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1. The word “church” is commonly applied to the whole number of true believers, the communion of saints, the invisible ch. of Christ; any particular denomination of Christian people; particular congs. of any Christian denomination; the religious establishment of any particular nation or govt. (e.g., Ch. of Eng.); the sum total of the various Christian denominations in a country; and the house of Christian worship.

2. Biblical meaning. The word “church” is derived from the Gk. kyriakos, “of, or belonging to, the Lord.” In the OT 2 words were used for the idea of assembly: edah and qahal (Lv 4:13, 14; cf. Heb 12:23). In the NT the term is ekklesia, derived from ekkalein, “call out”; hence the term describing the town meeting of the Gk. city is transferred to the gathering of those who have been summoned by the call of God and His Spirit to belong to His people in Christ (Eph 1:22, 23; 4:1–6). The 80-plus instances of the term in the NT designate the body of all believers in all the world, or the believers gathered in a particular place (e.g., Gl 1:2; “ch. in the house” Cl 4:15; Ro 16:5). In no case is the term used of gatherings in which also unbelievers are essentially numbered, unless Rv 2–3 is so interpreted. The picture of the ch. used by Paul (cf. 1 Co 12; Eph 4:1–16; Ro 12:4–18; 14:1; 15:1) and probably implied by Jesus (Mt 25:31–46), that the mems. of the ch. are the body of Christ on earth, stresses that they stand in a functional relation toward each other, namely that they “edify” (1 Co 14:26; Eph 4:12) or build up one another in faith for life. This mutual relation is termed koinonia (“sharing”) and involves mutual care expressed in forgiveness and admonition (cf. Mt 18; Eph 5:19, 20), the Lord's Supper (1 Co 10:16, 17), and care for physical need (2 Co 8:4). The breaking of this mutual activity receives vivid rebuke (Ro 16:17, 18; 3 Jn 9–11). Other analogies for the ch. stress that it is the place where God is worshiped (Eph 2:19–22), the means by which God is glorified to the world (1 Ptr 2; Ph 2:14–16).

3. Visible and invisible. In reaction to RC stress on the political quality of the ch. in its submission to the pope, the concepts of “visible” and “invisible” ch. were developed, though the terms are not in the Bible and the Luth. confessions. The term “invisible” is a useful adjective for the ch., if it denies a political essence to the ch. (Ap VII and VIII, 23–28), reminds of the worldwide community in which true Christians should live together, and denotes God's own recognition of each believer (2 Ti 2:19); it is harmful if it makes of “church” an abstract idea without counterpart in fact (Ap VII and VIII, 20) or allows the assumption that a perfect unity already exists that does not need the careful ministry of every mem. of the ch. (cf. Eph 4:1–16). The term “visible” is useful if it sets up a sphere of activity in which Christians genuinely labor for each other and in witness to their world; it is harmful if activism is allowed to replace Word and Sacrament as the means of propulsion of the ch. See also Luther, Chief Writings of, 7.

4. Marks. In contrast to the position that the episcopate or apostolic succession are the esse of the ch., the Luth. symbols have developed the concept of the Gospel and the Sacraments as the marks of the ch. (AC V, VIII, XIII). Special ministers of the Word are significant for the ch. as they use Gospel and Sacraments and train Christians for their mutual ministry (Eph 4:7–13).

See also Church Militant; Church Triumphant.

C. Bergendoff, The Doctrine of the Church in American Lutheranism (Philadelphia, 1956); R. R. Caemmerer, The Church in the World (St. Louis, 1949); R. R. Caemmerer and E. L. kueker, Church and Ministry in Transition (St. Louis, 1964); F. E. Mayer, “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel and the Terminology Visible and Invisible Church,” CTM, XXV (March 1954), 177–198; P. S. Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament (Philadelphia, 1960); F. Pieper, Christliche Dogmatik, III (St. Louis, 1920), 458–534, Eng. tr. Christian Dogmatics, III, ed. W. W. F. Albrecht (St. Louis, 1953), 397–435; H. A. Preus, The Communion of Saints (Minneapolis, 1948).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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