What did Jesus mean by “church”?
Question: In Matthew 18:17 Jesus uses the term “church.” Since the church was not started until after Jesus’ death and resurrection, what does the term refer to?
Answer: The word “church” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word, ekklesia, which means “to call out.” The only two references in the Gospels are from Jesus. Besides the one you cited, the other one occurs in Matthew 16:18.
It’s true that the church did not officially start until the Day of Pentecost, but since the church is based on the person and work of Christ, it really began with Jesus. He is the one who is “calling out” people who will call upon Him for salvation. All who do so are automatically members of the body of Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:13).
When it comes to the church, there is the church invisible, comprised by all those who have trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord. And there is the visible church, comprised of those who gather together. Not all members of the visible church building belong to the body of Christ, and not all who belong to the body of Christ gather physically in a church building.
The bottom line is the church belongs to Jesus Christ (He says so in Matthew 16:18), and if we belong to Jesus, we are part of that invisible church. Of course, the visible church’s place of gathering is important as well, weather it’s building, house, in the market place or in a park, because that’s where we can worship the Lord together, participate in the Sacraments (baptism, communion, marriage), learn about God’s Word, and plan our mission in the communities around us. It’s also where we exercise, learn and develop our spiritual gifts as given to each believer by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12).
By: Kenny Pittman (L.I.F.E. by Faith)