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What Does “Church” Mean?

John Gilman November 4, 2014

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Martin Luther did not want to translate the word ἐκκλησία as church because the word “church” is loaded and layered with meanings it was never meant to have.

Today, “church” has some common uses. They include:

Building: People use the word church to identify the building they gather in to worship, listen to teaching, have fellowship, and get married.

Your church is not the building where you meet.

Organization: People use the word church to identify the larger religious group for which they belong. They talk about the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Baptist Church, Vineyard Church, Methodist church, Non-Denominational Church or countless other variations.

The church is not limited to the larger religious organization you identify with.

Hierarchy of decision making: People use the word church to indicate the government implemented by their particular brand Christianity.. Bringing something before the “church” means bringing a particular issue before a congregation, elders, deacons, pastors, priests, bishops or whatever other offices are instituted in your bylaws.

Your church is not your decision making structure.

There’s nothing wrong with saying, “meet me at the church.” It’s a lot better than saying meet me at the old mattress warehouse we renovated three years ago and turned into a place where we meet for our worship gatherings every Sunday at 10:00 am and 11:30 am.

There’s nothing wrong with belonging to and participating in the life of a local, national or international group of believers who share the same values and understanding of scripture as you do.

There’s nothing wrong with church government. God has appointed certain people to offices and functions which the Holy Spirit uses to bring order. God’s big on order and people have different gifts and levels of maturity.

What Does “Church” mean?

Eklessia in it’s most simple sense refers to groups of people. Jesus promised that He’d be with us always, but He promised to reveal Himself when we gathered in groups of at least two or three.

In Greek, ἐκκλησία communicates some simple ideas

  • a regularly summoned legislative body
  • assembly a casual gathering of people, an assemblage, gathering  
  • people with shared belief, community, congregation
    • α. of a specific Christian group assembly, gathering ordinarily involving worship and discussion of matters of concern to the community:
    • β. congregation or church as the totality of Christians living and meeting in a particular locality or larger geographical area, but not necessarily limited to one meeting place (Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.)

When God added to the church in Acts, He brought in people. He didn’t make buildings bigger. God has always worked through groups of people. Adam’s family, Noah’s family, Abraham’s clan, the Nation of Israel, the Apostles, etc.. The fruit of the Spirit can only be eaten in community. You can’t love others alone in the woods. You can’t exercise patience if there’s no one testing your last nerve. Disciples are made of other people. You can’t disciple a building or an organization.

What’s your plan for building the community of the redeemed? How are you creating space and opportunity for people to live together to celebrate and experience the presence of Jesus? Do you make room and give opportunity for the body of Christ to work together?

Are you building an army of the redeemed or an audience of the entertained? Do the people in your “church” know your building better than they do each other? Do they know each others names? Do they know the names of loved ones?

Have people been sitting next to each other for years without ever serving along side each other in mission? Have they ever prayed with the people they meet with Sunday morning? Do they come to fellowship together in the presence of Jesus, or do they rush in and out with smiles on their faces and pain in their hearts?

Our job as leaders is to create space and opportunity to meet together. They should do it in person, but there are other ways too. That’s why we’ve invested in The City and share it with churches. It’s a new technology that helps Christians make and maintain relationships. On The City, people can pray together. They can share needs on message boards. They can sign up for events and programs that facilitate relationship building.

The City is not a substitute for the face to face relationships that Jesus modeled for us, but it’s a way for people who live in today’s world to stay connected. We don’t live as close to each other as they did in the first century. We don’t walk everywhere with each other and have that time to talk and get to know each other. We’ve built a society where people live in small boxes miles apart from each other, and The City is a tool which gives Christians a chance to bridge those gaps. The City is not the only tool that bridges the gaps, but it’s a good one. It works for those who use it.

Some people who never say anything open up online. They are so introverted in person that the amount of personal information they share online is unbelievable. Would you rather have them sharing their troubles on a message board with people who don’t believe in Jesus, or do you want them sharing their problems with people who know the Answer to all? Check out The City here at http://www.onthecity.org/

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