As the church was forming and growing, a few different words were used to describe it, and since the New Testament was written in Greek, those were Greek words. As is true with any translation from one language to another, words don’t match up exactly. But three predominant words emerged to describe “church”—and the first one we’ll look at is “ekklesia” (that’s how the Greek word sounds in English).
This word was used to describe a group of people “called out” of their homes to meet together in a public place—often termed an “assembly”. It was used when they got together to deliberate some matter important to everyone, so that the individual was affected by the matter, as well as the collective group. So it would make sense that this word as it pertains to the followers of Jesus would translate in English as “church”.
Because the church IS a group of people who are called out of their homes. Some
of their gatherings were actually IN a home, but it wasn’t only the residents of that home who gathered there. And what they did, although impacting on each individual person, also impacted the collective group.
From the beginning, following Jesus was an individual choice, but involved a group of people, and was a group effort. “Ekklesia” meant the church was about more than just its own batch of individual people, meeting their own individual needs. It involved worship, where the focal point was God and not one’s own preferences, and it involved being “called out” for a purpose other than what one comes up with on one’s own. Jesus not only gave his life for the sins of the world, but lived and taught a way of life, which the gathered and called out followers sought to live out. Love of God, love of neighbor.
So “church” is an alternative life, and involves more than just me getting mine. And it involved more than just the specific gathering that I am a part of—as we see, it involves, as it began, “the church throughout throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria”—and it continued to grow, eventually the whole way around the world. We in our individual churches and part of the church worldwide—the same word, ekklesia, is used in all of these cases.
Following Jesus is an individual choice, but it makes us part of a worldwide movement. And we need to affirm that!
Acts 9:31; 11:19--26
31 Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.