Christian Church - Use By Early Christians

Use By Early Christians

In using the word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia, "church"), early Christians were employing a term that, while it designated the assembly of a Greek city-state, in which only citizens could participate, was traditionally used by Greek-speaking Jews to speak of Israel, the people of God, and that appeared in the Septuagint in the sense of an assembly gathered for religious reasons, often for a liturgy; in that translation ἐκκλησία stood for the Hebrew word קהל (qahal), which however it also rendered as συναγωγή (synagōgē, "synagogue"), the two Greek words being largely synonymous until Christians distinguished them more clearly.

The term ἐκκλησία appears in only two verses of the Gospels, in both cases in the Gospel of Matthew. When Jesus says to Simon Peter, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church", the church is the community instituted by Christ, but in the other passage the church is the local community to which one belongs: "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church." The term is used much more frequently in other parts of the New Testament, designating, as in the Gospel of Matthew, either an individual local community or all of them collectively. Even passages that do not use the term ἐκκλησία may refer to the church with other expressions, as in the first 14 chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, in which ἐκκλησία is totally absent but which repeatedly uses the cognate word κλήτοι (klētoi, "called"). The church may be referred to also through images traditionally employed in the Bible to speak of the people of God, such as the image of the vineyard used particularly in the Gospel of John.

The New Testament never uses the adjectives "catholic" or "universal" with reference to the church, but does indicate that the local communities are one church, that Christians must always seek to be in concord, that the Gospel must extend to the ends of the earth and to all nations, that the church is open to all peoples and must not be divided, etc.

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