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Where Does the Word ‘Church’ Come From?

Credit: William White/

By Rick Renner

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.— 1 Timothy 3:15

Today I want us to look at the meaning of the word “church” as it was understood in the First Century AD when the Church was first emerging. This teaching goes a little deeper than we usually go — but for lovers of the New Testament, it will be filled with insight and revelation.

The term that the Holy Spirit chose to describe the newly emerging Christian community was the Greek word ekklesia. This word is a compound of the Greek words ek and kaleo. The word ek conveys the idea of an exit or a separation, and the word kaleo means to beckon, to call, to invite, or to summon. When these two words are joined, they form the word ekklesia, which describes those who are called and separated to a prestigious assembly.

The earliest examples of the word ekklesia is found in writings about Athens, where it was used to denote a prestigious assembly of Athenian citizens who regularly met to discuss civil matters. At these meetings, the distinguished citizens determined laws, debated public policy, formulated new policies, argued and ruled in judicial matters, elected the chief magistrates of the land, decided who should be banished, and so on. To be called out from society and invited to be a member of this assembly was a great honor.

The reason the Holy Spirit chose the word ekklesia to describe God’s people becomes more and more evident as one studies this subject. The New Testament meaning of ekklesia is clear: The local church is a body of individuals who have been called out, called forth, and separated for the purposes of God. The church is God’s assembly in every town and city — composed of people who have been saved and called out to make eternal decisions that will affect the very atmosphere of their local region.

God never intended for the local church to be simply a quiet, hidden body of believers. Rather, He intended for a church to be His voice and ruling power in each community — a special assembly comprised of people who have been called out to make decisions that will impact the atmosphere of their local environment for God.

Therefore, when the New Testament used the word ekklesia to depict the local church, it is conveying an incredibly important message right from the start: God’s plan for each congregation was not that they hide and cower in fear, but rather that they rise to a position of power and influence in the place where God had called them to fulfill their specific assignment for their region. The church was intended to be a brilliant beacon of light in the midst of dark and troubled towns, cities, and regions.

The believers in the early New Testament were suffering terribly as a direct consequence of persecution. Church meetings had to be conducted in secret because swift retribution would be brought upon them if their actions were ever made known. Yet despite the fact that these believers were suffering immensely and forced to meet in secret, Christ still acknowledged them for who they were — His ekklesia, called out from the world and separated to exercise spiritual power over the bleak and seemingly hopeless atmosphere that surrounded them.

Regardless of how dark and oppressive the situation seemed to be or how much these believers struggled, it didn’t change Jesus’ view of them. They were His precious, appointed ekklesia — His governing body in their respective towns, cities, and regions. And that is still how Jesus views the local church! Each body of believers has its own specific assignment, and each believer is assigned to a specific ekklesia! All local bodies fit within a larger common purpose: that of furthering the Kingdom of God on this earth by equipping the saints and being an influence of God’s truth and righteousness to a lost world.

So I encourage you to ask yourself today: Do I know in my heart that I am planted firmly in my God-ordained company of believers? Am I positioned in the ekklesia that holds His assignment for this season of my life? Then renew your commitment to be all God has called you to be to help the ekklesia to which He has joined you extend its influence. As that local body extends His voice into the surrounding culture, the spiritual atmosphere of that region will be changed to the glory of His name!


Rick Renner is a prolific author and a highly respected Bible teacher and leader in the international Christian community. He is the author of more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Dressed To Kill and Sparkling Gems From the Greek.

In 1992, Rick and his family moved to what is now the former Soviet Union. Two years later, he and his wife Denise founded the Riga Good News Church in Latvia before moving on to Moscow in 2000 to found the Moscow Good News Church. In 2007, the Renners also launched the Kiev Good News Church in the capital of Ukraine. Today, Rick serves as Bishop for this group of churches.

In addition, Rick and Denise pioneered a Bible school, and a ministerial association that serves thousands of Russian-speaking pastors throughout the former USSR as well as parts of the Middle East.

Rick also founded Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR. Its broadcast capabilities via terrestrial stations in Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova, and as well by satellite means millions of people are reached with these messages. It has since expanded into book publishing and managing social media accounts in eight languages.

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