It is common for the meaning of words to change over time. For example not long ago "make the Yuletide gay" meant something different than it does now. Supposedly Awful used to mean ‘full of awe’. Tell used to mean count, as in "bank teller".
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.
Here are some different meanings for the word church.
- a family of believers
- a family gathering (of believers)
- a building for public Christian worship
- a religious service
- a religious institution or organization
- I believe in separation of church and state. (#5)
- I didn't see you at church yesterday? (#4)
- What time is church? (#4)
- Bob and Mary became recently became members of our church. (#5)
- Do you want to go to the park after church? (#4)
- I'll pick you up at the church parking lot. (#3)
- There are many opportunities to serve in our church. (#5)
- We live across from the church on main street near the river. (#3)
- They wanted to be married in a church. (#3)
- The United Church has a different attitude towards homosexuality than the Baptist Church. (#5)
- Mary sang a solo at church. (#4)
I'd like to do the same matching with occurrences of the word church in Scripture (NIV):
Matthew 16:18 "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (#1)Matthew 18:17 "If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (#1 or #2)Acts 5:11 "Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events." (#1)Acts 8:1 "And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." (#1)Acts 8:3 "But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison." (#1)Acts 9:31 "Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers." (#1)Acts 11:22 "News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch." (#1)Acts 11:26 "and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (#2)
When we see the word church in the new testament it comes from Greek ekklesia :
The word ekklesia sometimes also referred to an assembly, it was used when referring to the beginnings of democracy.
ekklēsía(from 1537 /ek, "out from and to" and 2564 /kaléō, "to call") – properly, people called out from the world and to God, theoutcome being the Church (the mystical body of Christ) – i.e. the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom.
The meanings of words do change. There is nothing I can do about that.
However I think the church (people) should understand that whenever it uses the word church to refer to something other than people they are using a definition that is foreign to the New Testament.
When I talk about the church I want to keep in mind that the church is the people - the body of Christ, the family of God.