Which Church? What Is A Church?
Many people refer to a religious building as a church, but in the New Testament, buildings were never called churches. In fact, there are verses which show that buildings accommodated churches, so obviously, the building itself was not the church. For example, churches met in the homes of Philemon, and Aquila, Philemon 1:2; Romans 16:5. The church was the congregation of people who met in these homes, so the church was made up of people. It has ears, so it must be people! Acts 11:22. “Tell it unto the church”, said the Lord Jesus, Matthew 18:17. You don’t speak to buildings! The church has emotions, Acts 5:11. The church prays, Acts 12:5. These and other references demonstrate that New Testament churches comprised of people, and not of wood, brick or stone.
Others speak of a countrywide religious organisation as a church. There are denominations called the Church of England and the Church of Scotland etc. In Bible times there were no such ‘national churches’. When the New Testament refers to the church in a country or region, the word ‘church’ is always plural. Thus we read of the churches of Galatia, and not the Church of Galatia, Galatians 1:2, the churches of Asia, and not the Church of Asia, 1 Corinthians 16:19, the churches of God in Judaea, and not the Church of Judaea, 1 Thessalonians 2:14. There were independent churches scattered throughout these regions, and no equivalent of the modern day national ecclesiastical organisation.
So then, in the first century, a church in a locality was the group of believers in that district who gathered for worship, prayer, teaching and service. Probably, the word ‘assembly’ would better express the sense of the Greek word ekklesia which is normally translated ‘church’ in the King James Version, the old English translation of the Bible.
We will consider some of the features of these New Testament churches or assemblies in future posts…
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