of God.

    It should be noted, however, that unity was not expressed in external organization or ecclesiatical structure. The early church was made up of local groups of believers scattered throughout the Mediterranean world with no external or formal organization binding them together except apostolic authority. Such authority today is found in the Scriptures properly interpreted. This apostolic authority was exerted through spiritual and moral persuasion. It was not formal and legal.

    From a broad theological perspective, the church can be defined as the whole body of those who through Christ’s death have been savingly reconciled to God and have received new life. While it is universal in nature, it finds expression in local groups of believers.”