Christian Church

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The Christian Church is a term used by some to refer to the whole group of people belonging to the Christian religious tradition throughout history. In this understanding, which is generally used by Protestants, "Christian Church" does not refer to a particular Christian denomination, but to the body of all believers. Others believe the term "Christian Church" or "Church" applies only to a specific historic Christian institution (e.g., the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Oriental Orthodoxy).

Thus, some professing Christians (particularly in the cult of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches) identify the Christian Church to be a visible structure, while others (generally Protestants) understand the Church to be an invisible reality, not identified with any earthly structure or individual denomination. Others equate the Church with particular groups that share certain essential elements of doctrine and practice, though divided on other points of doctrine and government (such as the branch theory as taught by some Anglicans).

Most English translations of the New Testament generally use the word "church" as a translation of the language term "ἐκκλησία" (transliterated as "ecclesia") found in the original Greek texts. This term appears in two verses of the Gospel of Matthew, twenty-four verses of the Acts of the Apostles, fifty-eight verses of the Pauline Epistles (including the earliest instances of its use in relation to a Christian body), two verses of the Letter to the Hebrews, one verse of the Epistle of James, three verses of the Third Epistle of John, and nineteen verses of the Book of Revelation. In total, ἐκκλησία appears in the New Testament text 114 times, although not every instance is a technical reference to the church.

In the New Testament, the term ἐκκλησία is used for local communities as well as in a universal sense to mean all believers. Traditionally, only orthodox believers are considered part of the true church, but convictions of what is orthodox have long varied, as many churches (not only the ones officially using the term "Orthodox" in their names) consider themselves to be orthodox and other Christians to be heterodox.

Etymology

The Greek word ekklēsia, literally "called out" or "called forth" and commonly used to indicate a group of individuals called to gather for some function, in particular an assembly of the citizens of a city, as in Acts 19:32-41, is the New Testament term referring to the Christian Church (either a particular local group or the whole body of the faithful). In the Septuagint translation, the Greek word "ἐκκλησία" is used to translate the Hebrew "קהל" (qahal). Most Romance and Celtic languages use derivations of this word, either inherited or borrowed from the Latin form ecclesia.

The English language word "church" is from the Old English word cirice, derived from West Germanic *kirika, which in turn comes from the Greek κυριακή kuriakē, meaning "of the Lord" (possessive form of κύριος kurios "ruler" or "lord"). Kuriakē in the sense of "church" is most likely a shortening of κυριακὴ οἰκία kuriakē oikia ("house of the Lord") or ἐκκλησία κυριακή ekklēsia kuriakē ("congregation of the Lord"). Christian churches were sometimes called κυριακόν kuriakon (adjective meaning "of the Lord") in Greek starting in the 4th century, but ekklēsia and βασιλική basilikē were more common.

The word is one of many direct Greek-to-Germanic loans of Christian terminology, via the Goths. The Slavic terms for "church" (Old Church Slavonic црькꙑ [crĭky], Russian церковь [cerkov’], Slovenian cerkev) are via the Old High German cognate chirihha.

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