The first time we find the word “church” in the Bible, it’s when Jesus says, “Upon this rock I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). From this, we know Jesus plans on establishing a church. If someone is a part of something that calls itself church, but it’s not the one Jesus built, then their church is counterfeit and their faith is in human error and not the truth of Christ.
No man has the right to start a new branch of Christianity, whether his name is Luther, Wesley, or King Henry VIII. If the saved are added to the church, and one is a member of something not built by Christ, that person is not saved. We need to learn the truth of the church. Anyone can do that by reading the New Testament for themselves honestly.
There is no Old Testament word for “church,” but that doesn’t it isn’t mentioned in prophecy. Most often, the images of a mountain or a kingdom are used to describe the coming church. Our English word “church” comes from the German word kirche. Originally, it meant all the faithful, but when all those thought faithful were Catholic. With Luther, the word took a new use. It was used to distinguish between the two bodies, the Catholic kirche or the Lutheran or Reformed kirche. Reformed would take another use later to refer to any reformation not Luther’s, and in time became the name for what we today call Calvinism.
It was not long before kirche came to refer to the places of assembly, both Catholic and Lutheran. This is similar to our English phrase “go to church.” I know some members of the church who lose their minds if they hear someone today say that (since the church is the people and not a building). In the Bible, people go into and come out of the synagogue in Antioch (Acts 13:14,42), which refers to a building. In Corinth, Justus lived next door to the synagogue (Acts 18:7), which obviously is a building. Seeing that the same Greek word for a Jewish synagogue is also used for assembly in the Christian sense, it stands to reason that if there is place that is primarily used as a meeting place for Christians, it could also be called church in the same way synagogue is used for the Jews, even though the word in the Greek merely means “assembly.” We don’t see the word church referring to a building in the New Testament because they met in places primarily used for other functions. Christians met in houses, catacombs, school houses, down by the river, and even in the Jerusalem Temple. In the end, to get upset because someone says, “go to church,” shows an ignorance of language and ultimately is majoring in minors.
The Greek word for the church is ekklesia, which means “the called out.” It refers to any group of people set apart for a particular call or purpose. Ours is to make known the wisdom of God in the world (Ephesians 3:8). The Greek word is not an inherently holy word. It is simply the word God in His wisdom chose to describe His saved people. By inspiration, the unholy mob in Ephesus is also called an ekklesia and they were trying to stop the work of the true church. The people of God are called the church, as well as the body, kingdom, and household of God. Our English word “church” is as much of an accommodation and social construct as any other English word.