Ekklesia and Church
One of our greatest misconceptions relates to the meaning and significance of the Greek “ekklesia,” commonly (but incorrectly) translated “church.” The same Greek word is used three times in Acts 19 to refer to those who were followers of the goddess Diana. The term’s meaning is not necessarily Christian or, for that matter, necessarily religious. It is correctly used to describe any group who are gathered for a common purpose. “Ekklesia” is an assembly, no more and no less. This is the precise meaning of the term. “Assembly” connotes a voluntary association of equals, and could as easily apply to paganism or communism.
M.C. KURFEES: “Any assembly of citizens in Athens, whether political or otherwise, even a mob, would have been called an ‘ekklesia,’ signifying that such persons had been called out from homes and congregated in one place … The word continued to have this meaning in the time of Christ” (Biographies and Sermons, p. 383).
J.M. BARNES: “Now, the word ‘church does not mean the same as ‘ekklesia,’ or anything like it. It is not a translation of it by any means ( Gospel Advocate, 1849, p. 249).
LEE JACKSON: “The word ‘church’ is really not a translation of any word that was used by either Christ or his apostles, but is the Anglican form of a different word which Roman Catholicism substituted in place of the word used by Christ and his apostles … It is in our English scriptures by order of King James, who instructed his translators of 1611 not to translate the word ‘ekklesia’ by either ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly,’ but to use the word ‘church’ instead of a translation” ( Gospel Advocate,1915, p. 589).
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: “It occurs 116 times in the New Testament, and is translated ‘church’ in all but three places. In those three places the word has the same meaning it has it all the other places. Those three places are in Acts 19:32, 39, 41. In these places it is translated ‘assembly.’ But anyone can see that it means ‘assembly’ in all the other places, as certainly as it does in these places … The word simply means ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation'” (Gospel Preacher, 1899, p. 476).
LEE JACKSON: “Notable among those terms that convey false ideas is our English word ‘church.’ This word, which is made to stand for the Greek work ‘ekklesia,’ is of doubtful origin, and is used with very doubtful propriety” (Gospel Advocate, 1891, p. 691).
E. G. SEWELL: “The original Greek word is ‘ekklesia,’ which means ‘the called-out ones’ … but whether the word ‘church’ is the best rendering … is a question, as that word is emphatically an ecclesiastical term. ‘Ecclesia’ was used in the days of the apostles to mean any sort of gathering of people, called together for any purpose’ ( Gospel Advocate, 1912, p. 1024).
Let us cease altogether to use the term “church.” An assembly or congregation (“ecclesia”) is “called-out” because of its common conviction or common cause. An assembly consisting of believers is “called-out” because of its common belief in Jesus as the Christ. Not all “ekklesias” are Christian. Indeed, some of them are violently antagonistic toward Jesus Christ and his followers.
In the fullest sense, we are individual members of a universal association. All of the saved are a part of this association, but none are saved by it. We all are saved because of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
One final note: Many ekklesias in the days of the apostles were household gatherings. “Where two or three are gathered together in my.name, I will be in the midst of them” (Jesus) – The Reformer.