Let me make clear that I am absolutely committed to building the Kingdom of God through establishing transforming communities. Jesus commanded us to “make disciples of the nations” and showed us how to do that when he started the first transforming community by calling out 12 disciples and working with them over a period of 3 years. The result was individuals who had been transformed in the context of community and a community of believers that was, itself, transformed. Jesus, at the close of his ministry says “go and do likewise” to paraphrase Mt. 28:18-20. The book of Acts recounts how the disciples went out and discipled the nations by starting such transforming communities. Discipleship was never essentially a individual process since the product of discipleship was loving God and loving ones neighbor.
So, please here me, that I am not at all saying that apostles should change our focus from communities to something else. But rather than using the word “church” actually gets in the way of doing this because of all the connotations that come with the word “church”.
It is true that modern uses of the word “church” differ drastically from the Greek term ἐκκλησία (ekklesia – usually translated “church”). The question is, what, if anything, should we do about this? As I see it, there are four options:
1) Do nothing. Continue to use the “church” in all of its different connotations. People know the difference between the different usages of the word “church” and will not be confused. They know that the word “church” may refer to a building today, but they also know that in Scripture the word “church” always refers to the gathered people of God.
2) Continue to use the word “church”, but add other words to differentiate our references. Thus, we would say “church building” or “church meeting” or “church organization” and only use the word “church” by itself when we are referring to the gathered people of God.
3) Only use the word “church” to refer to the gathered people of God. For all other modern connotations of the word “church” we should use different words such as “chapel”, “meeting”, “clergy”, “organization”, etc.
4) Stop using the word “church” altogether. There are too many different connotations and people are usually confused or misunderstand when they read “church” in Scripture. Therefore, we should use a different word to refer to the gathered people of God.
In general, I fall somewhere between #2 and #3. What about you? Which option do you use? Do you think there are other options for using the word “church”? Do you think we should continue to use the word “church”? Do you think people are confused by the many modern connotations? Or, is this not a problem at all?