Church: Definition

Segment One, Part One

In this post, we will look at the definition of church from two sources: man’s definition, and 2) the scriptural definition. Merriam-Webster gives us the following definitions for “church.”

1: a building for public and especially Christian worship

2: the clergy or officialdom of a religious body

3: often capitalized: a body or organization of religious believers: such as

a: the whole body of Christians (the one church is the whole body gathered together from all ages —J. H. Newman)

b: a denomination (the Presbyterian church)

c: congregation (they had appointed elders for them in every church —Acts 14:23 (Revised Standard Version)

Of these definitions, definition 3: a. and c. come closest to what scripture gives us.

We see this in Matthew and Ephesians as the verses in each refer to the aggregate body of believers. (Mt. 16:18 & Eph. 1:22-23) In Matthew, Jesus is referring to the church as a complete entity, and in Ephesians, Paul is referring to Jesus as the head and the members as the body of Christ. This is the essence of the MW definition in 3: a. But for c. we must look at 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 2 Corinthians 1:1. In these verses, we see the church in Corinth as a specific body of believers located in the area of Greece (Achaia). This indicates it to be a specific body of believers in that area. At this time, most gatherings were in a believer’s home, not a building as so designated. Keep in mind that “the church” is never deemed to be a building, but as a gathering of Jesus’ body of believers.

Church: Definition

Segment One, Part Two

As we look at the definition of “church” we also must look at the where and how that the “church” came into being. Without doubt, we know that Jesus is the head of the church. What may not be so obvious is how that the body of believers has become known as the “church.” For this, we need to review some OT history. In the OT two words came to be used for the Jewish gatherings: temple and synagogue.

The most obvious we see in scripture is that of the synagogue. This word is used 1 time in the OT and 67 times in the NT and is the term used for the Jewish place of assembly. The word “church” appears 111 times in the NT. However, in the OT, the Jews would assemble at the temple for feast times. These OT assemblies would in Greek be called “ekklēsia” which in the NT was used by believers as the Greek word for church or assembly. The NT believers wanted to be distinguished as being different from the Jews who assembled in the synagogue.

Another way in which the NT believers were different from the Jews and their synagogues was to meet on the first day of the week (Sunday). In many cases, Jewish believers in Jesus, would go to synagogue on Saturday and meet again on the first day of the week. It was the Catholics who became the first to call Sunday the official day of worship. The NT believers would often meet on Sunday, but many times would meet whenever it was convenient and when it was needful.