Written Word

What Is The Church?

The church is many things to many people. Some think of it as an institution. Others think of it in terms of a building or a place where people go to worship. These are common misunderstandings of what the church is.

The Meaning of the Word “Church”

When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” the word he used for church is the Greek word, ekklesia. Jesus did not invent this word, neither did it have an exclusively religious meaning. It was a word heard in everyday conversation. An example is found in Acts 19. A riot erupted in the city of Ephesus because of what the Apostle Paul was preaching. The city clerk said that the controversy could be resolved “in a legal assembly.” (Acts 19:39) The word used is ekklesia. In other words, this controversy could be resolved in a church, that is, among people called together for a specific purpose, in this case, to conduct legal proceedings. That’s a church.

When Jesus spoke of building his church he was saying he would call people to be his people, for a specific purpose. They would be “a called out” people, a church.

The Church Jesus Came to Build

From the announcement of his birth, Jesus was linked with our salvation. The angel told Joseph that the child Mary was carrying was from the Holy Spirit and the child was to be named Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) When Jesus began his ministry he said he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Furthermore, he said, “For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) And he also said, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)

Defining the Church

Our understanding of the church becomes clear when we compare scripture with scripture.

  • To the leaders of the church at Ephesus Paul speaks about “church of God which he [Jesus] bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
  • The Christians in the church in Corinth are reminded that they were “bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)
  • Speaking of Jesus, John says that “with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)
  • Peter speaks of Christians being redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
  • Before his conversion Paul persecuted the church. Scripture says, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3)
  • Paul said of those in the church whom he persecuted: “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death … I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believed in you.” (Acts 22:4,19)


  • The church is not an institution.
  • The church is people.
  • The church was bought by the sacrificial death of Jesus.
  • The church does not exist apart from those who have been saved.
  • The church is specifically people who have been redeemed, saved, forgiven of their sins by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
  • The one, true church is all those in any place, in any time who have been saved.

Extracts of this article are taken from Once A Catholic by Tony Coffey. Published by Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon. USA