Theologians have referred to the church militant and the church triumphant. The church militant is the collective group of believers fighting their way to glory. The church triumphant is the collective group of believers who have finished their pilgrimage and have entered into their rest in the presence of God and the Lamb. When theologians refer to the church militant and the church triumphant, they are referring to the elect.
Talking about the Church is actually quite a difficult task, since Scripture speaks of the Church in a variety of ways. More often than not, individuals have failed to rightly distinguish between the different ways in which the biblical authors speak about the church. This, of course, raises the question, “What is the Church?” In order to give the most biblically robust answer possible, we must consider the origin of the word “church,” scriptural titles for the church, theological categories by which the church is distinguished, and the defining attributes of the church.
The Origin of the Word
The English word “church” comes from a translation of the Greek word κυριακόν. Geerhardus Vos suggested that it “comes from the Greek κυριακόν, the neuter of κυριακός, ‘what is of the Lord,’ ‘what belongs to the Lord.’”1 In our English Bibles, however, the word ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία) has been translated to the word “church.” The word ekklēsia carries with it the idea of something or someone being “called out.” Those who have trusted in Jesus have been “called out” of the world by God to be members of His kingdom. The word also carries with it the idea of being “gathered together.” On account of this, the English words “congregation” and “assembly” are translations of the Greek word ekklēsia. The church is the assembly of the saints who have been redeemed and called out by God in order to be gathered together to worship Him. This definition covers the teaching of Scripture both in the Old and New Testament. In his dying speech, the first New Testament martyr, Stephen, spoke of Moses as the “one who was in the congregation (ἐκκλησία) in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians over matters related to the Lord’s Supper, saying, ‘When you come together as a church (ἐκκλησίᾳ)…” (1 Cor. 11:18). From this word, the biblical meaning of “the church” is formed.
There are a number of titles Scripture gives to the Church. In the Old Testament God addresses the sacred assembly (ἐκκλησία) by the name “Israel,” “the Daughter of Zion” (Ps. 9:4; Is. 1:8; 62:11; Micah 4:8), “The Daughter of Jerusalem” (2 Kings 19:21; Song of Songs 2:7; Lam. 2:13; Zeph. 3:14), “Jerusalem,” “Jacob” (Ps. 14:7; 53:6; Is. 9:8; 10:21; 27:9; Jer. 10:25), “Judah” (Ps. 76:1; 97:8; 108:8), “Ephraim,” “Zion,” and “the City of God.” In the New Testament, the Apostles refer to the the Church as “the people of God,” “the house of God” (Heb. 3:1-6; 10:21); “the Temple” (1 Cor. 3:16-19; Eph. 2:21), “the children of God” and “Israel” (Gal. 6:16). All these names and metaphors have specific meanings by which God represents various characteristics of His people.
In whatever respect Scripture refers to the Church, it always identifies it with Christ. He is the only head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 4:25; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19). The Apostle Paul refers to the Church as “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12).