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.