Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
The Church... Then and Now


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The Church... Then and Now
Part I - "Church"... An Unacceptable Translation of Ekklesia

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

Virtually all the practices associated with what we call "church" do not find their origins in the New Testament, but in the post-apostolic years.





"Church"... An Unacceptable Translation of Ekklesia
When Was The Ekklesia Established
Origin of The English Word "Church"?


"Church"... An Unacceptable Translation of Ekklesia
In our world, the word "church" has taken on a variety of different, but related, meanings. For example we refer to the "church" as

    A building for Christian worship. (I'm going to church this evening)

    A particular Christian denomination (He was raised in the Presbyterian Church)

    A service conducted in a house of worship. (Don't be late for church)

    The clerical profession (he considered the church as a possible career)

However, none of these definitions are Biblically accurate. The word "church" has been inserted into the English Bible, in virtually every place (about 114) the translators came across the Greek word ekklesia in the New Testament. Ekklesia does not mean church as we define the word, but was used of a regularly convened assembly, such as the ancient Greek political assemblies. It was also used for a select civil body that was summoned or convened for a particular purpose.

In Acts 19 ekklesia is thrice translated "assembly", in regard to an angry mob of silversmiths and other craftsmen whose livelihood depended on the statues of goddesses that they made and sold. Paul obviously was a threat to their trade, and they were threatening to riot, until the town clerk persuaded them to settle their grievances through the courts instead.

    So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly (ekklesia). After saying this he dismissed the assembly (ekklesia) . (Acts 19:32, 39, 41 NASB)

The point being that ekklesia can be used of any assembly of people. However, it is not any stretch to assume that, when the authors of the New Testament used it in reference to Christian believers, they adhered to the original meaning in Greek. Ekklesia is a compound word made up of two other words

    ek, a preposition that means out of, or out from, and a derivative of the verb kaleo, which means to "call", or "call forth".

Although it is a compound of a preposition and a verb, ekklesia itself is noun that means "called out". And when someone is "called out", they have to be called out from something. It is the only context in which ekklesia is used, that indicates the specific reason people are called out, or assembled. In keeping with the Bible's overriding theme of separation and holiness, the NT uses ekklesia to describe a body of people "called out", or called to be separate, from the rest of the world, forming a distinct community of their own, which is one of the two Biblical definitions of "Holiness" (See What Is Holiness?)

In short, ekklesia means a called out group of people, not an organization or building.

In support of this, Acts 20:28 tells us that the church, was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ, while 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 makes it very clear that it is the individual believer that is bought for a price. (All Emphasis Added)

    "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 NASB)

    Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB)

When Was The Ekklesia Established?
Perhaps a better way to frame the question is to ask when it was that people were first "called out".

Many people believe that the church was born in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when three thousand people believed and were saved. The problem with this theory is that the verse in Acts says three thousand souls were "added".

    So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41 NASB)

Just as when someone is "called out", they have to be called out from something, when someone is "added", they have to be added to something. So what was it that these three thousand people were added to?

Acts 1:13-15 tells us that after Jesus' ascension, a number of disciples returned to Jerusalem and "along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers" continually devoting themselves to prayer. According to verse 15 they numbered as many as 120. Acts 2:1 goes on to say that these people were "all together in one place" on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended. When 120, baptized believers gather together to pray... they cannot be called anything other than a "church".

The three thousand new converts were added to an already existing church.

Jesus Called Out His "Church"
And that already existing church consisted of believers who were all called out (ekklesia), many directly by the Lord Himself. He "called them out" from the Jewish system of religion to be His disciples. He "called them out" to be separate from the community that surrounded them, and to become the first heralds of the Gospel message.

    Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He *said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22 NASB)

    The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, "Follow Me." (John 1:43 NASB)

For three years, Jesus' ekklesia walked with Him, were taught by Him (before and after His resurrection), observed the Lord's Supper with Him, and were commissioned by Him to take the Gospel to the world. When He commanded His ekklesia to wait in Jerusalem it was only to be equipped to do the job they had already been commissioned to do.

The church wasn't built on Pentecost. The church was empowered on Pentecost.

Although Christ usually spoke about individual followers whom He called "disciples", He twice used the word ekklesia, both times in reference to the body of believers as a whole.

a) Although, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus spoke of establishing "His" church in the future tense ("I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church (ekklesia); and the gates of Hades will not overpower it), it has to be noted that the foundation of the church was already established.. the rock on which it would be built was already in place. And, as far as I know, the foundation is part of the building... the temple of God.

b) The second, and last, time, Jesus used the word ekklesia, only supports the fact that the church was already in existence. It seems irrational that Jesus would instruct His disciples to how to discipline a member of a church that didn't yet exist .

    "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that By the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church (ekklesia); and if he refuses to listen even to the church (ekklesia), let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NASB)

But if ekklesia doesn't mean "church" as we usually understand the term, where did the word "church" come from?

Origin of The English Word "Church"
The Oxford dictionary says the English church comes from the "Old English cir(i)ce which, in turn, stems from the Greek word kuriakon. [01]

Kuriakos which means "belonging to the Lord" is a derivative of Kurios (master, sovereign, Lord etc.), and is only used twice is the New Testament.

    Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's (kuriakos) Supper, (1 Corinthians 11:20 NASB)

    I was in the Spirit on the Lord's (kuriakos)day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, (Revelation 1:10 NASB)

Over the course of time, the word Kirk, which shares the same root as kuriakos, became the informal name for the Church of Scotland, the country's national church. In fact, the Kirk of Scotland was the official name of the Church of Scotland until the 17th century, and is still frequently used today in everyday speech. As more time passed, the English pronunciation of kirk changed to "church." Eventually the word "church," which indicates a building or a place where God is worshipped, gradually evolved to include, not just the place, but also the ceremonies conducted there, and the people who conducted those ceremonies.

The word "church" would have been an acceptable translation for the Greek word kuriakos. However, not by any stretch of the imagination, can it be an acceptable translation for the Greek word ekklesia.

Although ekklesia implies "belonging to the Lord", it does not mean "belonging to the Lord".

The questions of how and why ekklesia came to be translated into the English "church" (although the word "assembly" or "congregation" is far more accurate) is one we will address a little later on.

We need to remember that whenever we read the word "church" in the New Testament, it does not refer to a building, a religious organization, a Sunday morning service, or a profession, but is speaking about the 'called out' group of believers who, collectively, form the church, which brings us to the next point.

Continue On To Chapter II - Where The Early Church Met
We are so accustomed to 'doing church' in buildings that virtually have no other function, that we forget that the ekklesia, or early church met exclusively in people's homes. In support of this, there is a distinct lack of evidence for formal public church buildings before Constantine made public Christian worship legal. What makes it worse is the fact that they were modeled on the Roman Basilica - the architectural style of which can be traced back to the temple of the Egyptian God Amun-Re.

End Notes
[01] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/church?q=church and


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