Vol. 2 Issue 21
May 27, 2008
The Weekly Newsletter of True Potential Publishing
â€œAnd 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.â€(Matthew 16:18)
Is â€œChurchâ€ a Dirty Word? Part II
Last week we started talking about â€œchurch.â€ We brought out our trusty old Websterâ€™s Dictionary to tell us what â€œchurchâ€ meant. According to Webster â€œchurchâ€ is:
1. â€œa building for public and especially Christian worshipâ€
2. â€œthe clergy or officialdom of a religious bodyâ€
3. â€œoften capitalized: a body or organization of religious believers: as
a) the whole body of Christians
b) DENOMINATION c) CONGREGATIONâ€
4. â€œa public divine worship â€
5. â€œthe clerical profession â€
According to Websterâ€™s first three definitions (we talked about those last week), â€œchurchâ€ is either a building, a bureaucracy, or an organization of religious believers.
Definition four, â€œa public divine worship,â€ 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 weâ€™re getting closer.
Definition five has â€œchurchâ€ as a â€œprofessionâ€ or â€œcareer.â€ I guess thatâ€™s where the guys who make up the â€œclergy or officialdomâ€ come from.
I apologize if all of this sounds a bit confusing or repetitive, or circular â€¦ but thatâ€™s because itâ€™s confusing, repetitive and circular.
Hereâ€™s the point â€“ Websterâ€™s is a dictionary. Its job is to define a word accurately in light of its present meaning. What that means is that today â€œchurchâ€ means just what Websterâ€™s says it means. What Websterâ€™s doesnâ€™t tell us is that its definition is what â€œchurchâ€ has come to mean. Websterâ€™s is a modern definition. In this century â€œchurchâ€ means exactly what Websterâ€™s sayâ€™s it does.
You want to know why bummer?
Because what â€œchurchâ€ means today isnâ€™t necessarily what it meant twenty centuries ago. That means youâ€™re trying to reconcile a first-century idea of â€œchurchâ€ with a twenty-first-century definition. And most of what â€œchurchâ€ means today isnâ€™t what â€œchurchâ€ meant back when Jesus first introduced the idea. If youâ€™re a follower of Jesus rather of a follower of â€œchurch,â€ maybe thatâ€™s why youâ€™re so frustrated with â€œchurch.â€ Itâ€™s certainly why I am.
If youâ€™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 â€¦ of course, maybe I am.
All weâ€™re really interested in is what the Bible says â€œchurchâ€ is. And if your (or Websterâ€™s) definition of â€œchurchâ€ doesnâ€™t jibe with whatâ€™s in the Word â€¦ well, then I guess you have a decision to make, donâ€™t you?
Letâ€™s start with what â€œchurchâ€ isn’t, according to the Bible. Since Websterâ€™s has given us a pretty good idea of what â€œchurchâ€ means in the 21st century, weâ€™ll hold its definitions up â€˜to the light of scriptureâ€™ to see if theyâ€™re light-proof.
Websterâ€™s # 1: â€œChurchâ€ is a building. We all know that. Depending on where youâ€™re from, churches are made out of limestone blocks, red brick, white clapboard, or metal siding and I-beams. Most of the time theyâ€™ve got a steeple and a lot of those have a cross on top. One thing we can all agree on – a â€œchurchâ€ is a building.
I wonder if Jesus meant â€œbuildingâ€ when first introduced the idea of â€œchurchâ€ to His disciple Peter? â€œAnd 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.â€(Matthew 16:18)
He says â€œbuild my churchâ€ maybe He does mean that â€œchurchâ€ is supposed to be a building. Seems to make sense reading the verse. It must be a pretty strong building too; â€œthe gates of Hades will not overcome it.â€
Thereâ€™s one teensy-weensy little problem with the verse though, and Iâ€™d better bring it up. Jesus didnâ€™t say â€œchurchâ€ in this verse; He said â€œekklesia.â€
Our word â€œchurchâ€ comes from the Middle English word â€œchirche.â€ â€œChircheâ€ comes from the Old English â€œciriceâ€; that comes ultimately from Late Greek â€œkyriakon.â€ â€œKyriakonâ€ or â€œkyriokosâ€ means â€œbelonging to the Lord (or lord).â€ â€œKyriokosâ€ appears in the New Testament but usually in reference to the â€œLordâ€™s Supperâ€ or the â€œLordâ€™s Dayâ€; never in relation to what we know as â€œchurch.â€
So why the Middle English/Old English/Late Greek lesson? Is it really so important to know all this root word history stuff? Whatâ€™s the problem with just reading the Bible as it is and taking the preacherâ€™s word for what it means?
Hereâ€™s where the teensy-weensy problem in Matthew 16:18 becomes a big problem. The King James translators got the word â€œekklesiaâ€ wrong the first time it appeared â€“ here where Jesus introduced the idea to Peter. Then they went on to get it wrong 114 more times.
But they did get â€œekklesiaâ€ right three times. The word means literally, â€œcalled out ones.â€ It has the connotation of being â€œcalled outâ€ to an â€œassemblyâ€ or an assembled group of people.
The three times the King James translates â€œekklesiaâ€ correctly, as â€œassemblyâ€ are all lumped together in the back half of Acts 19.
Luke is telling the story of a group of Christians, they were called â€œthe Wayâ€ back then, were in a city called Ephesus; telling people about their new faith. So many Ephesians were coming to â€œthe Wayâ€ that it began to affect business.
Ephesus was a temple town. And their temple was for the goddess Artemis. The cityâ€™s craftsmen made and its merchants sold statuettes, idols, to everyone who came to worship â€œthe great goddess Artemis.â€ The Ephesians even had their own fight song, â€œGreat is Artemis of the Ephesians.â€ â€œGreat is Artemis of the Ephesians.â€ What they were saying in effect was â€œArtemis is great and our Artemis is greater than yours.â€
Well, when people started believing in â€œthe Wayâ€ they didnâ€™t need Artemis anymore â€¦ or the little statuettes that kept the cityâ€™s economy humming along. So the merchants and craftsmen started a riot and called the whole city into a great â€œassemblyâ€ at the local stadium. This â€œassemblyâ€ of Ephesians rioting and chanting their Artemis fight song is the only time in the KJV that â€œekklesiaâ€ is rightfully translated â€œassembly.â€
Back to â€œchurchâ€ as a building.
You want to know something else thatâ€™s pretty interesting? The only time â€œchurchâ€ is referred to as a building (the Greek word â€œhieronâ€ means â€œtempleâ€) 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 â€œchurchâ€ (115 times total), 114 times the original word is â€œekklesiaâ€ or â€œassemblyâ€; one time the original word is â€œhieronâ€ or â€œtemple.â€ (By the way, Iâ€™m not picking on the KJV. All English translations use â€œchurchâ€ to translate â€œekklesiaâ€ â€¦ just not as much.)
The English word â€œchurchâ€ comes, ultimately from the Greek word â€œkyriokos,â€ which means â€œbelonging to the L(l)ord.â€ The problem is, when Jesus and the apostles talked about the â€œchurchâ€ (114 times) they never said â€œkyriokosâ€; they said â€œekklesia.â€
Any way you shake it, when Jesus and the apostles spoke about the â€œekklesiaâ€ they werenâ€™t talking about a â€œhieronâ€ – a temple or building.
But thatâ€™s not how it is today. And Iâ€™ve still got to agree with Webster’s; a â€œchurch,â€ among other things is a building. The problem, as weâ€™ve seen, is that when Jesus told Peter, â€œupon this rock I will build my churchâ€; he didnâ€™t say â€œchurchâ€ he said â€œassembly.â€ Jesus wasnâ€™t talking about a building.
Next week we’re talking more about what Jesus wasnâ€™t talking about. Maybe we can get to what He was talking about.
Great write-up regarding this subject as so many are befuddled by it. I think it is critically important that we know exactly what the words meant and in the Greek language, there is little room for error. Perhaps this is why they chose this language to begin with. I think it is prudent that we examine these words carefully, lest we simply lean upon another’s understanding of them.
Great work brother and thanks for the link.