Church - The Called Out

J. P. Hall, Jr.
Roanoke, Texas

Almost every one we know agrees that the church of the Lord is made up of the "Called out." The called out of course being those who have heeded the call of the Gospel of Christ and have turned from a life of sin and condemnation to walk in the ways of the Lord which lead to salvation from sins and life after death.

For this reason when someone asks, "What is the church?" the answer comes back quickly, "It is the Called Out." This is correct, but when someone asks, "What is the meaning of the word 'church'? let's not be guilty of answering, "It means "Called Out," because it does NOT. This is like defining the word "herd" as a plurality of large animals. It is true that a herd is a pluralltv of large animals, but a plurality of large animals is not always a herd. Also, a physical or local church is a plurality of Christians, but it is possible to have a plurality of Christians in one localitv and still not have a local church. It is the call to "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together" that makes them a local church. just so with a herd, the animals must be gathered together in one place to be correctly called a herd.

But, YOU will ask, "Are you suggesting that the word "church" carries with it the idea of assembly? It does. The correct definition of the word "church" is "Assembly of the Called Out" or "Called out Assembly." This may seem to be a minor technicality at first thought, but we cannot emphasize too strongly that a misconception here can have a very far reaching effect on ones understanding of the identity and work of this wonderful institution the Lord died to establish.

The answer we almost always hear when someone is called on to define the word "church" is that it is translated from the Greek word "ekklesia" which is a combination of the two Greek words "ek," out of, and "klesis," a calling (kaleo, to call). It is true that this statement is correct according to most all the recognized scholars we have been able to check. But, the thing that is usually overlooked is that many times a newly coined word takes on a meaning almost entirely different from the words used to make it up. This is true with this word "ekklesia." William I. Smith in his most voluminous work "A Dictionary of The Bible" in reference to this says, "Its etymological sense, having been already lost when adopted by and for Christians, is only misleading if pressed too far."

Since this edition of Smith's carries a much fuller explanation than is found in his condensed single volume editions we would like to quote him more fully:

"Ecclesia, the Greek word for church, originally meant an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate authority. This is the ordinary classical sense of the word. But it throws no light on the nature of the institution so designated in the New Testament. For to the writers of the New Testament the word had now lost its primary signification, and was either used generally for any meeting, or more particularly it denoted (1) the religious assemblies of the Jews; (2) the whole assembly or congregation of the Israelitish people. It was in this last sense (referring back to the first sentence of this quotation. JDH) that the word was adopted and applied by the writers of the New Testament to the Christian congregation. The word ecclesia therefore does not carry us back further than the Jewish church. It implies a resemblance and correspondence between the old Jewish church and the recently established Christian church, but nothing inore. Its etymological sense-(as quoted above."

Please notice how many times the word "assembly" is used by Smith in the above statement. Nothing is said of "called out" except in the second line which does not refer to the church at all.

But let us check another of the lexicographers. W. E. Vine in his condensed edition of "An Expository Dictionary of New Testanient Words" under the heading Church says "See Assembly or Congregation." Under Congregation he says "See Assembly." Under Assembly, after a relatively short explanation similar to Smith's says "See Church."

Thus we see from these two scholars at least that the word "church" as used in the New Testament was translated from the word "ekklesia" which meant "assembly," nothing more and nothing less. It seems that the translators, when translating ekklesia into English, found at least three English words that could be used in translating this word. They were "assembly." "congregation," and "church." And, since "church" in the English meant "religious assembly" they exercised their prerogative by using "church" where ever a religious gathering was referred to.

Now we come to an authority that even the lexicographers must bow to. It just happens that Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, has told us exactly what he meant by the word "ekklesia." In Acts 19:32, 39, 41 we find the word "assembly" used three times. Of the three it is used twice referring to a riotous mob. And, the word in the original Greek from which this word is translated, is "ekklesia." Now remember, the Holy Spirit was guiding the hand of Luke when he called a riotous mob an "ekklesia." By the same writer and in the same letter he also called the Lord's body (church general) an "ekklesia." And still by the same writer he called a physical assembly of the saints an "ekklesia." What was the common feature of these three things? One was a riotous physical assembly; one was a religious spiritual assembly; and the last was a religious physical assembly. Since the assembly was the on1y common feature we must conclude that "ekklesia" meant "assembly" whether religious, physical, or spiritual.

Truth Magazine IV:5; pp. 12-13
February 1960