When many people hear the word “church” different thoughts may come to their mind as to what this word means. When it comes to religious matters we must appeal to a standard, and that standard is the Bible.
The word translated church comes from the Greek word “EKKLESIA” which means “called out assembly”. In the New Testament we read that the church when applied to Christians is “called out” of the world. 2 Corinthians 6:17-18, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
Christians are called out of the world and many will ask “How are we called?” The Bible teaches we are called by the Gospel. 2 Thessalonians 2:14, “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The word “church” is used in three ways in the Bible.
- The term “church” is used of the “UNIVERSAL CHURCH”. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He is referring to the universal church, without regard to locality.
- “Church” is also used of “LOCAL CONGREGATIONS”. Revelation 2:1 says, “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…” This is referring to the congregation (church) that had been established in Ephesus.
- The word church can also mean “AN ASSEMBLY”, indicating a gathering of individuals. We read in Acts 7:38, “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers…”. The word church in this context does not refer to the New Testament church, rather to the assembly that had been called out of Egypt, i.e. the nation of Israel. In other contexts it means a worship assembly of the Lord’s church. For example, 1 Corinthians 11:18, “For first of all, when ye come together in the church…”.
We note at this point that when the church is used in reference to New Testament Christians it is not referring to the building. In 1 Corinthians 16:19 the Bible says, “…Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” This is referring to Christians that met (assembled for worship) in their house.
Also important is the fact when the word “church” is used in regard to Christians it never refers to a denomination. Denominations are not found in the Bible. Denominationalism is a secular division of a whole. Some believe the universal church is divided into differing denominations and this with God’s approval. However we read the apostle Paul by inspiration condemned division in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” As already shown, the Lord Jesus Christ did not build a denomination, He built “His church”.
We see from the Bible that those in the 1st century were called out of the world by their obedience to the Gospel. The Lord added them to the church (Acts 2:47) and they assembled for worship in local congregations without the need of denominations.
-Jerry D. Sturgill