Occasionally, I write posts to explain what I mean when I use certain terms. I’ll even write multiple posts over time about the same word or phrases for a couple of reasons: 1) my understanding and usage of the term/terms may have changed, or 2) new readers and commenters come to the blog.
Obviously, since I usually write about the church, the word “church” is a term that I use regularly. People mean many different things when they use the word “church,” and they refer to many different things when they use the word “church.” (Stay tuned for another post tomorrow when I examine some of these different usages and references…) (By the way, there is a difference between “meaning” and “referent.” That difference is an interesting study on its own if you have time to dig into it…)
As most of us know, the authors of the New Testament used the Greek term “ekklesia” to refer to gatherings of God’s children. This is what I mean when I use the English term “church.”
Now, the Greek term “ekklesia” itself does not refer to a gathering of God’s people. The term “ekklesia” means a “gathering” or “assembly” or any time. Around the time that the New Testament was written, “ekklesia” could refer to a political/civic gathering, religious assemblies, a military gathering, an unruly mob, even a group of animals. Even in the New Testament we find several of those different usages of the term “ekklesia.” I do not translate all of those as “church.”
Instead, I only use the English term “church” when the New Testament authors was referring specifically to a gathering of God’s people. Sometimes they would specify that they were talking about the “ekklesia of God” or the “ekklesia of Christ,” but sometimes they simply used the term “ekklesia” in the general context of God’s people. In each of those cases, I would use the term “church.”
So, today, when I use the term “church,” I do so only when I’m referring to a gathering of people who are God’s children (i.e., followers of Jesus Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit). And, when I’m referring to multiple gatherings, I will use the plural “churches,” just as the New Testament authors used the plural “ekklisiae” when referring to multiple gatherings. (For example, see Galatians 1:2, in which Paul addressed several gatherings in different cities in the region of Galatia.)
Now, I understand that people mean different things when they use the term “church.” So, I am very careful when I use the term, and often I will clarify exactly what I mean when I first use the term around a person or group. If there is confusion, then I will use another term such as “gathering,” “assembly,” “group,” etc… something that conveys the same idea.
I also understand that some people do not like to use the word “church” because of the baggage associated with that term. I appreciate their decision, and I empathize with them. If I’m around people who prefer not to use the term church to refer to a gathering of God’s children (and if I know of their preference), then I refrain from using it as well and instead use one of the other terms above.
So, hopefully, this helps you and others understand what I mean when I use the term “church” on my blog.
Tomorrow, I’m going to look at how other people use the term “church”… with a little help from Google.