According to the Oxford English Dictionary [OED], “etymology” is “the process of tracing out and describing the elements of a word with their modifications of form and sense.”
The English word church comes from a Scottish and North England term “kirk.” The term is still used in Scotland to refer to a church. “Kirk” is frequently found in British literature, but a serious distinction between “kirk” and “church” usage is to distinguish the Kirk of Scotland from the Church of England.
Kirk evidently has its etymology in the Greek “kuriakos,” (kurios-Lord, oikos-house) “a house belonging to the Lord.” The word church generally replaced “kirk” during the Fifteenth Century. This etymology no doubt led to not only a group of people but also a building being called a “church.”
B. Current Usage of the term, Church
The term church is used among English speaking people today and it has various meanings.
1. Any group or groups of worshippers: “Many churches held a joint Thanksgiving Service. It was the largest church meeting in Denver’s history.”
2. A local group of people: “The First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.”
3. An action by a church: “He was churched in a business session.”
4. A different group from the rest of the world: “The world is fighting against the
5. A building where worshippers meet: “They tore down the old Goshen
6. The total body of saved people during this age of grace, regardless of denominational affiliation: “The Church will be raptured.”
Although the Bible never uses church to refer to a building (for true worship of God), it was inevitable that in the free usage of English the term would come to mean in certain contexts the place or building where the church gathered and an extension of this would be the descriptive use to describe associated items such as “church pews.” By the same usage, the term became a verb form as in “churching” a person, which did not mean to accept into the church but to dismiss from the church. A strange negative and common feature of English is also found in such profane terms as “church key” –a beer opener.
C. Bible Usage
1. Local church
A local church comes together at appointed times and there are many of them in various locales throughout the age. “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:”(Galatians 1:1-2) The “churches of Galatia” are not called by various names. The word of God does not dictate a specific name for a “church.” In fact, the Bible warns against using names of people or even the Name of “Christ” to distinguish one group of believers from another.
10 ¶ Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
2. Group of living believers in Jerusalem
This is a reference to the believers living in Jerusalem in the early First Century, and it is used in one passage. The passage does not include past or future believers in various locales as the term, body of Christ, does. Describing his persecution of believers before he was saved, Paul states “…that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:” (Galatians 1:13) The term “church of God” is not a denominational name. This is used to designate assemblies of people that met to worship God. The word “waste” is the same Greek word as is found in Galatians 1:23 and Acts 9:21 “But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” (Galatians 1:23) Those who met Paul immediately after his conversion said: “But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21) The church that is the body of Christ is positionally secure, “seated in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6) and therefore, it can not be “wasted.” The “wasted church of God” must refer to local church(s) at that time in Jerusalem. You can reduce the membership numbers in local churches, burn and remove all buildings, and stop them from meeting together, but not one member of the church which is the body of Christ can ever be wasted: lost or removed from the church which is the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39).
Someone may argue the above passage is like God’s love for the world in John 3:16 or that it only has to do with separation of the believer from the “love” of Christ and “love” of God with no other distinction. In other words, we may die physically due to persecution or sword and know that God still “loves” us. But the passage is more than that. Not only are we assured of God’s love for us in various locations and situations, we are more than conquerors “because neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature…” (one’s self included) can remove or even touch our security “which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. This “love of God” is our position in the Second Person of the Godhead, Christ Jesus our Lord. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) That position has nothing to do with any membership in any church or organization on this earth.
2. Body of Christ
The KJB uses church in reference to (1) a local group of people, in reference to all living believers, and also (2) to all the people saved, past, present, and future during the age of grace. The people saved during this age of grace may never see, know, or meet each other on earth but one day they will all be gathered together at the Rapture. This church is also known as “the body of Christ.” “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:24-27)
22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
CHURCH: The word church is a Bible word, a word defined by contextual usage in the King James Bible. In order to understand the doctrine of the church, the term must always be defined by how it is used in the biblical context. The English word church is the usual translation of the Greek word, ἐκκλησία, (transliterated into English, the Greek term is ekklesia). The Greek word ekklesia is a combination of two words: ek “out of” and kaleo “to call.” A basic definition of the Greek term ekklesia is: A called out group of people; the nature and purpose of that group must be determined by the context. In Acts 19:32,39 and 41 the King James Bible (KJB) departed from the normal definition and wisely translated ekklesia as “assembly”. The context of Acts 19 events justifies the departure.
Since the reference in Acts 19:32 is to an uproar by an unruly crowd, the KJB translators put assembly, rather than “church”. “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly (ekklesia) was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together”. (Acts 19:32). Although this sounds somewhat like certain contemporary Baptist church business meetings, it is actually the silversmiths’ union meeting! In putting “assembly” instead of “church”, the King James Bible makes a doctrinal difference between an unruly union mob and an orderly congregation of God’s people. Thus, a distinction is made between just any meeting of people and an orderly meeting to worship the Lord. The context of usage determines the meaning of a Greek word, not the slavish adherence to Greek lexicons.
Although ekklesia in general usage became a Christian word, it had its own secular Greek, pre-Christian history. All language tends to be degraded by common usage and the Greek language is no exception. The inspired New Testament authors adopted Greek, and its major terms had to be redefined by inspired biblical usage. (The exception to prior language corruption is Hebrew; there was no other literature in the Hebrew language before the Old Testament.)
Ekklesia was the designation for an assembly of citizens in a free city-state. The term simply meant people called out for the discussion and decisions of public business and in itself had no particular religious connotation. The word ekklesia is employed of any assembly, and the word in the Greek language implies no more than a town meeting— or a mob. The translators of the KJB recognized the broad usage, and retained consistent translation of ekklesia as “church” when context demanded it. Israel is called out of Egypt and spoken of in the New Testament Greek as an ekklesia, translated in the KJB as “church in the wilderness.”(Acts 7:38). In no sense was it a New Testament church in organization or practice.
The translation by the KJB accurately defines the Greek ekklesia as well as the English usage of the word “church.” A careful reading of the KJB will always open up more knowledge. The mindset that “the Greek” carries many hidden truths the KJB translators missed, leads to more confusion.
For example, the KJB does another unusual thing with the Acts 19 passage. Right in the midst of translating “ekklesia” as “assembly” for the unruly silversmith mob, the KJB translates ἱεροσύλους as “robbers of churches.” The combination has as part of the Greek term, heiron: temple, a definite reference to a building; the other latter part is sulao: robbers.
For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. (Acts 19:37).
By doing this, (translating ἱεροσύλους as “churches” in the context of paganism) the KJB makes a statement that every religious thing that calls itself a “church” does not necessarily have true worship of God. The translation gives prophetic warning that a “temple” filled with paganistic worship will also call themselves a “church.” Mere titles on a group of people or on a person guarantee nothing but the fact that “certain men crept in unawares” (Jude 4). Salt Lake City, Utah is a good place to see the prophecy illustrated. (Ecclesiology, or Doctrine of the Church will be continued…)