Church is Not in the Bible
Did you know the word church is not really in the Bible? Am I a fool? Of course it’s in the Bible, in many verses throughout the New Testament. You’ve probably read it yourself or at least heard it read to you. But the truth is that the word translated into English as church is incorrect. It is nowhere near the original meaning of the word Jesus and the apostles used when the Bible was written. Yet most translations use church freely without reservation. We’ll find out why here.
The Bible was actually written in two different languages. The Old Testament was recorded in Hebrew and the New Testament was recorded in Greek. These were the common languages spoken by God’s people during the time they were written. The original word translated church is actually the Greek word ekklesia. It is pronounced “ek-klay-see’-ah”.
What is Ekklesia?
Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says ekklesia literally means called out ones. That absolutely describes a gathering of true believers. This thought is expressed in 1 Peter, even though the word ekklesia is not used. The principle was well understood by the first Christians and the disciples of Jesus.
The Chosen Ones
1 Peter 2:9-10 WEB But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: (10) who in time past were no people, but now are God’s people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
The word chosen in that verse is the Greek word ekletos. It sounds similar to ekklesia but it means chosen out. Believers are people chosen out of the world to be God’s possession. He called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Those who do not have new life in Jesus Christ are not the people of God. They are still in darkness. Those who have surrendered to His Lordship are the chosen people who have obtained His mercy and live in the kingdom of light.
It is interesting to note that Peter wrote this letter to all the chosen ones 1 Peter 1:1, the believers, not a group of clergy. There was no such thing as a class of leaders who ruled the ekklesia in the New Testament. He even called these chosen people a royal priesthood. The priesthood of the Old Testament has been replaced. All people are priests now since the death of Jesus. No special clergy is required.
The Assembly of Believers
Ekklesia was also commonly used to identify an assembly of people who met to discuss the affairs of state. An example would be a town council meeting. Everyone assembles together to discuss the issues that affect them and their lives in the community. It’s an open meeting that everyone can participate in. So ekklesia is an assembly (gathering) of believers. It is not a religious meeting run by some appointed clergy where people come to watch him or her perform. Neither is it a building where religious activity takes place. You can’t describe it as a religious system (denomination) either. Ekklesia is people meeting together to exalt Jesus and minister to one another. The New Testament clearly shows the believers functioning this way. However, years of religious tradition have watered down the ekklesia and in most places is nothing like it was created to be.
Where Did the Word Church Come From?
Here is a definition from a great book that gives its origin.
The English word church is derived from the Greek word kuriakon, which means “belonging to the Lord.” In time, it took on the meaning of “God’s house” and referred to a building. – Viola, Frank. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (p. 12).
Now keep that word kuriakon in perspective. Man chose to use that, but the word used all throughout the New Testament in the original Greek translation is ekklesia, not kuriakon.
William Tyndale (1494-1536) was the first to translate the Bible into English directly from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. It was illegal to have an unlicensed English copy of the scriptures in that day. Influenced heavily by Martin Luther and other church reformers of the day he left England to finish his work unhindered. He felt the Word of God should be available to all. He was ultimately arrested and executed for his activity. His punishment? He was tied to a cross, strangled by wire, and burned at the stake. Gunpowder was used to enhance the flames.
No Compromise for Ekklesia
There were several things that got Tyndale labeled as a heretic by the official church. One was his translation of the word ekklesia as congregation. He refused to use the more accepted word church. He understood that the ekklesia was about the people and not the religious system.
In 1611, King James of England commissioned the English translation of the Bible that bears his name, The King James Version. The 54 scholars who worked on the project were heavily influenced by Tyndale’s English translation. But there were some notable exceptions.
Since King James was recognized as the head of the church of England, he had full control of its beliefs and practices. The church’s religious traditions and systems, much of which was inherited from the Catholic Church, were deeply entrenched. Well James didn’t like the word assembly or congregation as the translation of the word ekklesia. He insisted the translators use the word church. It was more compatible with the system they had in place and kept him and the church clergy in control. Understanding ekklesia as a town meeting style of called out people who function together is the opposite what the church then, and in most places now, wants to promote.
Jesus Desires to Build His Assembly
The following passages from Matthew tell us who is to build the assembly. Spoiler alert!! It’s not man!
Matthew 16:13-18 WEB Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (14) They said, “Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” (15) He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (16) Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (17) Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (18) I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
The translation I have quoted in this article is the World English Bible (WEB). It is one of the few that translates ekklesia as assembly instead of church. So grasping what Jesus wants to build in the earth requires a total shift in our understanding. Those who, like Peter, recognize that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God must come out of the darkness of the world, out of the religious system and be built into an assembly that will prevail against the gates of Hades (Hell) itself.
Jesus Must Be the Head
To emphasize the truth that Jesus wants to be in charge of the assembly, I frequently use the hashtag #JesusWantsHisChurchBack. He is not to be a figurehead. He is to be the functional head of the assembly. It’s called the Body of Christ, not the Body of the System or the Body of the Pastor. Jesus must have the preeminence, the supremacy over all things, especially concerning the assembly of believers.
Colossians 1:17-18 WEB He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. (18) He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
So the word church really isn’t in the original scriptures. Jesus called it the ekklesia. The apostles called it the ekklesia. So that’s what I call it, too. I am reprogramming myself to stop using the church word. When an assembly of believers gather in a town meeting atmosphere where everyone participates, Jesus can minister to everyone in very special ways.
Click here to read a letter I “wrote” to the Holy Spirit about what the institutional church expects of Him today. It ties in with some of the points made in this article
For more information about these topics check out these excellent resources:
Beyond Church: The Lost Word Of The Bible- Ekklesia by Steve Simms
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna