Is The Church A Building Or A People?

*Adapted from Ekklesia Rising: The Organization Formerly Known As ChurchNote: this is not suggesting that local church buildings cannot be called churches. However, when the Bible speaks of churches, it’s speaking of an assembly of people.

The Bible is clear. Christ’s “Church” is an organization rooted in the people. The modern movement away from “church as a building” is totally in line with Scripture. There are four crucial pieces of evidence that lead us to this conclusion: 1) Jesus prophesied the shift away from OT temple worship, 2) the NT repeatedly confirmed the fulfillment of that prophesy, 3) the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, and 4) the history of the Greek word ekklesia.

1. Jesus Prophesied It

First, Jesus prophesied the shift away from OT temple worship. He spoke of “an hour… when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (Jn 24:23-24).” Looking at the context of this passage, it is clear what Jesus was saying. His proclamation about the nature of worship was a direct response to the mentality that placed primary concern on the location of worship.

2. The New Testament Confirms It

Second, the New Testament bears witness to the fulfillment of Christ’s Johannine proclamation. We see the fulfillment of this proclamation take place at Jesus’ crucifixion. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split (Mt27:51).” The Book of First Corinthians describes the transference of the temple, from a physical location, to the believer’s body as the temple (1 Cor 6:19-20). The New Testament is clear. The Ekklesia-Church is the people, not the building. The only temple that has lasting value is that of the individual believer’s body and Christ’s corporate Body.

Christ’s work on the cross tore the veil making way for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the believer’s body with the imago dei (image of God) (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 3:18, Rom 8:29). Therefore, making physical temples the center of Christ’s Church diminishes the fulfillment of the Messiah’s mission and the sending of His Holy Spirit. Sadly, this is precisely what the Church has been relegated to in many ways. Returning to temple worship completely undermines the missio dei (mission of God). God’s people, His Representative Stewards are undoubtedly intended to have exousia (think jurisdictional) authority over buildings, but their identity is certainly not bound to those buildings. Buildings are simply instruments to be used by God’s people; they are not the essence, identity, or purpose of those people.

3. The Greek Etymoligizes (not a real word) It

Third, the Greek word that is translated into “church” from the Bible has nothing to do with physical structures, but rather a community of individuals (particularly an assembled one). The Bible never uses the medieval Greek word kurikon, which means the Lord’s house in reference to Christ’s Church. As already shown(in the book), this usage came much later. The Bible, instead, calls the organization by another name: the Grecian word, ekklesia. Etymologically ekklesia means “the called out ones.” This is clearly a reference to people, not a physical structure or location.

4. History Describes It

Fourth, the implications of this word go much further.The Greek ekklesias were assemblies of the general population. This is a sharp distinction from the clergy-centered assemblies of Jesus’ own people at the time. The biblical usage of this word, and the origin of ekklesias outside of Judeo-Christian communities sheds additional light on these implications. The Athenian model, which Christ used to establish His organization, cared little for the characteristics of the meeting place. Rather than meeting in elaborate buildings, on a given day, the Athenian ekklesias would meet on the Pnyx, a large outdoor hill, and would do so roughly 40 times per year, or as needed. This was necessary due to the large attendance that would frequent these congregations (6000 or more). Furthermore, ekklesia occurs 80 times in the canonical books of the Greek Septuagint translation (LXX) of the Old Testament. It is used to replace the Hebrew qahal, which is also a reference to an assembly or multitude of people.

Clearly these four points all agree. Christ was not creating an organization that emphasized buildings and locations, but rather people and communities. As a side note, none of this is to diminish the value or usefulness of buildings, regular meeting locations, etc. However, when the identity of the community becomes the building, the identity is already lost.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is the Ekklesia a building or His people? Leave a comment below and share to get your friends in on the conversation… 

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