Is it wrong to say that we’re “going to church”? The church is the people, Christians, not the building. So is it a sin to say that we’re “going to church” when we’re talking about going to the building?
The Greek word ekklesia is translated “church” in English Bibles. Ekklesia means “called out” or “assembly.” It’s used to refer universally to those called out of the world by obedience to the gospel (Matt. 16:18). It’s also used to refer to localized congregations of Christians (Gal. 1:2). It’s even used to refer to secular assemblies like courts (Acts 19:32, 39, 41).
The term church has an interesting origin. It comes from the old English word cirice or cyrice, which in turn comes from the Dutch word kerk and the German word kirche. These Dutch and German terms are in turned based on the medieval Greek term kuriakon doma (“Lord’s house”). In medieval times, kuriakon doma (Lord’s house) was used synonymously with ekklesia (called out, assembly) because the ekklesia was referred to as “the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15).
Therefore whenever we read the word church in our Bibles, we’re reading a word that should technically be translated “called out” or “assembly.” However, the reason it’s translated “church” is because “church” originally meant “Lord’s house,” which is a biblical description of the religious “assembly,” the “called out” (1 Tim. 3:15). So when we say, “Let’s go to church,” we’re technically saying either, “Let’s go to the assembly of the called out,” or, “Let’s go to the Lord’s house.” Both expressions are biblical and mean basically the same thing.
We need to remember that God warns us to avoid “unhealthy cravings for quarrels about words” because they produce “dissensions…evil suspicions, and constant friction,” proving that we “understand nothing” and are “deprived of the truth” (1 Tim. 6:4-5). This warning is shown to be legitimate these days when we observe the inconsistent policing by some concerning how brethren use the term church, the suspicion it produces, and the lack of knowledge and understanding shown by it. This is seen by those who promote the idea (which prompted the above question) that saying, “Let’s go to church,” is somehow unbiblical. Respectfully, this proves their inconsistency and shows lack of knowledge and understanding in several ways.
For one, from a technical standpoint we should say “called out” or “assembly” instead of “church” due to the actual meaning of ekklesia, but we don’t and no one has a problem with it.
Also, the etymology of the term church shows that it originally meant “Lord’s house,” which is a biblical description of ekklesia. So why quibble over something which technically is biblical?
Let’s also remember that ekklesia was used in the New Testament to refer to a secular court (Acts 19:39). No one has a problem saying, “Let’s go to court,” “Court is now in session,” or “I’m representing myself in court.” So why have a problem saying, “Let’s go to church,” “Church has started,” or “I’m in church”?
Finally, it’s interesting that similar phraseology to “I’m in church” is found in the New Testament when Paul said that it is shame for a woman to speak “in church” (1 Cor. 14:35).
Yes, we definitely need to heed the warning of 1 Timothy 6:4-5 and turn our focus away from such minor things and focus on the bigger picture.