What Is In A Name?

Steven Haguewood

People often ask me for which church do I preach? When I say, “The church of Christ,” the normal response is that he or she has not heard of the church of Christ. (That is an issue, too, that needs addressed.) I explain to them that we are not a denomination but simply try to be the Lord's church as He prescribes in the New Testament. This leads into conversations related to synods, councils, and assemblies, or the lack thereof. Some, of late, have tried to make our identifying marker, church of Christ, more of a name than it may be intended.

Looking at the definition of the word church will help us learn more about this body of which we are members. Naturally, it is a Greek word, and, so, the Greek is the best starting point. In Greek, this word is a compound word based on the preposition ek (meaning, from or out of) and the root of the verb kaleo (meaning, I call). These come together to form a noun, ekklesia, with a meaning similar to, “the one called out,” or “the called out.”

The term ekklesia generally refers to an assembly of people. This concept is seen in Acts 19:31 when an assembly of people, screaming and causing great confusion, met in Ephesus. This assembly was marked by confusion and discord, but the same word is used for it as is used for church: ekklesia.

Other than a raucous assembly, Acts 19:39 says that it can also be a legal assembly. In fact, it could refer to those who were elected officials who met for their legal duties. When they met to conduct business, this was referred to as an assembly: ekklesia. 

The term was used in reference to a casual gathering, a wild and raucous riot, and a legal assembly. However, it could also refer to people with shared beliefs who meet together for a purpose. Psalm 22:22 refers to the assembly that will be praised by God. When the Hebrew writer quoted this passage, he used the word ekklesia (Hebrews 2:12). Stephen referred to the one who was in the “congregation” (NASB) or “church” (KJV), speaking of Jesus (Acts 7:38). The term used in the New Testament and Septuagint in each of these examples is ekklesia. 

It also refers to the New Testament church. Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18, “…and upon this rock I will build my church (ekklesia).” This is the first sure reference we have of a pure Christ-centered (Christian) assembly. Later, in Matthew 18:17, Jesus instructed us, in our discipline, to take matters before the church: ekklesia. This church that we are to go before was begun on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Three thousand souls were baptized and added to this church. This is the ekklesia that was spoken of in Matthew 16:18.

The point is that the word that is translated church has a general meaning. It referred to both legal and illegal assemblies. It was used for planned and coordinated events as well as spontaneous riots. It referred to legislative assemblies, Jewish assemblies, and even the entire nation of Israel. Until Christ gave a certain assembly its meaning by taking possession of it (Matthew 16:18, Colossians 1:18), it had very little real significance. Once He did purchase this assembly with His blood, the term took on a completely new meaning. 

We need to be sure we are building the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as He would have it, and not just building a crowd. –1301 West Virginia Ave., Parkersburg, WV 26104. northend@northendchurch.com

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