The Agora
Bible Editorials

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Church and ecclesia

"The word 'church' refers to a building. An ecclesia is not a building. We don't even need a building. You'll note that Christians call their buildings 'churches'. They do not call them 'ecclesias'."
I can't help myself here. This reminds me of what I learned as a boy:

Take your two hands, put them together as in the common mode of prayer, with fingers pointing straight up. Now interlock the fingers, folding them in half-way. Then, still in this interlocked position, turn them all the way underneath, with only the first joints of the fingers on top, and the rest of the fingers pointing downward, but with thumbs still opposing one another and still held upright. Press the palms back together again. Now you are ready...

"Here is the church"... referring to the first joints of the fingers on top, which now looks like a roof.

"And here is the steeple"... wiggling the two upright thumbs.

Now... pull the palms apart, whilst leaving the fingers underneath and still interlocked...

"Open the door, and see all the people"... wiggling the ends of the fingers underneath.

Very entertaining for most children up to the age of six or so. (And for some "adults" in their fifties.)

But it also illustrates the difference between "church" and "ecclesia", as commonly used. "Church" -- to most people -- means the "building" where a "Christian" congregation meets [although, sometimes, even ordinary "church"-goers will make the point that the "church" is (or really should be) the people, not the bricks and mortar!].

And so we commonly use "ecclesia" -- which we understand to mean the people assembled -- or even "unassembled"... for they don't all need to be in one place to be an ecclesia. Sometimes, in the New Testament, the "ecclesia" means the worldwide body of all believers.

But we may want to make clear to others, who might otherwise be confused, that -- yes, indeed, what we call the "ecclesia" is really a "church", of sorts, IF you understand what the common word, as used in most English Bible versions, really means!

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