In most people’s minds, “church” is a physical structure, and “going to church” means travelling to that special building, at a special time, in order to attend and participate in congregational worship services. But is this really how the Scriptures define the true nature of “church”?
The word “church,” as found in most English Bibles, usually translates the Greek ekklesia, as in Matthew 16:18 where Yeshua says, “on this rock I will build my church (ekklesia).” Yet the English word “church” actually derives from a completely different Greek word: kyriakos, which means “belonging to the Lord” or the possessive “the Lord’s.” This Greek word appears twice in the Scriptures: in 1 Corinthians 11:20, “the Lord’s (kyriakon) supper,” and Revelation 1:10, “the Lord’s (kyriake) Day.” So the English word “church” developed not from ekklesia, as one might think, but from kyriakos, which may explain how “church” came to mean “the Lord’s house”—that is, a physical house of worship.
The problem with this understanding of “church,” however, is that it gives a false and etymologically incorrect impression of the concept of ekklesia. In the Bible, whenever we read about “church,” “assembly” or “congregation,” never once does the underlying concept mean a physical place or house of worship. Certainly the believers would sometimes gather in the Temple and the synagogue, but, biblically, these are never spoken of as ekklesia. Confusing the concept of “church” with “house of worship” creates a real mental barrier both to a biblical understanding and to the practical outworking of how we are supposed to see ourselves in Messiah.
The concept of ekklesia should instead be understood in light of its linguistic construction. It comes from a combination of two other Greek words: ek, meaning “from out of” or “forth from,” and kaleo, which means “called.” The compound word ekklesia, then, contains the idea of being called out from one thing in order to go forth toward something else. This is why, in the Messianic Jewish Literal Translation (MJLT), ekklesia has been translated literally, not as “church,” but as “Called-Forth.” This results in Matthew 16:18, for example, being rendered, “and upon this rock I will build My Called-Forth.”
By understanding ekklesia not as “Called-Forth” but as “church,” we mentally constrict our walk with Yeshua to the narrow function of participating in worship services and church campus events. But the ekklesia is neither a building with four walls nor the activities that take place within them. According to the Scriptures, we are the ekklesia—we are the Called-Forth—the ones who have been called out of the world and its darkness in order to go forth back into it with the light of Messiah. Seeing ourselves collectively as “the Called-Forth” presses us to break through the mindset of “going to church” so that we can be the ekklesia—so that we can be the Called-Forth of God.
If we as disciples of Messiah are to have any hope of being more than just spiritually-minded worshippers content to operate in a safe, little, religious box where we only see what we like to see and hear what we like to hear, then we need to radically alter our understanding of the Called-Forth. We need to challenge our long-held religious ideas and predilections for congregational and community life, and go back to the Scriptures for definition. The invented concept of “church” does not push us to be a godly influence in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Messiah, nor to reach out with the life-changing message of Yeshua beyond the institutional walls we have erected. We instead need to see ourselves biblically as the Called-Forth, and then change the way we gather and function together in community with one another—to be in line with the Scriptures.
You should never “go to church” because “church” isn’t a place to go. We are the Called-Forth of God, and the Master is calling—and waiting—for us to come.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!