There is no unanimity, among Christians, as to what the buildings we use for worship should be called. This is a very touchy point with some Christians and some of us have been criticised for failing to use the terms ‘Church’ or ‘Chapel’. Displeasure has also been shown when we have said ‘Congregation’ instead of ‘Church’. However, the strongest objections has been reserved for using the term ‘Meeting House’, when others thought we should have used ‘Chapel’, or when we have said ‘Meeting’, when others have thought we should have used the word ‘Service’; for that we have even been censured, even ostracised, by some. Such are the personal feelings raised by this issue and we can expect more criticism and more cold shoulder for publishing this article. Consequently the origins, and use, of these terms require an honest examination.

Many have noticed, and commented on, the stark simplicity of Quaker Meeting Houses. No tower, steeple, or bell housing, outside and no statues, stained glass windows, ornaments, or elaborate furnishings, inside. However, it isn’t just Quakers who have had plain buildings, others have pursued this principle, without reference to the Quaker movement and preceding that movement. In fact, English Puritans referred, scornfully, to the Anglican ‘churches’ as ‘steeple houses’. And, we should all be aware that for over the two thousand years of Christian testimony many Christians have met for worship in simple, even humble, surroundings and glorified the Lord in doing so.

In a Scottish coastal village, near where I was brought up, there was an old, and simple, building with the legend carved on the lintel ‘BAPTIST MEETING HOUSE’ where a Baptist Congregation met; in another town there was a much newer, but equally unostentatious, ‘MEETING ROOM’ where a Brethren Assembly met. Both of these places of worship carried the same message. These were the buildings where a gathering of the Lord’s people met, for the worship of God, edification from His Word and preaching the gospel. However, worship is spiritual and ‘the place of worship’ is spiritual and entered in faith. These buildings were not the congregation, they were where the gathering met. Whether the assembly was present, or not, the building was nothing more than a man made structure. However, the buildings have been replaced and the legends have been changed to ‘Baptist Church’ and ‘Evangelical Church’, thus the doctrinal distinctiveness of the Baptist Meeting House and the Brethren Meeting Room may have been lost.

In the title page of the 7th. edition of Hart’s Hymns, printed in 1770, is the following;- “---; And at the Meetings in Jewin Street, and Bartholomew Close.” NOTE. These believers called the places where they met MEETINGS, not churches nor chapels.

However, these terms go back into antiquity. Tertullian writes, of the harassment and persecution, in the 2nd. century;- “We are daily beset by foes, we are daily betrayed; we are oftentimes surprised in our meetings and congregations.” It would seem that the meeting is regarded as the occasion and the congregation is regarded as the people, who Tertullian normally refers to as ‘brethren’, hence the double emphasis.

William Tyndale correctly translated ekklesai as congregation and for this his Bibles were burnt by the Papists and, more to the point, so was he. Tyndale’s Martyrdom was not just due him having translated the Bible into English, but because he didn’t use the terminology of the established State Religion, especially his use of the word Congregation instead of the Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical word Church. For evidence of this see the writings of Bishop Tonstall and Sir Thomas More.

The heading to 1st. Corinthians chapter 11, in the Geneva Translation of Holy Scripture, is;- “He blameth the Corinthians for that in their holy assemblies men doe pray having their heads covered and women bareheaded and because their meetings tended to evil.” Notice the terminology. The Reformers, who translated and annotated the Geneva Translation of Scripture, refer to assemblies and meetings, in a chapter heading; in the Geneva Bible Notes we read “Church signfyeth Congregation”; this was what King James and the High Church Bishops vigorously objected to; resulting in the strict rules given to their translators and the legal banning of the Geneva Translation of Holy Scripture. Those who criticise us for using the terms already mentioned are also criticising the Reformers; well, it is most probable that the meticulous John Calvin and the fearless John Knox are, on this issue, right.

A few comparative readings can show the difference between the Translations of Holy Scripture opposed by the State Religions and those Bibles sponsored by the State, and Supra-State, ‘Churches’, on this issue.

Acts.8;1. Using original spelling, but modern alphabet, as printed in the 1841 English Hexapla. The comparison is clear.

TYNDALE 1534 “And at that tyme there was a great persecution agaynst the congregacion which was at Ierusalem”
CRAMNER 1539 “And at that tyme ther was a great persecution agaynst the congregacion which was at Ierusalem”
GENEVA 1557 “and at that tyme, there was a great persecution agaynst the Congregation which was at Ierusalem”, Reformer’s Bible.
RHEIMS 1582, “And the same day there vvas made a great persecution in the church vvhich vvas at Hierusalem.” Roman Catholic Bible.
KJV 1611, (original) “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Hierusalem,” Church of England Bible.

Extract from King James Instructions to Translators, actually drawn up by the High Church Bishop, Bancroft;- “Rule 3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.” So, this Rule, plus the fact that all the ‘translators were Anglicans, with a preponderance of Anglo-Catholics who predominated the proceedings, is why, without any doubt whatever, the word ‘church’ got into the King James Bible and, hence, into common English usage. See On Bible Translations, Page 4b Extracts.

King James 1/6 knew exactly what he was doing. He was an intelligent man, well educated in both Classics and Theology by a Presbyterian tutor, and he knew that he could never be Supreme Head of The Church of England, indeed there could never be a Church of England, if ekklesia was translated correctly as Congregation or Assembly. Indeed he knew that no National Religion, or a religion aspiring to National or Supra-National status, could allow ekklesia to be translated correctly. King James Stuart knew, like Henry Tudor and all the Holy Roman emperors, that the only way to maintain a National, or Supra-National, Church was to, at all costs, keep up the use of the Catholic Ecclesiastical term ‘Church’. This was exactly why William Tyndale’s Translation of the Bible had to burned and why Tyndale was, himself, burnt at the stake at the earliest opportunity. This is exactly why King James, and his Anglo-Catholic Bishops, banned the printing of the Geneva Translation of the Holy Bible and then restricted its use.

Extracts from Bagster’s 1841 English Hexapla, Historical Account, Page 159
“ --- but still it is to be observed that the early English printed versions (of the Bible) used Congregation as the representative of Ekklesia [Here anglicised] and thus the introduction of the word Church into printed Bibles and New Testament had been an innovation. --- such words should be so rendered as to give the most intelligible meaning in the language of the version.” That is, the word Church is an introduced term which downgrades the meaning, and significance, of the Greek word ecclesia and could only have come to be used in our English language Bibles at the insistence of an Anglo-Catholic pressure group, i.e. King James, Archbishop Bancroft and his acolytes.

Note. ekklesia and ecclesia is the same word in two languages and we should normally only use the English translation, assembly, congregation or gathering, in our writing and conversation. The use of manufactured words, transliterated from another language, or using Greek, Latin or Aramaic words, is neither necessary nor desirable, in fact it is pretentious and an evidence of pseudo learning. In other words we do not call our congregations EKKLESIA, etc; and is not appropriate to use the term CHURCH.

EKKLESIA Always means assembly, congregation, gathering, or ‘called out ones’. ‘Church’ is a technical, invented, term. So, where does it come from?

The Anglo/Saxon/Germanic word Church, Kirk, Kirke, Kirkja, Kirsche, etc. can in fact be traced to the Greek word Kuriakos, from which it is a transliteration (a representative word in the, more or less, corresponding characters of a different language) or Anglicisation. Now the word Kuriakos does actually occur in the New Testament where it is properly rendered The Lord’s. as in “The Lord’s Supper.” 1Cor.11;20 and “The Lord’s Day.” Rev.1;10. The real meaning of Kuriakos is Belonging to the Lord, it never means a gathering or assembly. The word ‘Church’, or ‘Kirk’, is a transliteration of Kuriakos but, in many English Bibles, it is used as a technical rendering of Ekklesia which actually means Called out ones. However, ekklesia is rendered Assembly in the KJV in Acts 19;32,39,41, where it is not used in an Ecclesiastical setting and could not be given an Ecclesiastical distinction; elsewhere, by the unspiritual king’s edict, Ekklesia is incorrectly rendered ‘Church’ in the king’s bible and has been transmitted to many English language Bibles since and has found its way into Christian terminology. (See Monograph 2 “The Congregation, The House of God.”)

Many of our brethren use the term ‘church’ without implying any error. But, in doing so, they do sound an uncertain note, consequently, there will always be some who misunderstand what is being said.

The following references are historic and can easily be checked.

“ On the 1st. of March 1709, the Popish mob burnt his (Thomas Bradbury’s) meeting house, ---.” From Bunhill Memorials, Gospel Standard May 2002, p140

nA unknown correspondent, writing in 1790 of the death of Robert Robinson, English Baptist preacher, historian and hymn-writer, states;- “he preached twice, in the morning at the new meeting house and at the old meeting house in the afternoon.”
See introduction to Robertson’s History of Baptism. That is a historical reference which tells us what the buildings were called in 1790.

A Baptist friend writes from USA;- “The Welshmen that came in settled onto a small plot of Land. ---. The present meeting house was built in 1746, the original was made of logs and built when they first arrived (in 1704/5). It still stands to this day by the grace of God.” (It actually has some firearms damage from the Civil War.)

A number of English historic Non-Conformist places of worship still maintain the old names, Meeting House or Meeting Place. There is the well known Carr’s Lane Meeting House, in Birmingham, and the famous Independent (now United Reformed) place of worship, in Norwich, which is still called the Old Meeting House. Also, the (old) Particular Baptist Meeting House, St.Ives, Cambs., erected in 1839 enlarged 1862 & 1871, is still in use. This is evidence that at the end of the nineteenth century Particular Baptists were still using the term Meeting House, not Chapel. See Photo file Old Meeting House, Page 9a

Meeting Houses. In New Testament times the gatherings of believers met in domestic dwellings and names were never given to the places where they met; these dwellings were, according to Scripture, the houses of the brethren. The School (Room) of Tyranus does not seem to have been a meeting place for the assembly. During the development of the Christian Faith the places where the Lord’s People, outside of Rome Catholicism, met became known as Meeting Places or Meeting Houses. This became common among British Non-Conformists before and after the Reformation, as was seen among Baptists and Congregationalists and there were many places of worship so designated. In England the Jewin Street Meeting, where Joseph Hart was pastor, was well known; there were Independent Congregations at Currier’s Hall, Pinner’s Hall, Collier’s Rents, Bridewell Lane and Petticoat Lane. None of these buildings were known as churches or chapels and the gospel prospered.

Now it is significant that Dr. John Gill ministered in a congregation which did not give a name to the building where it met. In, circa,1729 the gathering was known as ‘The Church of Christ at Horsely-Down’, in 1757 the gathering re-located and was known as ‘The Church in Carter Lane, Southwark’. Notice, NOT CHAPEL and NO NAME. The emphasis is on the church and then only the location. See 1757 Carter Lane Declaration of Faith Page 3e.

Now there will be Christians who will disagree with us, and bitterly oppose these comments, even ostracising us for this writing article. So we ask such brethren to tell us, From Scripture Alone, the name of the ‘church’ at Philippi, or the name of ‘chapel’ at Collosse, or, indeed, of any other New Testament Congregation. O, and while we are at it, how, and when, did Apollos get his name on to the ‘denominational ministers list’?

During the ‘Dark Ages’, while the Romanists used ornate ‘churches’, Believers, who were called, among other names, Ana-Baptist and Cata-Baptist but they called themselves Brethren, met mostly in private houses and sometimes in simple halls. This was not due to the very real persecution that existed at that time it was because of the fact that these believers didn’t have any need for man made temples. But, where these Brethren were able to take over disused Catholic ‘Churches’ they may have done so disposing of evidences of ecclesiastical impedimenta. At a much later date, during the Reformation, John Knox allowed the destruction of religious structural paraphernalia saying, “The best way to stop rooks returning is to pull down the rookeries.”

“ Among Dissenters you see a veneration for structures, a modified belief in the sacredness of places, which is all idolatry; for to believe in the sacredness of anything but of God and His own Word, is to idolise, whether it is to believe in the sacredness of the men, the priests, or in the sacredness of the bricks and mortar, or the fine linen, or what not, which you may use in the worship of God. I see this coming up everywhere
- a belief in ceremony, a resting in ceremony, a veneration for altars, fonts and churches
- a veneration so profound that we must not venture upon a remark, or straight way of sinners we are chief. --- We want John Knox back again. Do not talk to me of mild and gentle men, of soft manners and squeamish words, we want the fiery Knox.” C.H.Spurgeon, 5/6/1864, Sermon on Mark.16;15-16. So then, if the renowned Mr. Spurgeon was severely criticised for raising this issue, we can expect the same, or even worse, treatment, and from unexpected sources.

Not once in the New Testament is the term ekklesia used to denote a building, it always means the people. Therefore, the building does not matter, it is not part of New Testament teaching, it is unnecessary and an encumbrance. If the word ekklesia were correctly translated, as ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly’, its misuse would not make sense. Indeed this emphasises the fact that, in the King James Bible, this word was deliberately rendered ‘church’ for religious and political purposes. That is, to destroy the teaching that the ekklesia is the gathering and not the national religious institution with its plethora of consecrated, made sacred, religious buildings.

Indeed all the available evidence suggests that the brethren in the first century met in private houses. Even published Roman Catholic teaching admits to this fact, “Churches in the sense of church buildings did not exist ---. When they met ---, they met in a room in a private house.” The Christian Heritage, p17, Desmond Forristal. So, why don’t we all just take Scripture as given to us. Accepting the New Testament pattern would solve many of the problems associated with Chapels and Denominations.

We should note how Paul addresses his letters;- “To the congregation of God which is in Corinth, to [those] sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints (Note, ‘By Divine Calling’) with all that in every place call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours.” 1Cor.1;1. Again Desmond Forristal reminds us of the truth, better than some Nonconformists would do. “The very word ‘church’ itself may mislead us. When the early Christians used the word ‘church’ (ecclesia), they meant the community of believers;---.” The Christian Heritage, p17. So this principle should be well known in every single gathering of true saints, where the truth is taught, and by every single real believer, who studies the Word of God, in all ages and in all places.

There is a also a consequential dilution of the teaching of what constitutes the Assembly or Congregation. All too often we hear the word congregation used to imply the number of persons present at the ‘religious service’. This is wrong. Samuel John Stone’s hymn, ‘The church’s one foundation’, gives us more than a clue; verse two begins ‘Elect from every nation’. The Assembly, the Congregation, is those who are called by God out of this world; it is the Redeemed and none other.

Dr. John Gill writes, “The papists, indeed, call an edifice built for religious worship a church; and so some protestants; I might add, some dissenting protestants too; who call going to a place of public worship, going to church; though with great impropriety.” A Body Of Practical Divinity, Book 2, Chap2, First point.

It is quite distressing to hear people, who should know better, say “I must go to church on ---day to clean it.” or “to make lunch for the visitors to our church.” How can one ‘go to’ something of which one is already part? This is rather like a thumb nail saying to a finger nail “I will go to the body tomorrow.” If the truth of the Assembly, the Congregation, which is the Glorious Body of Christ, were better understood we would say, “I will go, God willing, to the/our meeting house etc. to do such and such.”

We often hear, otherwise well adjusted, brethren pray “for us as a church and people.” This is equally wrong, the church is the people, it is, correctly, the congregation or assembly. If the word had been rightly translated this would be plain.

Another, and vital, aspect of this truth is the constitution of the House of God, and we all need to apprised of the issues involved. This truth dispels the error of attaching merit to a material building. “I will come into thy house. The house of God is the congregation of the saints, wherever they gather in assembly to worship God. When we come into the assembly of God’s saints, we come into the house and temple of the living God.” Don Fortener.

The term ‘Chapel’ seems to have been introduced to non-conformists in the 19th. century and became popular in to the 20th. century, to be overtaken by the 20th. century term ‘Evangelical Church’. However, where non-domestic accommodation is utilised, the name Meeting House is most appropriate, or Meeting Room where a room in a complex is used. Also, it seems, from the Scriptures, that the only Scriptural name for those who meet in the building is Congregation, or Assembly.

However, we should note. The term ‘Chapel’ has no Biblical authority whatever and it did not originate in true primitive Christianity, nor even in Judaism. The single mention of a ‘chapel’ in Amos 7;13, KJV, is an error, the correct translation being ‘sanctuary’. The word is ‘miqdash’ and it is correctly rendered sanctuary 66 times, and also acceptably rendered ‘holy place’ three times, in the KJV. A Jewish, English Language, Bible, gives this verse;- “prophesy not again any more at Beth-el, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a royal house.” Let us face it, the Rabbinical scholars know how to translate Hebrew into English better than we do and the Hebrew word ‘miqdash’ cannot, with any justification, be rendered ‘chapel’.

Actually, the ‘Chapel’ seems to have been invented in the 7th. or 8th. cents. as a place to keep the Chaplet (Middle English & Old French), or Reliquary, which contained ‘relics of saints’, and it then came to be a ‘side room’, usually in a Catholic Cathedral, large Church or private house, for praying to ‘specific saints’, sans relics. This is why the various ‘chapels’ in a cathedral are dedicated to differing saints, the devotees of will go to the appropriate ‘chapel’ to pray to a specific saint. It would, therefore, seem that the term ‘Chapel’ has its origin only in the papal episcopacy.