Three Types of Churches
In most English versions of the Bible the word “church” is used 110 times. I have gone through the Bible and read these verses and have found four categories for the word translated church.
Biblical definition of church: From Greek “ekklesia”, where the word is a compound of two segments: "ek", a preposition meaning "out of", and a verb, "kaleo", signifying "to call" - together, literally, "to call out". Although that usage soon passed away and was replaced with "assembly, congregation, council", or "convocation". (Wikipedia dictionary)
NOTE: In Matthew 16:18 Jesus did not state, “I will build My Temple” or “I will build My synagogue,” the two most prominent Jewish religious institutions at the time. Instead, He chose a secular entity first developed by the Greeks when He said, “I will build My Ekklesia.”
Mentioned in four categories but three types.
One is Universal Church: This would be all the saved, believers; those that believe Jesus is their Savior. Many times, the Universal Church is described as the Body of Christ (Jesus being the head and all believers making up His Body). This definition transcends denominations and covers all believers across the Earth and in heaven. Universal church, this definition covers 48 mentions in the Bible.
Test: How do you know a person, church or denomination is a believer. I like to use the Apostle John’s definition in 1 John 4: 2-3 “By this you know the Spirit of God; Every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is of God and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” Now this is tricky because you have to judge the spirit of a man. This means looking deep into a person’s words and deeds and discerning the motive. So, to pronounce a person, church or denomination as unbelievers is risky.
Second is City churches: This is where all the believers in a given city are the church of that city. Now we know that these city churches mentioned in the Bible were in the first century and there were many factors that accounted for this. First of all, there was misunderstanding and persecution from the cultures they were in. In this case the people of God tended to stick together for safety. Maybe the spirit of division was less active back then. In Jesus’ letters to the churches in Revelations, it is clear these messages were for city churches. City church is mentioned 37 times.
Third is House Churches: Paul and Luke clearly speak to churches in people’s homes or houses. This is where believers (families) would open their homes for other believers to meet. I would think this would mean, “local” community meetings where a portion of the believers from the city church. This definition is mentioned 5 times.
Forth, is were church could mean one of the above or all three. I’m sure a deeper study of the context would reveal which type was being referenced. This definition covers 20 mentions.
So, we have three definitions or types of churches. Only in the mention of the house churches is a building indicated. In the early part of Acts it does say they came together in the Temple; they also taught there. (Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1-10, Acts 5:20-21,24-25) Acts 5:42 goes on to mention how they did not cease teaching and preaching about Jesus in the Temple and from house to house.
I am not saying we are not to build church buildings for us to meet in. But there are two concepts here we can learn from scripture. The Early Church did meet in homes, but citywide unity was a distinguishing factor. Since separate institutional churches in the same city are not mentioned, I take this to be an indictment against division within the Church universal or at least within a city.
Remember the test the Apostle John gave us. Therefore, if a church across town does not believe like us doctrinally, then we should still accept them if they pass the 1 John 4: 2-3 test. Accepting churches that are doctrinally different is not heresy but rather showing unity as part of the Body. Unity does not have to be uniformity. I believe no one church has all or the complete Gospel (truth). The knowledge of God is so big that God only enlightens to a group what they need for their healing and the task He has for them. Just because they do not proclaim the Gospel the way we do, does not mean they are in error. Jesus’ commandment that we love one another should be our guiding principle.
Quoting Phillip Schaff, a highly respected 19th century Church historian, concerning early Church buildings:
That the Christians in the apostolic age [Early Church] erected special houses of worship is out of the question, even on account of their persecution by Jews and Gentiles, to say nothing of their general poverty; and the transition of a whole synagogue to the new faith was no doubt very rare. As the Saviour of the world was born in a stable, and ascended to heaven from a mountain, so his apostles and their successors down to the third century, preached in the streets, the markets, on mountains, in ships, sepulchres, eaves, and deserts, and in the homes of their converts. But how many thousands of costly churches and chapels have since been built and are constantly being built in all parts of the world …
(Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church & Ecclesiastical History: Kindle Edition)
I believe we should focus more on the house church and the city church concepts. We could apply more resources toward house to house teaching, healing, training and developing relationships. As far as the function of the city church, we could show unity by organizing events that engage the culture.
Ok, lets not have a knee-jerk reaction and close all the church buildings. But we can start transitioning toward developing the city churches that are made up of house gatherings.
I do see a need for church buildings to evolve into multi-use facilities. More of a public gathering place that provides services for the general public: coffee shop, hair salon, book store, restaurant, car repair, exercise rooms, etc. Places where Christian staff serve the public with honor and concern.Where we touch the culture with Jesus' love.
Universal Church: Matthew 16:18, Acts 5:11, Acts 20:28, Romans 16:4, Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 10:32, 1 Corinthians 11:16, 1 Corinthians 11:22, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 14:19, 1 Corinthians 14:33, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 14:35, 1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 Corinthians 8:18, 2 Corinthians 8:19, 2 Corinthians 8:23, 2 Corinthians 8:24, 2 Corinthians 11:8, 2 Corinthians 11:28, Galatians 1:13, Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 3:21, Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:24, Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:27, Ephesians 5:29, Ephesians 5:32, Philippians 3:6, Colossians 1:18, Colossians 1:24, 2 Thessalonians 1:4, 1 Timothy 3:15, Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:23, Revelation 2:29, Revelation 3:6, Revelation 3:13, Revelation 3:22, Revelation 22:16, = 48
City Church: Acts 2:47, Acts 5:12, Acts 8:1, Acts 9:31, Acts 11:22, Acts 11:26, Acts 13:1, Acts 14:23, Acts 14:27, Acts 15:3, Acts 15:4, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:41, Acts 16:5, Acts 18:22, Acts 20:17, Romans 16:1, Romans 16:23, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 6:4, 1 Corinthians 14:12, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 12:13, Philippians 3:6, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Colossians 4:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:20, Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:18, Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:14, = 37
? church: Matthew 18:17, Acts 12:1, Acts 12:5, 1 Corinthians 11:18, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:23, 1 Corinthians 14:26, 1 Corinthians 14:28, 2 Corinthians 8:1, Galatians 1:2, Galatians 1:22, Philippians 4:15, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 1 Timothy 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:16, James 5:14, 3 John 1:6, 3 John 1:9, 3 John 1:10, = 20