By Clinton D. Hamilton
Questions submitted for response in this column come from diverse people scattered throughout this and other countries. No doubt, there is a context in which the question arose and a context clearly understood by the questioners when they posed the questions. However, the one receiving the questions may read in some other context. Hopefully, in this column, the point of issue in the questioner’s mind will be addressed.
Question: Are the English words church and kingdom the same thing? If yes, are there any exceptions? Is the word church ever used in any other way than people? Assembled or not.
Response: The simplest answer to give is that the word church and the word kingdom are not the same thing. But more needs to be said. Church in the English translations of the Bible is from the Greek term ekklesia. The meaning of ekklesia is assembly, congregation, a called out group, or some such sense. Kingdom is translated from basileia, which means, as an abstract noun, sovereignty, royal power, or dominion. By metonymy, it is often used to mean the people over whom a king rules. Sometimes, it is used to denote the territory over which a king rules. It can be quickly observed that the two words church and kingdom do not mean the same thing.
However, it should be stated that the two words can refer to exactly the same group of people but viewed from different standpoints. Those who are called by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:13-14) and baptized into the one body (1 Cor. 13:13) and together constituting the saved in a given location as in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2) or the entire group of the saved in Christ (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 5:25) are referred to as the church. On the other hand, this same group might be viewed from another figure as being the people ruled by the king Jesus.
One enters the kingdom of God by the new birth of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5); one enters the church in the same way (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 12:13). The group known as the kingdom, therefore, is the same as the group known as the church. In these uses, the two groups are identical but are viewed from entirely different points. Rule, sovereignty, or dominion is the emphasis in the term kingdom but in church the emphasis is on one’s being called out of the world and being in special relation to the Savior.
In all contexts in which the term church or ekklesia is used in the New Testament, and it is used approximately 115 times, it refers to a congregation or group of people.
However, the same congregation by nature of the people is not always meant. In Acts 7:38, the church is the group of Jews brought out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Other instances of the occurrence of ekk1esia have reference to a different group by nature: a mob called together off the street is the meaning in Acts 19:32,41; in Acts 19:39, the assembly is a regularly constituted body under the laws prevailing in the political realm. People are involved in each of these and they were viewed as assembled together.
In some contexts, the church is viewed as scattered and persecuted as individual men and women belonging to the assembly. These were delivered to prison (Acts 8:1,3). Those that were scattered passed through where they were, preaching the word (Acts 8:4). They did this preaching as individuals but they were nevertheless members of the assembly of Christ. They were of the company of believers baptized into Christ over which he reigned.
Paul gave enlightening instructions to the Corinthians. He instructed about behavior that should govern if the whole church be come together (1 Cor. 14:23). It is obvious that those who were a part of the called out of Christ were no less a part of that group when they were at individual homes than when they assembled together. Therefore, the church can be viewed as assembled or unassembled. Each member of the church was to control himself so as to obey the instructions given as to how he was to behave in the assembly (1 Cor. 14:26-35). The case is that the church could be assembled or disassembled. People, of course, are always involved. Certain things could be done by individuals when unassembled that could not be done with God’s approval when they were assembled (1 Cor. 14:33-35).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 18, p. 549
September 20, 1990