“Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:17-18)

Purpose Weekly

Vol. 2, Issue 23

June 8, 2008,

“Is ‘Church’ a Dirty Word?” Part IV

Well … this is week four on the “church” subject. As far as I know, it’s the last one. I’ve been telling you what “church” isn’t. This week I’ve promised to tell you what “church” is – according to the Bible.

From what we’ve been through we know that Webster’s may have been right in his definitions of “church” … as far as how we define “church.” That’s his job, right? Define the words in a way that’s meaningful to us? So, Webster’s is off the hook. Regardless of what the Bible says “church” is Webster’s wrote down what we think “church” is. He upheld his part of the bargain.

According to Webster’s (and those he serves) “church” is:
1. “a building”
2. “a clergy or officialdom”
3. “an organization of religious believers”
4. “a public divine worship”
5. “a profession”

We discussed that the word “church” wasn’t used when Jesus told Peter, “… upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus, of course, didn’t say this to Peter in King James or any other sort of English. He said it in Aramaic, and Matthew wrote it down in Greek. And the Greek word Matthew wrote down was “ekklesia.” About the closest we can come to a literal translation of “ekklesia” is, “called out.” The term was used to denote an assembly of citizens being “called out” for a special purpose or event.

Let’s back up a day before the conversation between Jesus and Peter when the word “ekklesia” or “called out” was first used.

The day before Jesus talked to Peter about His “ekklesia” Jesus was wrapping up three days of ministry to a group of about four thousand, not including women and children. So maybe twelve thousand people? Maybe more?

At the end of the three days He knew these folks didn’t have any food with them and He knew they were hungry. So He took the food the disciples had left; seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. He gave thanks to His Father in Heaven for what He had and then He broke up the loaves and fishes and fed the crowd … all twelve thousand. Wouldn’t you know it – it was enough to go around; and with seven baskets of left-overs. How’d He do that?

The next morning, along come the Pharisees and Sadducees; the RGIC’s (religious guys in charge). By the way, the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t like each other. But they didn’t like Jesus more, so they were allies. Kinda like the Russians and Americans in WWII.

The Pharisees and Sadducees said to Jesus, “If you’re the real deal, show us a sign from heaven.”

What? The Guy just fed twelve thousand people with seven loaves of bread and few fish! “Show us a sign from heaven.” Right.

Here’s a piece of advice. Anybody who says, “show me a sign from heaven,” wouldn’t believe if God came down and sat in his lap. It’s a front; a smoke screen. These guys’ minds were already made up. They just wanted Jesus out of the way.

Jesus saw through the hypocrisy of the RGIC’s and He needed to bring His disciples up to speed – get them ready to do what they had to do when the time came. He said to them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples thought He was talking about bread. Knuckleheads.

Jesus brought His disciples through three days of teaching and miracles, feeding twelve thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish, blowing off the RGIC’s and then warning His disciples against their hypocrisy. He had them prepped when He asked, “Who do people say I am?” They had lots of answers. Then Jesus asked the million dollar question. “Who do you think I am?”

Peter, a guy who always shot from the gut (definitely not the head) said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter was usually either a total idiot or absolutely brilliant. Today he was brilliant.

“Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:17-18)

That’s the first time “church” (“ekklesia”) is mentioned in the New Testament.

What do you think Jesus meant? He gave Simon a new name, which means ‘rock’ and said that on this “rock” He will build his “ekklesia” – those whom He has “called out.”


At this point I’ve got to confess something. When I said that the “church” isn’t a building, I wasn’t being completely forthcoming. The “church,” according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians again, that figures) is a ‘building’ … but not one made of bricks and mortar.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)


We’re the bricks and mortar. Starting with Abraham, Moses, David and the rest of the OT building materials, along with Peter (the rock), John Baptist and John Revelator, and the disciples who walked and ate with Jesus and Paul himself, and those Ephesians who believed and the Roman and Jewish and Corinthian believers, and those from every tribe and nation who heard and understood and believed the message that God had come in the flesh, down to you and me; we’re the “church.” We’re those who Jesus “called out.” We’re a building, a temple, that God lives in. All of us. Together.


The word “church” has packed a lot of baggage over the last two thousand years. It’s come to mean a lot of things to those it’s touched. Say “church” today and people hear “building,” “clergy,” “organization,” “profession.” Sometimes they hear “hypocrisy,” “greed,” “prejudice.” Sometimes they hear “family,” “charity,” “safety.” “Church” has a lot of definitions.

Jesus only had one; “My called out ones.”

It’s probably a little late to think about repainting all the “church” signs in the world to say “ekklesia.” I’m sure a lot of people have already tried that in their own way. Don’t like your “church”? Call it something else: “fellowship,” “gathering,” “congregation,” “meeting place.” Don’t like how things are done? Switch it up a little. Throw out the organ and get a guitar; serve doughnuts and coffee; wear cut-offs and t-shirts – now you’re getting real.


If you don’t know who you are, what you are, all the change-ups in the world aren’t going to do you any good. Unless you change your eyes and your heart and understand that you are the “church,” the “ekklesia,” the building where God lives – along with every other person that’s ever believed in Him – then you’re just part of another man-made “church”; a little louder, with a bad wardrobe and running on a caffeine/sugar high, but really no different than the “church” you left.

How do we do “church”? I don’t think I know that one. I’m still blown away by the realization that we are “church.” If we’re all bricks in the same building, stretching back over thousands of years and covering the whole earth, then I have trouble with the idea of my “church” and your “church.” Like my buddy Roger said, there’s only His “church.” And that’s us.

Yeah, but Steve; how do we do “church”?

I don’t know.

But I do know this. Jesus promised something to His disciples, the ones He “called out”: “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

I’ll start there.

In Him,

Steve Spillman