Vol. 2 Issue 21

May 27, 2008

The Weekly Newsletter of True Potential Publishing

“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.”(Matthew 16:18)

Is “Church” a Dirty Word? Part II

Last week we started talking about “church.” We brought out our trusty old Webster’s Dictionary to tell us what “church” meant. According to Webster “church” is:

1. “a building for public and especially Christian worship”

2. “the clergy or officialdom of a religious body”

3. “often capitalized: a body or organization of religious believers: as

a) the whole body of Christians


4. “a public divine worship ”

5. “the clerical profession ”

According to Webster’s first three definitions (we talked about those last week), “church” is either a building, a bureaucracy, or an organization of religious believers.

Definition four, “a public divine worship,” still has us going somewhere; like to a church (definition one). Only this going to church sounds more like going to an event, or a happening, than a building. Maybe we’re getting closer.

Definition five has “church” as a “profession” or “career.” I guess that’s where the guys who make up the “clergy or officialdom” come from.


I apologize if all of this sounds a bit confusing or repetitive, or circular … but that’s because it’s confusing, repetitive and circular.

Here’s the point – Webster’s is a dictionary. Its job is to define a word accurately in light of its present meaning. What that means is that today “church” means just what Webster’s says it means. What Webster’s doesn’t tell us is that its definition is what “church” has come to mean. Webster’s is a modern definition. In this century “church” means exactly what Webster’s say’s it does.


You want to know why bummer?

Because what “church” means today isn’t necessarily what it meant twenty centuries ago. That means you’re trying to reconcile a first-century idea of “church” with a twenty-first-century definition. And most of what “church” means today isn’t what “church” meant back when Jesus first introduced the idea. If you’re a follower of Jesus rather of a follower of “church,” maybe that’s why you’re so frustrated with “church.” It’s certainly why I am.

If you’re starting to get your feathers fluffed a little, just relax and hear me out. You may have a great church, a wonderful church, a church that meets all your needs. I may not be talking about your church at all … of course, maybe I am.

All we’re really interested in is what the Bible says “church” is. And if your (or Webster’s) definition of “church” doesn’t jibe with what’s in the Word … well, then I guess you have a decision to make, don’t you?

Let’s start with what “church” isn’t, according to the Bible. Since Webster’s has given us a pretty good idea of what “church” means in the 21st century, we’ll hold its definitions up ‘to the light of scripture’ to see if they’re light-proof.

Webster’s # 1: “Church” is a building. We all know that. Depending on where you’re from, churches are made out of limestone blocks, red brick, white clapboard, or metal siding and I-beams. Most of the time they’ve got a steeple and a lot of those have a cross on top. One thing we can all agree on – a “church” is a building.

I wonder if Jesus meant “building” when first introduced the idea of “church” to His disciple Peter? “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.”(Matthew 16:18)

He says “build my church” maybe He does mean that “church” is supposed to be a building. Seems to make sense reading the verse. It must be a pretty strong building too; “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

There’s one teensy-weensy little problem with the verse though, and I’d better bring it up. Jesus didn’t say “church” in this verse; He said “ekklesia.”

Our word “church” comes from the Middle English word “chirche.” “Chirche” comes from the Old English “cirice”; that comes ultimately from Late Greek “kyriakon.” “Kyriakon” or “kyriokos” means “belonging to the Lord (or lord).” “Kyriokos” appears in the New Testament but usually in reference to the “Lord’s Supper” or the “Lord’s Day”; never in relation to what we know as “church.”

So why the Middle English/Old English/Late Greek lesson? Is it really so important to know all this root word history stuff? What’s the problem with just reading the Bible as it is and taking the preacher’s word for what it means?

Here’s where the teensy-weensy problem in Matthew 16:18 becomes a big problem. The King James translators got the word “ekklesia” wrong the first time it appeared – here where Jesus introduced the idea to Peter. Then they went on to get it wrong 114 more times.

But they did get “ekklesia” right three times. The word means literally, “called out ones.” It has the connotation of being “called out” to an “assembly” or an assembled group of people.

The three times the King James translates “ekklesia” correctly, as “assembly” are all lumped together in the back half of Acts 19.

Luke is telling the story of a group of Christians, they were called “the Way” back then, were in a city called Ephesus; telling people about their new faith. So many Ephesians were coming to “the Way” that it began to affect business.

Ephesus was a temple town. And their temple was for the goddess Artemis. The city’s craftsmen made and its merchants sold statuettes, idols, to everyone who came to worship “the great goddess Artemis.” The Ephesians even had their own fight song, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” What they were saying in effect was “Artemis is great and our Artemis is greater than yours.”

Well, when people started believing in “the Way” they didn’t need Artemis anymore … or the little statuettes that kept the city’s economy humming along. So the merchants and craftsmen started a riot and called the whole city into a great “assembly” at the local stadium. This “assembly” of Ephesians rioting and chanting their Artemis fight song is the only time in the KJV that “ekklesia” is rightfully translated “assembly.”


Back to “church” as a building.

You want to know something else that’s pretty interesting? The only time “church” is referred to as a building (the Greek word “hieron” means “temple”) is in this same story. It was these guys again, the Ephesians, talking about their temple of the goddess Artemis.

So, at this point we know a couple of things:

When the KJV Bible says “church” (115 times total), 114 times the original word is “ekklesia” or “assembly”; one time the original word is “hieron” or “temple.” (By the way, I’m not picking on the KJV. All English translations use “church” to translate “ekklesia” … just not as much.)

The English word “church” comes, ultimately from the Greek word “kyriokos,” which means “belonging to the L(l)ord.” The problem is, when Jesus and the apostles talked about the “church” (114 times) they never said “kyriokos”; they said “ekklesia.”

Any way you shake it, when Jesus and the apostles spoke about the “ekklesia” they weren’t talking about a “hieron” – a temple or building.

But that’s not how it is today. And I’ve still got to agree with Webster’s; a “church,” among other things is a building. The problem, as we’ve seen, is that when Jesus told Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church”; he didn’t say “church” he said “assembly.” Jesus wasn’t talking about a building.

Next week we’re talking more about what Jesus wasn’t talking about. Maybe we can get to what He was talking about.