Book of Order – Chapter 3: Origins of “Church”
Etymological Origins “Church”
The present word “church,” as it is used today, is defied as follows by the Funk and Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary: “1) a building for public worship; 2) regular religious services; public worship; 3) a local congregation of Christians; 4) a distinct body of Christians having a common faith and discipline, a denomination; 5) ecclesiastical organization and authority, as distinguished from secular authority; 6) the clerical profession; holy orders.”
The word, “church” comes from the Old English word “circe”, which is derived from the Greek word “kyriakon (doma) meaning “the Lord’s (house) from the Greek root word “Kyrious” mean “Lord.” (Funk and Wagnall’s)
The word, “church” was used by the translators of the New Testament to translate the Greek word “ekklasia”. “Ekklasia” is translated by Strong as “a calling out; a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation; and assembly (related to Jewish synagogue and Christian community).” Berry translates the word as “assembly, the whole body of believers.”
The roots of the word “ekklasia” are most interesting, “ek” means “origin (the point whence motion or action proceeds), from out, by means of, thenceforth, through, unto, among, forth” and in composition with another word (i.e. “ek-kryolol”), it means, “completion.” (Strong) The other root is “kaleo” which means “to call bid, call forth.” This related to another root verb “kerevw” or “kerrw” which means, “to urge on, hail, to incite by word, order, bid (at or give) command (ment).” (Strong)
The early Christian “ekklasia” was very similar to the pattern of the Jewish synagogues. The Christian community meetings usually conducted in private homes were mostly made up of converted Jews in the earliest Christian days. It was natural for them to use the already established concept of the synagogue meetings as the basic concept of their assemblies, substituting the Eucharist and Christian prayers for the old Jewish ceremonies. (from Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia). Therefore, the word, “synagogue” is also of interest in obtaining a clear understanding of the concept of “church.”
The word “synagogue” was used in the New Testament only. The Greek word was “Sunagoge” meaning, “an assemblage of persons; congregation; analogous to a Christian church.” (Strong) The Berry Lexicon defines it as “an assembly, congregation, synagogue, either the place or the people gathered in the place; synonymous with “ekklasia”.
The word, “sunagoge” comes from the verb “sunago”, which means, “to lead together, collect or convene, assemble, gather, lead into, resort, take in, receive hospitably”. (Strong)
The verb, “sunago” is the product of two roots. “Sun” is a preposition meaning “union, with or together, association, process, instrumentality, possession, resemblance, addition, beside, with. In composition with another word (i.e. sun-ago”), it means “completion” or “completeness.”
The other root of “sunago” is “ago,” which means “to lead, to bring, drive, go, pass, induce, to bring forth, carry, keep, be open.” (Strong)
Church – the name early adopted by the Christians, may have meant “the meeting”. Also had Old Testament connotation of being “the true congregation of God, the divinely called people”. – From “A History of the Christian Church” by Williston Walker of Yale University.
“Parts of one universal Church, which Ignatius implies, is related to Christ as the body is related to the head. It extends to the ends of the earth and God gathers it together from the four winds.”
Hermas thought that “the Church collects its members from the whole world, forming them into one body in unity of understanding, mind, faith and love.”
Justin speaks of all those who believe in Christ as being “united in one soul, one synagogue, one church”. The Church is regarded as the new authentic Israel which has inherited the promises which God made to the old.
Ignatius teaches that the Church is at once flesh and Spirit, its unity being the union of both. It is the holy community within which the divine Spirit lives and operates. “The love-community.”
Clement believed that the Church was created before the sun and moon, spiritual and eternal, manifested in these latter days in His flesh and for our salvation.
Irenaeus regards the Church as the New Israel, and calls it the great and glorious body of Christ. Where the Church is there is the Spirit of God.
From “Early Christian Doctrines”
By J.N.D. Kelly, of Oxford
Third Century A.D. Views –
Clement – “the gathering of the elect:, ‘an impregnable city ruled by the Logos’.” The earthly church is a copy of the heavenly church which is the perfect mystical body of Christ. The heavenly church is called the invisible church.
Origen – “the congregation of Christian people”, “the assembly of believers”, “the city of God”. The faithful are the members of the body, which is animated by God just like any other body. The whole of humanity will belong to the Church. “The heavenly Church” is “the assembly of all the saints”, and is constituted by “all those souls who have attained perfection”. The church on earth is “an imitation of the coming kingdom”.
The Church was early called the “Mother”, holy and pure. St. Paul in I Timothy 3:15 calls it “the pillar and ground of truth”. The words, “one”, “holy”, “Catholic”, and “apostolic” came to be applied regularly to the Church after the Constantinopolitan Creed in 381 A.D.
Gregory of Nazianzus (Calpadocian) – “We are all made one in Christ, Who becomes completely all that He is in us.”
Cyril of Alexandria – “the body of Christ in us binds us in unity . . . we are brought into unity both with Him and with one another.”
Augustine – The Church is the realm of Christ, His mystical body and His bride, the Mother of Christians. He also speaks of an inner and outer church, and the difficulty of telling from appearances who are members of this true church (the “enclosed garden spring shut up, fountain sealed, the paradise with the fruit of apples) who are the elect, and belong to the “invisible fellowship of love” (as opposed to the outer, historical Catholic Church).
also from “Early Christian Doctrines”
by J.N.D. Kelly, Oxford
Christians are “living stones” in a spiritual temple, within which the Spirit dwells. Under the new covenant, God dwells in His people. Thus, the Church was understood to be the “Messianic Community or the New Israel, its members being Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.” The “ecclesia” – which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “gahal” – the congregation of God’s people, the elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (instruments of God in His work of redemption). “It is the temple of he Presence, it is the Body of Christ, and the Bride of Christ; yet the Temple has still to be built together, the Body has still to built up, the Bride has still to become wholly one with her divine Bridegroom.”
The definition of Christians – “those upon whom the ends of the ages are come.”
– From the Early Christian Church”
by J. G. Davis
St. Paul – “But that Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our Mother (Gal 4:26) – related to the prophecy of Isaias. The church as the heavenly Jerusalem.
Tertullian – calls the Church “Mistress and Mother” (Domina Mater Ecclesia).
From “Christ the One Priest and We His Priests” , Vol. II by Clement Dillenschneider.