The Bible uses the term “the church” 70 times, all in the New Testament. The underlying Greek word is ekklesia, which means, “a called out assembly“.
The Church Where You Live
Groups of believers within a geographical area are referred to as “the church in/at/of <city>“:
- Acts 8:1 – the church which was at Jerusalem
- Acts 13:1 – the church that was at Antioch
- I Corinthians 1:2, II Corinthians 1:1 – the church of God which is at Corinth
- Colossians 4:16 – the church of the Laodiceans
- I Thessalonians 1:1, II Thessalonians 1:1 – the church of the Thessalonians
- End of Titus (footnote) – the church of the Cretians
- Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 12, 18, 3:1, 7, 14 – the church of/in <city>
Left unsaid is whether all believers in these cities met in one place, or there were multiple congregations within a particular city. The latter seems more likely, due to sheer volume and land area (but maybe not).
There is also no mention of exactly where these congregations came together, whether synagogue, rented building or open field.
The Church in Thy House
There are four references to “the church <in a person’s> house“:
- Aquila & Priscilla (Romans 16:5, I Corinthians 16:19)
- Nymphas (Colossians 4:15)
- Philemon (Philemon 2)
This phrase has been used as an argument that the model of New Testament Christianity is to meet in ‘house churches’. This seems a stretch, as it is just as likely that the term is put forth to encompass all believers within a certain person’s household, whether immediate family or inclusive of servants and near kinsmen.
Where the Early Church Met
The early church met:
- Acts 2:46, 20:20, I Timothy 5:13 (perhaps) – in homes
- Acts 5:12 – in the temple and also from house to house
- Acts 10:24-27, 14:1, 17:1, 18:4, 19, 26, 19:8 – existing Jewish synagogues (although this seems to be an evangelistic strategy to preach the Gospel to assembled Jews & Greeks – in other words, they went where the people were)
- Acts 28:23 – in prison
I Corinthians 11:17-22, 14:23 – the “one place” referenced here is not enough to conclude that it was ONLY one place, or that it was a building owned in common by the church.
There does not seem to be an attempt to replicate the OT temple, either in structure or in philosophy that the presence of God dwelled in a particular building.
Where Today’s Church Should Meet
It is not specified definitively where the Gentile church congregated. There is no evidence that a building was set aside solely for the purpose of church gatherings. Many church buildings today are costly, ornate edifices that lie empty five or six days in a week.
There are multi-purpose buildings that are inhabited on Sunday for church and on weekdays for Christian schools and other educational or service opportunities, but these are in the minority.
The Christian’s responsibility of stewardship compels the church to assess the wisdom of sinking thousands or millions of donated dollars into little-used properties. Assets owned by a church often become the focus of contention, as factions within the organization vie for control and ownership of things, rather than on the spread and care of the Gospel.