What is the…

Greek: ἐκκλησία —transliteration: ekklésia or ecclesia —meaning: an assembly of people

also known as: “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19), the family of God and the body of Christ

Jesus Christ said,

“I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” —Matthew 16:18 NASB

The word “church”

The English word church is probably derived from the Greek adjective κυριακός ( kuriakos / kyriakós ) which means “belonging to the Lord” or “of the Lord” (as in “the Lord’s supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20), “the Lord’s table,” “the Lord’s day” (Sunday—Revelation 1:10 KJV), and “the Lord’s house”.

In the New Testament, the word “church” is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew קָהָל ( kahal / qahal ) of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly of people, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found.

Not a place

There is no clear instance of its being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.

Not a nation’s citizens

Nor is this word ever used to denote the inhabitants of a country united in the same profession, as when we say the “Church of England,” the “Church of Scotland,” etc.

We find the word ecclesia used in the following senses in the New Testament:

How is ecclesia used in Scripture?

  1. It is translated “assembly” in the ordinary classical sense (Acts 19:32; Acts 19:39; Acts 19:41).

  2. It denotes the whole body of the redeemed, all those whom the Father has given to Christ, the invisible “catholic” [universal] church [Note: “catholic” in this context means, the universal church, not the Roman Catholic Church.] (Ephesians 5:23; Eph. 5:25; Eph 5:27; Eph. 5:29; Hebrews 12:23).

    The English word “catholic” is derived from the Latin catholicus, which comes from the Greek adjective καθολικός ( katholikos ), all of which mean “universal.”

  3. A few Christians associated together in observing the ordinances of the gospel are an ecclesia (Romans 16:5; Col. 4:15).

  4. All the Christians in a particular city, whether they assembled together in one place or in several places for religious worship, were an ecclesia. Thus all the disciples in Antioch, forming several congregations, were one church (Acts 13:1); so also we read of the “church of God at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2), “the church at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1), “the church of Ephesus” (Rev. 2:1), etc.

  5. The Church of Christ — The whole body of professing Christians throughout the world (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Matthew 16:18) are the church of Christ.

The visible Church

The visible church “consists of all those throughout the world that PROFESS the true religion, together with their children.” It is called “visible” because its members are known and its assemblies are public. In reality, this is a mixture of “wheat and chaff,” of saints and sinners.

A credible profession of the true religion constitutes a person a member of this church. This is “the kingdom of heaven,” whose character and progress are set forth in the parables recorded in Matthew 13.

The children of all who thus profess the true religion are members of the visible church along with their parents. Children are included in every covenant God ever made with man. They go along with their parents (Genesis 9:9-17; 12:1-3; 17:7; Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 29:10-13). Peter, on the day of Pentecost, at the beginning of the New Testament dispensation, announces the same great principle.

“The promise [just as to Abraham and his seed the promises were made] is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:38,39).

The children of believing parents are “holy,” i.e., are “saints,” a title which designates the members of the Christian church (1 Corinthians 7:14).

The invisible Church

The invisible Church is the true assembly of redeemed believers. It “consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ, the head thereof.” This is a pure society, the church in which Christ dwells.

It is the body of Christ. it is called “invisible” because the greater part of those who constitute it are already in heaven or are yet unborn, and also because its members still on Earth cannot certainly be distinguished.

The qualifications of membership in it are internal and are hidden. It is unseen except by Him who searches the heart.

…the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. … —1 Chronicles 28:9 NKJV excerpt

… “The Lord knows those who are His.” … —2 Timothy 2:19 NASB excerpt

…I am He who searches the minds and hearts. … —Revelation 2:23 NKJV excerpt

The Church to which the attributes, prerogatives, and promises appertaining to Christ’s kingdom belong, is a spiritual body consisting of all true believers, i.e., the invisible church.

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Unity of the true body of Christ, the Church

God has ever had only one church on Earth. We sometimes speak of the Old Testament Church and of the New Testament church, but they are one and the same. The Old Testament church was not to be changed but enlarged (Isaiah 49:13-23; 60:1-14). When the Jews are at length restored, they will not enter a new church, but will be grafted again into “their own olive tree” (Romans 11:18-24; compare Ephesians 2:11-22). The apostles did not set up a new organization. Under their ministry, disciples were “added” to the “church” already existing (Acts 2:47).

Its universality

It is the universal assembly; not confined to any particular country or outward organization, but comprehending all believers throughout the whole world.

It is perpetual

This assembly will continue through all ages to the end of this universe (at the end of the Millennium) and beyond. It can never be destroyed. It is an “everlasting kindgdom.”

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Article Version: July 13, 2021