Close Your Church for Good, Chap. 3, Part 4. Having introduced the definition of the church, I now attempt to clairfy some misconceptions of the church. I begin with the Greek word ekklēsia.
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First, it is true, as mentioned above, that the Greek word used for “church” is ekklēsia, which means “gathering” or “assembly.” The term could be used of any type of gathering, whether social, political, or religious, and even of groups of people that never actually “gather.”
It is important to note that “church” is not exactly a translation of the Greek ekklēsia. The term “church” actually is derived from the German Kirche, which in turn comes from the Greek adjective kuriakos, “belonging to the Lord” (cf. 1 Cor 11:20) or possibly the Latin circus. In the early history of the church, when the New Testament was getting translated from Greek into Latin, there was no clear equivalent in Latin for ekklēsia, and so various terms were proposed. Tertullian used curia (“court”) while Augustine famously wrote of the Civitas Dei (“City of God”). One surprisingly common term used by various Greek writers was thiasos (“party”), which generally referred to a troop of revelers marching through the city streets with dance and song, often in honor of Bacchus, the god of drunkenness. The point is that many early writers did not know how to translate or describe the term ekklēsia, but the terms they proposed offer tantalizing clues as to how the church functioned and was viewed during its early years.
Some help on translating ekklēsia may come from recognizing that it is derived from the word kaleō, “to call.” Some who have understood this refer to the church as “the called out ones.” But it must be pointed out that the emphasis in such a usage is not on the people who gather, or where they gather, but rather, who or what does the gathering. To put it another way, the most important factor in an ekklēsia is who causes and calls the assembly. When compared with the Scriptural usage of the term, it quickly becomes obvious that it is God who calls the assembly, and forms the gathering. Therefore, whenever the term “church” is used, it is either stated or implied that it is a gathering of (or by) God.
It is likely that the New Testament writers borrowed the term from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) where the people of Israel are often referred to as the ekklēsia of God. They were called and gathered by God from the world to accomplish a specific purpose and task. In the New Testament, the emphasis is that when God gathers, He does so not by gathering people together as a nation, but by gathering people together into a person, namely, Jesus Christ.
This is the first misconception about the church that must be unraveled. It is not a place or a building (more on this in chapter 8). Church is not something you go to. Nor is it an event. It is not something you can do. It cannot be scheduled. Instead, the church is people whom God has gathered into Jesus Christ.