The Church is Not What You Think

What is the definition of the church?

What is the church?

Spirituality in the world is changing. As pastors in the Western world wonder why attendance in their churches is plummeting, the number of Christians in the South and East is skyrocketing. This growth is occurring not in the traditional Christian denominations, but in churches of a more charismatic and Pentecostal leaning. Meanwhile in the United States, the number of those affiliated with religion is dropping, but those that consider themselves spiritual but not religious is growing even faster than the religious crowd is shrinking. It seems that around the world, people are generally discontent with the traditional idea of church, yet more spiritual than ever before.

Those that still faithfully attend church probably do so because it’s encouraging to their Christian walk and it helps them get on God’s good side. After all, God told people to go to church, right? Or maybe you’re part of the growing group of people who’s never even stepped foot in a church because you see it as an outdated tradition with little relevance today. I’m not surprised people are leaving the church -- it’s boring! That’s a big statement from me, a born-again, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled follower of Jesus. What’s going on here? Is this what God had in mind when he invented the church 2,000 years ago?

What if I told you that your whole concept of what is a church is based on a big misunderstanding? What is the definition of the church?

The first time the Bible mentions the church is in Matthew 16 where Jesus was talking to his disciples. From this passage, there is a lot we can learn. Here, we read the following exchange:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
Let’s take a closer look at the actual word “church” that Jesus used. If you’re one of those types that takes notes on the sermon each week, you probably recall being told by your pastor at some point that the English word for church comes from the Greek word “ecclesia”. Well you better get a refund on your tithe from that church service, because the pastor who told you that was lying.

The English word “church” evolved from the Old English word “cirice”, which was translated from the Greek word “kuriakos” which means “of the Lord”, referring to something possessed by the Lord. It was probably shortened from “House of the Lord”. But nothing in the Bible refers to a House of the Lord. In fact, kuriakos is only used twice in the Bible -- once referring to the “Lord’s Supper” and once referring to the “Lord’s day” -- and that’s it. The word “church” is nowhere in the Bible!

The word Jesus used was -- you guessed it! -- “ecclesia”. But ecclesia doesn’t mean church or house of the Lord or anything close to it. Ecclesia is correctly translated “assembly”. So Jesus started an assembly, and it grew, changed, established new traditions, and evolved for 300 years. Then some guys came along and gave it a new name -- “house of the Lord”. English translators assumed this was what Jesus was talking about and incorrectly substituted the word “church” in their translation. The translators decided to go with human tradition instead of the teaching of Jesus.

But is the assembly Jesus was talking about the same thing as our idea of church today? If even scholars can allow human tradition to change the words of Jesus, imagine how often we allow tradition to influence our ideas of what we think is biblical without even knowing it. Church comes with centuries of baggage and carries many connotations in our minds. If we want to understand what Jesus’ assembly really is, we need to be willing to move away from our preconceived ideas about what we think church should be, and be willing to accept that maybe Jesus is talking about something different.

These words from Jesus started a 2,000 year old movement that is continuing today. This movement is not a ritual, place, religious institution requiring membership, charity, hierarchical organization, political group, or weekly meeting. Rather, it is a dynamic, evolving, interactive, encouraging, and powerful spiritual body that we all have the chance to be a part of. It is going through big changes right now that are incredibly exciting! In future blog posts, we’re going to look at what this assembly is becoming, not according to human tradition, but according to scripture. If you’re willing to keep an open mind and possibly re-evaluate some of what you thought was true, I invite you to keep reading and exploring with me so we can find out what the definition of the church really is.


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