In the New Testament, the term "church," also
sometimes translated as "assembly," comes from the Greek word EKKLESIA which
means the "called out." The word was used by the Greeks to describe the
assembling or gathering of citizens who were called out to meet together for
public hearings. The heralds would walk through the streets and literally
call for people to come out from what they were doing to gather for public
business. In the scriptures EKKLESIA refers to those whom Christ has "called
out" from the world to be His own, and to assemble together in His name.
The primary meaning of the church is used in a
universal sense, referring to all Christian believers everywhere.
Irrespective of denominational or doctrinal differences, all persons who
have genuinely placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are
members of His church, also called the body of Christ, over which Christ is
the head (Eph. 1:22-23).
Secondarily, the church also refers to a local
congregation of believers. While the scriptures tell us that there is only
one true church, yet it is made up of many individual churches. Most of the
Apostle Paul's epistles were written to the local churches such as at Rome,
Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Philippi, Galatia, and Colosse, and he makes
mention of many other churches which had been established in various cities
at that time.
It is important to understand that a church is not a
building, although many people frequently use that term to describe the
facility built for the use of the church. History shows the New Testament
church met primarily in private homes — Christian cathedrals or tabernacles
designed specifically for believers to gather for worship did not exist
until almost three centuries after the church got started. Unlike the Old
Testament temple, in which the presence of God habitated, the new covenant
of Jesus Christ made every believer a temple of the Holy Spirit. "Do you not
know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in
you?" (1 Cor. 3:16).
The church is often viewed as an organization, but is
actually more of an "organism." It is the united fellowship of all
Christians with their God — the wondrous union of Christ's Spirit indwelling
the hearts of all true believers.