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Which Term: “Church” Or “Assembly”?

Question:

What is the significance of the terms “Church” and “Assembly”?
Do we use Church and assembly interchangeably?

Answer:

A reasonable place to start is with a little history.

The Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. A literal translation of ekklesia would be “a called-out assembly.” How we got our English word church is a different story, but that, too, is rooted in Greek.

Etymologically speaking, the word church means “house of the Lord.” The modern word church is a direct descendant of the Old English word cirice or circe. The first recorded use of the Old English word is from the thirteenth century, and it could refer to either a body of Christian believers or to the place where they gathered.

Going further back than Old English, the word church ultimately traces its origin to a Greek term, kūrikón, which was related to kurios, “lord.” The phrase kūrikón oikía meant “the Lord’s house.” In the Middle Ages, the Greek term for “house of worship” was shortened to kūrkón. And that’s the word that was loaned to West Germanic as kirika and eventually to Old English as cirice.

Many English words, especially those related to Christianity, came from Greek and passed through early German dialects. The word church is one of those words. Other English ecclesiastical words that share a Greek origin include ChristangelevangelismbaptizeepiscopalapostlePresbyterian, and charismatic.

https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-church.html[1] 

The reason for using “assembly” is to emphasize the Christian company’s character as separate from the world. (Jn 17:16) This is a very fundamental and important aspect of the Christian testimony. Unfortunately, that is not well reflected in the current condition of the general Christian profession. See my post Peoples’ Rights (Part 2) for more on this aspect of the Christian testimony.

In my posts, I sometimes use “assembly” and “Church” interchangeably. But, when I am emphasizing an aspect of the unique Christian testimony as a company separated from the world I try to use the designation “assembly.” Since this terminology is not common among Christians in general, I tend to use “Church” in a more general context. In particular, when speaking to non-Christians, or Christians among the general profession of Christianity,  I try to use the term “Church” simply to avoid distracting from whatever subject we are discussing.

Regardless of the terminology that we choose to use, what is really important is that we remember that, in fact, the Christian company is an assembly (i.e., an ekklesia). So, I certainly have no reservation about using the term everywhere. It is only to avoid confusion and distraction that I often use the term Church. After all, the term Church does mean “house of the Lord” and if we remember that the Lord Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36) the meaning is essentially the same. It is just sad, and very damaging, that so many Christians have forgotten, or failed to appreciate, the meaning of these words which the Lord spoke to Pilate.


Endnote

1. By using this quotation I am not giving a general recommendation for this website. I am only using this quotation since it is general, brief, and accurate in what it says.


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2 Comments

  • The more I understand the front of the book the more I prefer the word congregation or assembly as apposed to the word church. I believe the word church has been a hinderance to believers and non believing jews to fully understanding the mystery of the gospel. I believe as it says in Acts 15 and Amos 9 that the Lord is rebuilding the tent of David that has fallen and not creating a new tent called the “church”. I believe William Tyndale who wrote the first English translation of the Bible got it exactly right, when he never used the word church but instead used the word congregation. Shalom

    • Thank you for your interest in our website and your comment. You do have a point and we do use the term “assembly” often. However, the word “congregation” also has its problems. In the Old Testament, the congregation of Israel referred to all Israel which included many who were not “true” Israel (Rom. chp 9, esp. v. 6.). Similarly, a modern “Church” may have a congregation (thefreedictionary.com/Congregations) in which many members are not “by faith”. The true New Testament “Assembly” is a called out (Gr.) company made up of those who have been added by the Holy Spirit into the “body of Christ.” (Acts 2:47 with 1 Cor. 12:13) In addition, we believe that the prophecies in Haggai, Amos, etc. refer to the full restoration of the national glory of Israel in a coming day.

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