Ecclesiology is the study of the church. The word Ecclesiology comes from two Greek words meaning "assembly" and "word" - combining to mean "the study of the church." The church is the assembly of believers who belong to God. Ecclesiology is crucial to understand God's purpose for believers in the world today.


In Christian theology, ecclesiology is the study of doctrine pertaining to the Church itself as a community or organic entity and with the understanding of what the "church" is ó ie., its role in salvation, its origin, its relationship to the historical Christ, its discipline, its destiny (see Eschatology) and its leadership. It is, therefore, the study of the Church as a thing in itself, and of the Church's self-understanding of its mission and role.

In addition to describing a broad discipline of theology, ecclesiology may be used in the specific sense of a particular church or denominationís character, self-described or otherwise. This is the sense of the word in such phrases as Roman Catholic ecclesiology, Lutheran ecclesiology, and ecumenical ecclesiology.



Ecclesiology comes from the Greek κκλησία (ekklesia), which entered Latin as ecclesia, and which originally simply meant a gathering or a meeting. It is a compound of the Greek preposition κ (ek), which denotes origin and could be independently translated from, and καλ (kalo) - from uncontracted καλέω (kaleo) - meaning to call, so that the compound word means a calling out, and so "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place" (Thayer's Greek Lexicon). While the term ecclesiology is today closely tied to the Christian Church, its roots are therefore broader.

The Septuagint used κκλησία to translate into Greek the Hebrew word קהל (q‚h‚l), meaning a congregation, assembly, company or other organized body (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions). Most Christian theologians do not regard the uses in the Hebrew Scriptures of this word as referring to the Church specifically (in context, they refer to a specific gathering for a particular circumstance), though many of them consider the Jewish people (as "The People of God," a community that understood itself to be defined by a unique covenant with God) to be a foreshadowing, a prototype or a sort of living prophecy of what would one day be the Christian Church.

The Greek word κκλησία is used in its generic sense in Acts 19, once of a regular lawful assembly of the people (verse 39) and twice (verses 32 and 41) of a riotous coming together of the townsfolk.

 Issues addressed by ecclesiology

Ecclesiology asks the questions:

  • Who is the Church? Is it a visible or earthly corporation -- a "church" in the sense of a specific denomination or institution, for instance? Or is it the body of all believing Christians regardless of their denominational differences and disunity? What is the relationship between living Christians and departed Christians (the "cloud of witnesses") -- do they (those on Earth and those in Heaven) constitute together the Church?
  • Must one join a church? That is, what is the role of corporate worship in the spiritual lives of believers? Is it in fact necessary? Can salvation be found outside of formal membership in a given faith community, and what constitutes "membership?" (Baptism? Formal acceptance of a creed? Regular participation?)
  • What is the authority of the Christian church? Who gets to interpret the doctrines of the Church? Is the organizational structure itself, either in a single corporate body, or generally within the range of formal church structures, an independent vehicle of revelation or of God's grace? Or is the Church's authority instead dependent on and derivative of a separate and prior divine revelation external to the organization, with individual institutions being "the Church" only to the extent that they teach this message? For example, is the Bible a written part of a wider revelation entrusted to the Church as faith community, and therefore to be interpreted within that context? Or is the Bible the revelation itself, and the Church is to be defined as a group of people who claim adherence to it?
  • What does the Church do? What are the sacraments, divine ordinances, and liturgies, in the context of the Church, and are they part of the Church's mission to preach the Gospel? What is the comparative emphasis and relationship between worship service, spiritual formation, and mission, and is the Church's role to create disciples of Christ or some other function? Is the Eucharist the defining element of the rest of the sacramental system and the Church itself, or is it secondary to the act of preaching? Is the Church to be understood as the vehicle for salvation, or the salvific presence in the world, or as a community of those already "saved?"
  • How should the Church be governed? What was the mission and authority of the Apostles, and is this handed down through the sacraments today? What are the proper methods of choosing clergy such as bishops and priests, and what is their role within the context of the Church? Is an ordained clergy necessary? * Who are the leaders of a church? Must there be a policy-making board of "leaders" within a church and what are the qualifications for this position, and by what process do these members become official, ordained "leaders"? Must leaders and clergy be "ordained," and is this possible only by those who have been ordained by others?

 See also

 Beliefs that define the Church

 Rituals that define the Church

 Topics in church government

 External links

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