Question #15 – Often, there are statements made that a chapel or building is not properly called “church” but it is claimed that the true church is always referred to people. Is it true that the chapel or the meeting place could not be called “church”?
Answer: In the NT Greek text, EKKLESIA basically referred to people’s assembly, while in the old English word, the basic meaning of church is the HOUSE or the building where the assembly was held. Ekklesia in the Greek language before the NT was written, referred to the assembly of citizens who were called out to talk about concerns of their community. This was their practice in their direct democracy. It had a secular, political meaning. Acts 7:38, in Stephen’s speech, refers to the assembly or congregation of Israel during the wilderness Exodus as EKKLESIA. So the basic meaning of ekklesia was assembly, congregation, a gathering people. Filipino languages were influenced by the Spaniards so we have Iglesia which refers to religious groups, fellowships, religion. But the term “church” in the old English language referred to the building.
Explanation: We have a quotation from a church historian about our topic: “The English word ‘church’ derives from the Greek adjective ‘the Lord’s’ (Kyriakos). It apparently entered northern European languages from the Goths, who heard this Greek word applied to church buildings (‘the Lord’s [house]) and appropriated the word into their language. Thus we have in Germany Kirche and in Scotland ‘Kirk.’ Hence, the use of the word ‘church’ for a building is proper in English, but this is not true for the Greek word it translates.” (The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, Everett Ferguson, pp. 129-130) This quotation tells us that the word ‘church” referring to a building is proper in English. So please do not insist that the word “church” cannot refer to a building.
Anyone who says that the building or chapel is not “church” is ignorant of the background of the word. In the year 1395 A.D., John Wycliffe rendered Matthew 16:18 this way: “And Y seie to thee, that thou art Petre, and on this stoon Y schall bilde my chirche, and the yatis of helle schulen not haue miyt ayens it.”
Chirche is also found in John Wycliffe’s Matthew 18:17. Also Acts 7:38 reads, “This it is, that was in the chirche in wildirnesse. . .” You observe that the word “chirche” was used in 1395 A.D..
The basic meaning of kirche in the Germanic language of the Visigoths referred to the building where the people met. What they called the building transferred to the people assembling in there. The Visigoths was part of several mainland European tribes that invaded the British Isles so their language was woven into the Scottish and British languages.
It is possible that one term can be used to refer to assembled people as well as the place of assembly. In Mark 3:1 we read, “Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.” Jesus entered the synagogue which refers to the building where the Jews assembled for their Sabbath Day worship. While in Rev. 2:9, it reads, “. . . I also know the slander of those who call themselves Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” Also in Rev. 3:9, the hypocritical Jews are also called the synagogue of Satan. Synagogue refers to the people who assemble together. So it is clear that the term synagogue is applicable to both buildings and the Jewish people who gathered together.
Jesus says in Matt. 26:26, “Take, eat; this is My body” referring to the bread. Is it literal? It says the same thing in 1 Cor. 11:24, “Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me” referring to the bread. Is it literal? Should we openly declare that Christ is wrong in saying that the bread is his body or we immediately slide into figurative speech on the application of synecdoche and metonymy? Yes, we quickly say one term associated with another item is mentioned. The bread in the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of Christ’s physical body. Likewise, the house or building where Christians assemble for worship figuratively could be called ekklesia.
By the time the King James Version of 1611 was launched, “Kirche” of the year 1395 has evolved in its spelling becoming “Church.” The letter K softened into ch. This spelling evolution is almost the same in the Ilocano language. Iloco word “Danum” (water) is pronounced and spelled in the Cordilleras as “Chanum.” The heavy letter D softened into Ch.
Please do not insist that the word church cannot refer to the building if you know where and how the English term originated. To my brethren, I advise you to get a copy of Hugo McCord’s “New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel.” In this work, brother McCord consistently translates the Greek word EKKLESIA as “called out people” or “congregation” or assembly. Matt. 16:18 reads, “I will build my called out people.” Matthew 18:17 is “report it to the congregation.” Acts 7:38 is “This is he who was among the called-out people in the desert.” Acts 20:28 has “to shepherd the Lord’s called-out people.” In Romans 16:16, his rendering is “All of Christ’s congregations greet you.”