What Does the Word Church Mean?

Jesus said, "...upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18, emp LS). What did Jesus promise He would build? What exactly does the term church mean?

The term "church" is translated from the Greek word ekklesia and is defined, "from ek, out of, and klesis, a calling (kaleo, to call)" W. E. Vine. The root idea of the term "church" is called out or forth. It's used to refer to a gathering, congregation, assembly, or group. In the New Testament, the term ekklesia (church) is one of general use and is not restricted to the people of God. However, it is more times than not used to mean the people of God.

Here are 4 different ways the term "church" (ekklesia) is used in the New Testament:

1. A Mob. "And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre. And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly (ekklesia) was confused: and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together...And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly (ekklesia)" (Acts 19:29-32, 41). This "assembly" was nothing more than a mob of people that had gathered, and some didn't even know why.

2. An Orderly Assembly. "But if ye inquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly (ekklesia)" (Acts 19:39). This was an ekklesia that was a summoned political body which meet in a public place as a group for a meeting. This was not a mob, but a "lawful assembly" or congregation or gathering.

3. God’s People in the Wilderness. "This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us" (Acts 7:38). Here the term "church" simply refers to a group or congregation of people led by Moses.

4. A Body of Baptized Believers in Jesus Christ. About 111 times the term ekklesia (church) refers to those people who have obeyed the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15-16) and have been added to the body of Jesus Christ by the Lord (Acts 2:38,47). This is the way Jesus used the term "church" in Matthew 16:18.