We now turn our attention to the church. What is the church? Who is a part of the church? What is the purpose of the church? How is a church structured? Throughout our study we will look at each one of these things. We want to begin with a proper definition of “church.”
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.Matthew 16:18
Jesus uses the Greek word “ekklesia” to describe what is translated in English as “church.” The Greek words can also be rendered as “called out ones” or “called out people.” The word always refers to a group of people and never refers to a building, institution, organization, or place.
And the same time there arose no small stir about that way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.Acts 19:23-29
Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people. But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another. But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.Acts 19:32-41
In Acts 19 there is a riot where people gather to yell at Jewish Christians who are opposing the worship of the false goddess Diana. In Acts 19:32, 39, 41, the word “assembly” is the Greek word “ekklesia” or church. This gathering of people of out of their homes and businesses is properly called “called out ones” or “ekklesia.” It is interesting to note that the phrase in 19:37 “robbers of churches” uses a different Greek word. It uses a word that denotes a sacred place such as a temple. This word is never used in relation to the church of Jesus Christ. The church is an assembly of called out people. It is not a sacred place.
This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. 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: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:Acts 7:37-38
In Acts 7, Stephen uses the word “ekklesia” to refer to Jews in the wilderness. They were a people that had been called by God out of Egypt. This usage fits with the rest of the New Testament usage of “ekklesia.”
As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.Acts 8:3
If you notice the wording Saul makes havoc of the church by entering houses. He never enters the church because the church is a people not a building. Because the church met in homes he would try to disrupt the gatherings and worship services of the church that were taking place in homes. He could not enter into the church because the church is not a building.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.Matthew 16:13-19
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.Matthew 4:17-22
If the church is a group of people, who are the people? They are the called out ones. They are those who have heard the call of Christ, repented of their sins, believed in Him, and are now following Him.