THE WORD “church” as used in the Bible must be used with care. Scripturally, it does not mean a physical building or a place of worship, religious systems, denominations, ministries or religious organizations as many think. The meaning of the word “church” goes beyond what the English dictionary gives.
In the New Testament, the Greek word which was commonly used for church was “ecclesia.” This word means “those who are called”, “the elect of God”, “the assembly of called out ones”, “governmental assembly of God”, “congregation of God” or “community of believers” with Jesus Christ as their King.
The meaning of “ecclesia” is different from another Greek word “kyriakon”, which means the Lord’s house. From this word comes the English word “church” like the Scottish “Kirk” and the German “Kirche.” However, both words mean the same in application under the New Testament. You will understand it as you read on without prejudice or bias, but with open-mindedness and clear conscience.
We know that under the Old Testament, the Lord’s house, the house of God or the house of the Lord, referred to the tabernacle or temple which was built with materials such as woods, stones, gold, silver, bronze and others. It was called the house of the Lord obviously because it housed the Ark of the Covenant in which the presence of God dwelled.
Consequently, the Old Testament saints could say they went into the house of the Lord to worship. So, David would sing, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1). In other words, it can safely be said that the Old Testament saints went to church (the house of the Lord) a place where God dwelled by the Ark of the Covenant.
However, the New Testament saints led by the apostles rarely used the expression “going to church” “go to church” or “come to church”. Instead, they very often used the expression “gather together”. They understood that the word church (ecclesia) meant royal priesthood, chosen generation, holy nation of Jesus Christ and not a place of worship. Carefully let us consider the following verses of Scripture.
Jesus Christ personally said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name…” (Matthew 18:20). Then Paul wrote, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 5:4). Paul wrote again “…when you come together as a church…” (1 Corinthians 11:18). Then Luke also wrote, “On the first day of the week, we were gathered together to break bread…” (Acts 20:7). Finally, it is written in Hebrews 10:25, “Not neglecting to meet together…”
From these verses of the Bible, you can see that the First Church rarely said they went to church. But in Acts 2:46, Luke wrote, “And day by day, attending the temple together…” The early believers led by the foundational apostles knew about the change of God’s habitation or dwelling place. They knew by the indwelling of the Spirit of God in their hearts that their bodies were the temples of God.
In other words, the bodies of true Christians are the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit; He lives within them. This means the body of the Christian is the house of God under the New Covenant which must be kept pure, holy and righteous to honour God. Thus Paul reminded the Corinthian believers saying, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? … So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Again, Paul wrote in his second letter to the believers in Corinth, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
You can see that under the New Covenant, the Lord’s house, the temple of God (kyriakon) which is the English word “church” actually points to Christians, followers of Christ who are human beings and not buildings constructed with concrete, woods, nails, iron rods and roofing sheets. Thus it is scripturally incorrect for Christians to say they go to church or they are going to church because they themselves are the church.
However, it is apt to say we are meeting or gathering together at the auditorium, temple or hall to worship as the members of the First Church did. Now, the expressions such as “When ye come together in the church…” (1 Corinthians 11:18) used in the King James Version (KJV) should have been written, “When you come together as a church…” The church of Jesus Christ always refers to believers.
Let us consider another scriptural passage, “…if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Here, too, the term household of God or house of God means the family of God. It does not, in any way, refer to a physical place or building as some have erroneously taught it.
The household or house of God refers to the family, congregation or the children of the living God called the church. Paul described it as a pillar and buttress (support) of the truth. Yes, the elect of God is the pillar and support of the truth of the suffering of Christ. A physical structure built with concrete, woods, iron, glass and other building materials cannot serve as the pillar and support of the truth. Only sanctified human beings can.
To be continued
By James Quansah