Brother Paul Burbidge

The First Mention of Church

The first mention of the word “church” in the New Testament was by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:16-19. Jesus proclaimed, “l will build my church.” Jesus Christ is the founder of His church. Jesus Christ is the foundation, the rock upon which He built His church and the chief corner stone (1Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6). The New Testament church did not exist prior to Christ Jesus’ earthly ministry (1 Cor. 12:28, w. Lk. 6:13) for He built it in His earthly ministry. Also, as we can see in 1 Cor. 10:32, Paul lists the Jews separately from the church. Therefore, the church did not become or take the place of Israel. Christ is very possessive about His church, He said “I will build MY church”. Christ is the sole head and final authority for His church. When we look at these Scriptural truths it is only logical to conclude that any “church” that has another founder, has another foundation, started before or after Christ’s earthly ministry or does not have Christ as its sole head and authority is not one of Christ’s churches.

The Meaning of Church

The English word "church" was translated from the Greek word "ekklesia," which has the basic meaning of an organized assembly of called out ones. The word "church" is used in reference to three assemblies in the New Testament. All of these assemblies are organized assemblies of called out people. Firstly, it is used in reference to Israel in the wilderness (never used of them in the Promised Land) in Acts 7:38. Secondly, it is used of a Greek political assembly in Acts 19:32-41. Lastly, it is used in reference to Christ’s assembly in Matthew 16:18 and in another 111 places of the 114 occurrences of the Greek word "ekklesia."

Of the 111 times mentioned above, "ekklesia" refers to Christ’s assembly, which we may divide up as follows. 1) The local assembly on earth as in Acts 2:47 and 13:1. This constitutes the vast majority of the New Testament’s references to the church. Most of the references to the church as a local assembly on earth speak directly to or about a particular assembly. Some of the references though are to the church in a general or institutional sense. For example, in our legal system (Canadian) we use individual panels of twelve people to hear evidence and make a judgment on their pier(s) who is on trial. If I speak of the jury in an institutional sense I might say, “the jury is a foundational element of our legal system that helps secure a just trial for the accused and the accuser.” I am certainly not speaking of one national jury that hears all cases. That would be a misuse of language. Rather, I am speaking of the jury as an institution or blueprint if you will. This blueprint manifests itself in many individual 12-person panels called juries. This is exactly how Christ was speaking about His church in Matthew 16:18. The blueprint/institution that Christ created in His earthly ministry is an organized assembly only. 2) The heavenly church of the firstborn as mentioned in Hebrews 12:23, which is different from the general assembly of the redeemed also mentioned in that verse.


By Paul Burbidge, B.Th.