Jesus promised to build his church. He assured his disciples that the gates of Hades will never prevail over his church. This wonderful promise is recorded in Matthew 16. It is the first appearance of the word “church” in the Bible.
The underlying term used for church in the ancient Bible language is ekklesia. Bible teachers sometimes point out that ekklesia consists of two parts. The first part is ek, which means from or out of. The klesia part of the word is closely related to klysis,the ancient word for call or calling.
When we put the two parts of ekklesia together, we get something like “called out.” Some Bible teachers conclude from this combination that church means the called out ones, or those who are called out. In other words, “church” means those who are called out from this world of unbelief, called out from those who are in rebellion against God.
Come out of the world and be different! Be holy! That’s certainly an important part of God’s call to his people, his church. Believers are called to come out and be distinct from the unbelieving world. However, the word ekklesia means more.
First of all, we should note that combinations of words don’t always determine or even hint at the resulting meaning. For instance, butterfly does not mean that dairy products sail through the air on wings. The combination of butter and fly creates a completely new meaning: a delicate little critter with beautiful markings.
The word ekklesia is not bound by the meaning of its parts. The combination creates a fresh emphasis. Ekklesia is not focused entirely on what Christians leave behind, called out of the world. Instead, it points to what we are called to. The word emphasizes the fact that followers of Jesus are a people who gather together in an assembly.
We are the “assembly” of believers, so we assemble. We gather. Another English word that expresses the meaning of ekklesia well is “congregation.” As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we congregate with one another.
If we limit the word ekklesia to a negative connotation, being called out from, then we could stay at home alone and convince ourselves that we are being the church. After all, we have left the world behind, right? But leaving the world and being alone is not the meaning of church.
Staying at home to worship alone is halfway church. Retreating alone to a favorite place in nature for private worship is only going halfway to church. It is retreating from the unbelieving world, but it is not gathering with believers.
When we follow Jesus, we gather with brothers and sisters in the Lord. We congregate with Christ’s people, his church. We assemble for Christian fellowship and God meets with us in a special way.
When we assemble for Christian fellowship and worship, we send a message to the world: God is alive and well and working in us and among us! Our meetings are meant to be a positive witness to the world. Our meetings are meant to show the world the love of Christ.
Every enemy we have tries to keep us from church. The world works to lure us away by planning its best activities during church time. The devil whispers in our ear about what a failed and pathetic group God’s people is. Our own flesh, the sinful nature, urges us to pursue personal fun instead of public faith.
When we listen to God’s Spirit and follow his ways, we fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We worship and serve God together. We are a light in a dark world. We fulfill our eternal calling.
Going halfway to church is not far enough. Let’s be faithful in our generation. Let’s go all the way to church!