In the New Testament "church" is the translation of the Greek word
"ekklesia" which means a group of people called to gather for any
purpose. ekklesia could refer to a political body, say a city council
(as in Acts 19:39) . But it could refer to any kind of assemblage,
even a mob (Acts 19:32 ). The word is used for the Old Testament
"congregation in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38).
There are references to the Messiah's world-wide ekklesia in "I will
build my church" (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18).
We might compare IBM as a world-wide organization but it is also
called IBM in every major city of the world. There is a reference to
the invisible ekklesia of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven
(Hebrews 12:23). Paul uses the word to refer to the one church in a
city (Romans 16:1, 16:23, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 1
Thessalonians 1:1. 2, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, Colossians 4:16). In the
Book of Acts there is the ekklesia in Jerusalem (5:11, 11:22, 12:1, 5,
15:22, 18:22). Four times the word is used of the church in Antioch
(11:26, 13:1, 14:27, 15:3).
Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in each ekklesia (Acts 14:23). And
later Paul strengthened these churches in Syria and Cilicia (15:41)
then in Galatia (16:5, Galatians 1:2). He gathered the elders of the
ekklesia in Ephesus for a conference (Acts 20:17). That is also the
way the word ekklesia is used for the seven churches of Asia
(Revelation 2 and 3). In two cases it refers to that part of the
church in the city that met in a private home (1 Corinthians 16:19,
Philemon 2 compare Colossians 4:16).
No wonder the English translation of the word ekklesia is used in so
many ways. On this website we stress that in the New Testament there
was only one church in each city. To use that terminology we can say
that there is only one church in Toronto, or London, or New York. But
that one church meets under many different names of denominational
groupings, independent fellowships, house churches, and informal
gatherings for Bible study and prayer. We can also speak of the
world-wide church, which includes all such gatherings in every country
of the world.
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