When I write about the church, I usually begin by explaining that I am referring to the people of God as they gather together. The church is not an organization or some type of corporate or hierarchical entity or a denomination or anything like that. It’s not a building. It’s not a set of rules or beliefs or codes. It’s not an event or a service. The church (as the Greek term “ekklesia” signifies) is a gathering or assembly of God’s people.
Of course, at the time that the New Testament was written, the term “ekklesia” alone (without any other context) did not necessarily refer to an assembly of God’s people. It simply referred to a gathering or assembly of people. In different contexts and with different modifiers, the term could refer to many different types of gatherings from political to social to educational to occupational etc.
But, the Greek term “ekklesia” always referred to groups of people. Today, if we use the term “church” to refer to anything other than God’s people, then we are not using it in the same way that the New Testament authors used the term “ekklesia.”
But, let’s be honest. People use the English term “church” to refer to many different things. And, many times, the term is not used to refer to a group of people. Often, the term church is used to refer to a specific building. The building is NOT the church. But, the church may be gathered in that building from time to time.
Sometimes, the English term “church” is used to refer to a certain organization or corporation with bylaws and organizational leadership etc. This organization/corporation is not the church. But, the church may meet together under auspices of that organization.
The term “church” is often used to refer to a specific event or service. That event or service is not the church. However, the church may be present at that event.
Some denominations or others types of associations may refer to themselves with the English term church. These types of organizations are not the church. However, the church may affiliate with those denominations or organizations in certain ways.
So, I don’t always agree with the ways that people use the English term “church.” Of course, this is my personal concern since the English term “church” is not actually found in Scripture and has a much wider range of definitions than the Greek term “ekklesia” that it is often used to translate. [We had a good discussion about this in a post a few years ago when I asked the question, “Should we use the word ‘church’?“]
But, this post is not really about whether or not we should use the word “church” and it’s not even about whether or not people use the word “church” in a manner that is similar to the use of the term “ekklesia” in the New Testament.
Instead, the point of this post is this: even when people use the term “church” in a way that does not refer to a gathering of the people of God, the people of God are often there. This is the church. And, we should care about, love, serve, teach, encourage, etc. those who are gathered, regardless of how they use the term “church.”
We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of how we use the term “church.”