What is church? Surely something so central to our lives as believers would be clearly defined in our minds! Yet, for most believers (myself included), if we are honest about our thoughts, our definition of church has historically been comprised of a loosely connected thoughts about buildings, organizations, professional ministers or clergy members, and gatherings at specific times of the week.
We know that Jesus said He would build His church. When He said He would build HIs church, what was He meaning? Did He promise to build magnificent structures? Did He promise to increase attendance at Sunday worship services? Surely beautiful church buildings and well-attended church meetings are a good thing, but is that what Jesus was saying He’d build?
The answer may be surprising to you. Jesus did not say He would build His “church.” Instead He said He would build His “ekklesia.” While “ekklesia” is translated as “church” 112 times in the King James Version of the Bible, the truth is the word “church” is not actually in the Bible. It turns out the word “church” seems to have come into being nearly 300 years after Christ’s resurrection and it was later popularized as a translation for the Greek word Jesus actually used in Matthew 16:18 - “ekklesia.”
So what was an “ekklesia?” An ekklesia was a well-known Greek / Roman construct at the time of Christ. His disciples would have been very aware of what an ekklesia was and how it functioned. In short, an ekklesia was simply an assembly of local citizens that actually ruled and legislated concerning all matters of society and culture in their town or city. They represented their city or town to either Athens or Rome and when they convened they operated with the delegated authority of Athens or Rome in their midst. This is the “ekklesia” that Jesus promised to build!
Jesus did not say “upon this rock I will build my synagogue.” He could have - after all synagogue is used 67 times in the New Testament! Instead Jesus said “upon this rock I will build my ekklesia” - a Greek or Roman entity best translated (in one word) as “assembly.” Church isn’t in the bible, but ekklesia is. Jesus was the first to call it an ekklesia. The question is “why didn’t Jesus use ‘synagogue’ and what’s that mean to us?” That’s what we’re going to discover - or at least investigate - in this series.