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What do I mean when I use the word CHURCH?

Posted by on Aug 15, 2012 in definition | 46 comments

What do I mean when I use the word CHURCH?

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.


46 Comments

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  1. 8-15-2012

    Great summary, Alan! This is how I use the word as well.

  2. 8-15-2012

    Good explanation, Alan. Like many, I use ‘ekklesia’ when I refer to the local gatherings of believers, even though as you said ‘ekklesia’ does not automatically have a religious context.

    The reason I use ‘ekklesia’ and not ‘church’ is because….

    ….I refrain from using the word ‘church’ unless I am using it to point out man’s version of the word, and I use it with venom on my tongue. The First Baptist Church of Anytown USA, or The Holy Immaculate Roman Catholic Church of the Perpetually Bleeding Wounds of Jesus, or The United All-Inclusive Unitarian Church of Whatever Kind of Jesus That Makes You Happy, all of these qualify to me as being merely man’s churches and have nothing to do with Christ.

    I use ‘The Church’ to refer directly to that which our Jesus is building, and this has nothing to do with small ‘c’ church. See above.

    I also capitalize the Name of Jesus and whenever I use He, Him, His. It’s just what I do, since He is, you know, God and all and is worthy of such reverence, even in how we write/type His Name.

  3. 8-15-2012

    Interesting. I was actually planning on doing a blog post soon about the “divine pronoun” (and why I don’t personally use it). ;)

  4. 8-15-2012

    Chuck,

    Thanks. That’s 2 of us so far. :)

    Donald,

    Thanks for the explanation. I’ve heard from and read from other people who make a distinction between the lower-case “c” and the upper-case “C” when they refer to “church.” Thanks also for your explanation about pronouns related to God. I know alot of people who capitalize pronouns when they refer to God.

    -Alan

  5. 8-15-2012

    Haha, I know a few others who use words properly, but they don’t blog.

  6. 8-15-2012

    Alan and Chuck,

    You filthy pagans. I will have you capitalizing the Divine Pronouns before I die! Just you watch! LOL! Jokes, just jokes…

  7. 8-15-2012

    Dear Alan: You might want to read J.R. Graves work on Intercommunion (I think that is the title). In it he makes an original contribution to ecclesiology, or, at least, I think he does. In a discussion on Acts 19 he succinctly establishes the differences between the mob (Oxlos) and the church (ekklesia). I think K. Schmidt’s article on ekklesia in TWNT is wanting as he never read Graves’ work. I say this as not a landmarker, but simply to acknowledge what I determine to be a worthwhile investigation. The ekklesia of Ephesus was the official governing body of that Greek city state under the auspices of the Roman Empire, and they were the group that would be held liable for the conduct of the unruly mob which had, perhaps, interrupted their meeting in the mob’s outrage. Graves erred, of course, in failing to establish that the doctrine of the church is a two part or two sided doctrine, involving a universal spiritual body as well as a local, visible body.

  8. 8-15-2012

    Chuck,

    Yes, I know many others who use the term “church” in the same way also. :)

    Donald,

    Thank you for capitalizing the pronoun “You” to show respect for Chuck and me. ;)

    James,

    In Acts 19, Luke used the term ekklesia (once) to refer to the governing body you referred to. However, in that same passage, Luke also uses both terms ekklesia (twice) and oxlos (twice) to refer to the unruly mob. Apparently, in some cases, the two words can be used synonymously (or at least in reference to the same group).

    -Alan

  9. 8-15-2012

    The word “church” rightly describes the misrepresentation of Christ and His work in the Earth. This ecclesiastical term enshrined forever in the KJV Bible and subsequent English translations, was an intentional mistranslation by Arch Bishop Bancroft and King James. The intention was pretty clear. This was done to protect the King’s and the ruling clergy’s claim to authority over the heritage of God. Church, meaning a building with a built in hierarchy, was the perfect vehicle for the continuation of the centralization and control of the “christian” religion.Since the institutionalization of the public representation of faith in Christ was effected by Constantine in the early forth century, almost every visible representation of Christ and His Kingdom has been subverted. Hence church is no more of Christ than Hinduism, or Islam.It is however a highly effective tool for those principalities who impersonate Christ and His spiritual Kingdom. For convenience sake, for the time being, we refer to the body of Christ as His Ekkelsia, doing our best to return to the pre-subversion era of first century.

  10. 8-15-2012

    Marc,

    I’ve read that before, and I still don’t buy that all of that must be part of the word “church.” That’s not the way linguistics works. I know… you disagree with me.

    -Alan

  11. 8-15-2012

    That’s an interesting theory, Marc, but the word “church” means “the Lord’s.” It comes from the Greek word “kuriakos” which is used in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10. While I agree that it’s not the best one-to-one translation for ekklesia, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” Furthermore, Wycliffe used it well before the KJV.

  12. 8-15-2012

    No problem, thanks for the forum.

  13. 8-15-2012

    Hello Chuck,
    Tyndale used “congregation”, and only used the word “church” in two verses meaning “pagan temple, or idol temple”. The question arises,why did King James and Bancroft insist, ekklesia NOT be translated as congregation as Tyndale did? Also “kuriakos” in the first century was used to refer to temples or houses of pagan gods.

  14. 8-15-2012

    Chuck,

    You’re right. The Greek kuriakos means “belonging to the lord/master” and was used in reference to many different things.

    Marc,

    The fact that James, Bancroft, and others used a word in one way does not mean that everyone used the word in the same way. Remember that I showed you that Wycliffe translated “ekklesia” with the word “church” almost 200 years before James or Bancroft or Tyndale were on the scene.

    -Alan

  15. 8-15-2012

    I know the word was in usage before King James. In the written rules for the King’s translation, Bancroft insisted the the “old ecclesiastical words be kept…the word ‘church’ not be translated as congregation.” If there are diverse meanings the words used by the MOST EMINENT FATHERS be kept.
    All you have to do is simply connect the dots. They had a good thing going controlling people using church, and there is a pretty lucrative business going on still today by controlling people using church. My concern is, when people, for what ever reason can not or will not see the truth in this, they inadvertently give aid and comfort to the enemy who devised and perpetuated this entire church system. For those who have not heard….yet….they need to hear. That is my job and calling before the Lord.

  16. 8-15-2012

    Marc,

    The problem is – and I’ve shared this with you before – Wycliffe does not fall within your dots. Your picture is incomplete. In fact, Wycliffe was far outside the dots and was accused of being a heretic for failing to toe-the-line with the religious system and translating the Scriptures into English. And, yet, he used the term “church.”

    -Alan

  17. 8-15-2012

    Brothers: I’ll throw this into the mix for those curious about the meaning of the Greek word ‘kuriakos’.

    http://www.aggressivechristianity.net/articles/ecclesia.htm

    @Marc Winter: if you would, can you show me where in the First Century the word kuriakos pointed to meaning temples/houses of pagan gods. Is there some writing you can show me? I’m genuinely curious.

  18. 8-15-2012

    Alan, Donald, Marc,
    You all seem to be on the same page–at least, on the etymology piece.

    Multiple dictionaries agree:

    “Kyriakon” (or kuriakon) means “of the master” or “of the ruler/lord.” The term came into infrequent use as early as AD 300 (according to Etymonline) to mean “the Lord’s House” in reference to Christian houses of worship.

    “Church” comes from the old Scottish/English work “kirk” which was derived from “kuriakon.”

    The KJV’s use of “church” vs “assembly” for the term ekklesia is definitely misleading.

    The question seems to be whether or not this was intentional (as Marc states) or simply due to common usage as Alan states. Is this a fair assessment?

    In either case, the ambiguous usage of the word “church” to describe both the building and the body has done nothing to alleviate the common misunderstanding of the New Testament references to “ekklesia.”

  19. 8-15-2012

    Donald,

    I haven’t read that entire article, but I noticed a problem in the title. Neither the English term “church” or the Greek term “ekklesia” have one meaning. They both have meanings.

    Norm,

    In situations where I know there may be misunderstandings and in which I cannot define how I’m using the term “church,” I use other terms because of those possible ambiguities and misunderstandings.

    -Alan

  20. 8-15-2012

    Donald,
    I will have to look those references up. I know kuriakon was a secular term meaning belonging to “the lord”, before any Christian usages.

  21. 8-15-2012

    Alan, must we pursue another adventure in ” Ecclesiology.” Looking forward to it. . . . Let’s not forget the church’s nearest neighbor and sister in the Scotch kirk, and its cousin in the German kirche. Could these have come from the Greek kuriakon, simply meaning a building or house adding the adjective neuter from kurios, “Lord.” Could this have contributed to all the confusion and misconception of what the church is? Oh well,back to the right word,”ekklesia.”

  22. 8-15-2012

    Marc,

    You know that ekklesia was a secular term also, right?

    Jeffery,

    Yes, the way that the English term “church” has been used definitely adds to the confusion. But, I’m not sure that using the term “ekklesia” helps, since it’s not an English term. “Ekklesia” is one of the Greek terms used in Scripture. What English term would you use?

    -Alan

  23. 8-15-2012

    There should not be multiple meanings at a fixed point in time. Since the word “church” or any word like it did not existing in the first century, using that term today defies logic. Here is a well written article I urge all to read. Thank you for your patience as I press this point.

    http://www.wordofhisgrace.org/ekklesia.pdf

  24. 8-15-2012

    Alan,I have no problem with the English term assembly, if your going to focus in on its etymology. I’m sure your going to deal with its use in the Septuagint as well as in the Hebrew. Even have no problem with the term congregation, as well.

  25. 8-15-2012

    Marc,

    What is the one meaning for the word “bank” today at this fixed point in time? How about the word “coat”? What is the one meaning of the word “text”?

    Almost every word has multiple meanings. Dictionaries list multiple meanings for words. There are multiple meanings for almost every word at any fixed point in time, and even those multiple meanings change over time.

    By the way, no English terms existed in the first century, including “church” or “assembly” or “gathering” or “group.” In the same way, the word “ekklesia” does not exist today as an English term. So, based on your statement, using the term “ekklesia” defies logic since that English term does not exist in the 21st century.

    Jeffery,

    I like the term “assembly” also. I often use that term.

    -Alan

  26. 8-15-2012

    Google ekklesia and see how many pages of information you get in English in use today.

  27. 8-15-2012

    Marc,

    Go back and read your previous comment. You said, “Since the word ‘church’ or any word like it did not existing in the first century, using that term today defies logic.” I was simply applying your logic to the first century Greek term ekklesia, which is not an English term. So, in your logic, it would “defy logic” to use it today. Like I’ve told you before, I’m perfectly content with someone using the term “ekklesia.” But, of course, it would have to be defined as well, since it’s not an English term.

    -Alan

  28. 8-16-2012

    Marc and Alan,

    Why not just substitute church with The Body or The Bride and be done with it? Ekklesia whatever. There are man’s churches and there’s The Bride. Big difference. If I may speak openly, you two are beating a dead horse of a disagreement you will continue to have probably until you are both taken Home.

    Jesus is Lord. There. That’s all the theology we need. :)

  29. 8-16-2012

    Except that a bride is just an analogy used. The church is not actually “the Bride.” It is “the Body” though, so I’m good with that. :)

  30. 8-16-2012

    Chuck,

    The Church is not The Bride? You see this as merely an analogy, and not literally? Hmm. I see it as both.

    2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:25. But maybe we should take this convo elsewhere. Perhaps one of us could write about it? Maybe, maybe….? Also, even after repeated asking, no one seems to want to explain to me why some Baptist doctrine says that the gifts have ceased with the canonization of The Scriptures. So many things to talk about, and so little time…:)

  31. 8-16-2012

    Hmm, those sound like two totally unrelated things to me (the Bride and cessationism), but I’d be happy to write about both some time (at separate times). BTW, I’m somewhere in-between a cessationist and a charismatic myself. That is, I do not believe the gifts have ceased, but I also don’t believe that most of what we see today (“tongues” and such) is truly the work of the Spirit.

    Sorry, Alan, I’m done hijacking your post now. :)

  32. 8-16-2012

    Donald,

    I’m perfectly happy with someone using the terms “assembly,” “gathering,” “group,” “church,” or even “ekklesia.” I’m more concerned with how the person is living and relating to others than what term is being used.

    I think you’ve got a couple of good topics for blog posts there. Run with ‘em!

    Chuck,

    The metaphor/allegory thing is very interesting, isn’t it? Bride, body, family, temple, … which ones are metaphors… Either way, they tell us alot about God, us, and the way we relate to God and to each other.

    You should write about Donald’s topics too… that would be fun!

    -Alan

  33. 8-16-2012

    Chuck,

    “That is, I do not believe the gifts have ceased, but I also don’t believe that most of what we see today (“tongues” and such) is truly the work of the Spirit.”

    Wow! Talk about confusion! You have inspired me, my brother, to pursue this as a blog topic. Stay tuned.

    I would ask, however, if you disbelieve in tongues as a modern-day gift, or is it that you think no one is doing it correctly?

    Alan, as Chuck has said, I will also stop in this hijacking of this thread. :)

  34. 8-16-2012

    I believe God can still (and probably does still) grant the ability to speak in other languages one has not studied. I don’t believe he makes people babble. :)

  35. 8-16-2012

    Chuck,

    We agree. To a point. What you consider as babble simply needs to be interpreted. Consider, Paul tells the Corinthians that if they were all speaking in tongues at once, a non-believer who walked in would say they were out of their minds. Is it that there would be an assembly of believers all speaking earthly tongues at the same time, thus creating an indiscernible cacophony of noise, or that the believers would be speaking angelic tongues that demanded interpretation through The Spirit so all may be edified?

    Your take on tongues seems very limiting, Chuck. You would willingly accept earthly languages and yet deny angelic tongues, which Paul himself said he spoke. Not saying this as a confrontation or as a judgment, surely not!, but I do think your view is erroneous.

    However, let us speak of this later, on my blog, once I get the proper post written. I would welcome your input!

  36. 8-16-2012

    Chuck

    Just for your information….

    Brooks “Babble.” Ya know – them little streams of water rolling over little rocks.

    Paul – Did NOT “Babble.” ;-)

    Paul spoke in a tongue – To God – NOT to man – That NO man could undertand.
    And Paul – Thanked God – He spoke in tongues more than you all.

    1 Corinthians 14:2 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God;
    for NO one understands, but *in his spirit* he speaks mysteries.

    1 Corinthians 14:18 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all;

    And – Paul seems to “Identify and Interchange”
    “Praying in tongues” with “Praying in the Spirit.”

    1 Corinthians 14:14-15 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    For if I **pray in a tongue,** my **spirit prays,**
    but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then?
    I will *pray with the spirit* and I will pray with the mind also;
    I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.

    Jer 50:6 KJV
    *My people* hath been *lost sheep:*
    “their shepherds” have caused them to “go astray”

  37. 8-16-2012

    Oy. I’m not going to comment on this anymore here, because it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Let’s move it to separate blog posts.

  38. 8-16-2012

    Chuck,

    It would seem our discussion has prompted a diversion! Oy, indeed! I’m writing a post for you right now, so keep your eyes peeled. Sorry, Alan. I should have known better than to broach the subject of tongues here. My apologies!

  39. 8-16-2012

    Chuck,

    Last comment, I promise, Alan!

    Hey, here’s the post I wrote because of this dialogue. It is merely a Part 1, if you will, and I know we can take it further. I would welcome you insights! And to anyone who wishes to venture over, your input is appreciated, too! Blessings and in all things, His Will.

    http://covenantalorganicchristianity.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/spiritual-gifts-today-canonizational-cessationism-or-present-day-continuation/

  40. 8-16-2012

    Yeah, just run all over my blog with your own little discussion… pick your own topic… don’t mind me… ;)

    Seriously, I enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming posts.

    -Alan

  41. 8-16-2012

    Hey Alan

    Woudn’t the topic of “Praying in Tongues” and “Praying in the Holy Spirit” and

    “Being Baptised in the Spirit” and “Being Baptised with the Spirit” and

    “Being filled with the Holy Spirit” – Be a part of this topic – Ekklesia.

    Seeems to me – We – The Ekklesia of God – Have ALL of these experiences
    Available – To all of us – His Ekklesia.

    If these things are NOT taking place in our gatherings – at least sometimes…

    Maybe – we are NOT- Really – The Ekklesia of God” – In the Bible?

    Acts 1:5
    For John truly baptized with water;
    but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

    Acts 2:4
    And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,
    and began to speak with other tongues,
    as the Spirit gave them utterance.

    Acts 19:6
    And when Paul had laid his hands upon them,
    the Holy Ghost came on them;
    and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

    Eph 5:18
    And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess;
    but be filled with the Spirit;

    Jude 20
    But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith,
    praying in the Holy Ghost,

  42. 8-16-2012

    Amos,

    My comment was a joke, playing off of Donald and Chuck “apologizing” for hijacking this thread.

    -Alan

  43. 8-17-2012

    Alan

    Thanks – I figured you were joking -hahahahahahahah!!! ;-) ;-) ;-)

    BUT – My question was serious – well, at least realistic – How about important?

    At least for me. And maybe this discussion about believers – His Ekklesia.

    Isn’t ‘Praying in Tongues” and “Praying in the Spirit” something
    The Ekklesia – The called out ones – did – when they were alone – and – assembled?

  44. 8-17-2012

    Amos,

    Of course, spiritual gifts is important to the maturity of the church. One of the reasons that God gives spiritual gifts is so that we can build up one another. I’ve written many, many blog posts about spiritual gifts.

    However, this post is about how I use the term “church.” So, no, discussing various spiritual gifts is not really on topic for this particular post.

    -Alan

  45. 8-20-2012

    Alan says “How I use the term “church”. what will it take for you to see the light about church and all of its deceptions? So many people, including myself have given you Spirit inspired truths about the evil of church, and you repeat the same thing over and over. What will it take? why are you intrenched?

  46. 8-21-2012

    Marc,

    I understand that you believe that what you are saying is Spirit-inspired. I do not believe the Spirit is telling you to condemn people for using the term “church.” I do not think you are helping the body of Christ with these kinds of accusations.

    -Alan

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