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The organization may not be the church, but the church may be there

Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 in definition | 7 comments

The organization may not be the church, but the church may be there

When I write about the church, I usually begin by explaining that I am referring to the people of God as they gather together. The church is not an organization or some type of corporate or hierarchical entity or a denomination or anything like that. It’s not a building. It’s not a set of rules or beliefs or codes. It’s not an event or a service. The church (as the Greek term “ekklesia” signifies) is a gathering or assembly of God’s people.

Of course, at the time that the New Testament was written, the term “ekklesia” alone (without any other context) did not necessarily refer to an assembly of God’s people. It simply referred to a gathering or assembly of people. In different contexts and with different modifiers, the term could refer to many different types of gatherings from political to social to educational to occupational etc.

But, the Greek term “ekklesia” always referred to groups of people. Today, if we use the term “church” to refer to anything other than God’s people, then we are not using it in the same way that the New Testament authors used the term “ekklesia.”

But, let’s be honest. People use the English term “church” to refer to many different things. And, many times, the term is not used to refer to a group of people. Often, the term church is used to refer to a specific building. The building is NOT the church. But, the church may be gathered in that building from time to time.

Sometimes, the English term “church” is used to refer to a certain organization or corporation with bylaws and organizational leadership etc. This organization/corporation is not the church. But, the church may meet together under auspices of that organization.

The term “church” is often used to refer to a specific event or service. That event or service is not the church. However, the church may be present at that event.

Some denominations or others types of associations may refer to themselves with the English term church. These types of organizations are not the church. However, the church may affiliate with those denominations or organizations in certain ways.

So, I don’t always agree with the ways that people use the English term “church.” Of course, this is my personal concern since the English term “church” is not actually found in Scripture and has a much wider range of definitions than the Greek term “ekklesia” that it is often used to translate. [We had a good discussion about this in a post a few years ago when I asked the question, “Should we use the word ‘church’?“]

But, this post is not really about whether or not we should use the word “church” and it’s not even about whether or not people use the word “church” in a manner that is similar to the use of the term “ekklesia” in the New Testament.

Instead, the point of this post is this: even when people use the term “church” in a way that does not refer to a gathering of the people of God, the people of God are often there. This is the church. And, we should care about, love, serve, teach, encourage, etc. those who are gathered, regardless of how they use the term “church.”

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of how we use the term “church.”


7 Comments

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  1. 2-20-2012

    Good Morning Alan,
    I hope your heart is open to this opinion, which in turn, I hope changes your mind……word’s are important. They are import in the ears and mind of the hearer, in the mouth and mind of the speaker/ writer, and they are important in the spiritual realm.
    It is important because words are only useful for portraying the ideas and concepts with accuracy for which they are intended to represent. If you change the word, then you lose or obscure the original intended meaning. Every time you hear or read the word church, it is as if a spiritual veil rests over your mind. No matter how much you tell yourself that the “Church is not the building”, your mind still pictures a building or a place you go to for religious purposes. Because the English translation of the New Testament is replete with references to the word ‘church’, you automatically think that those buildings or places are part of God’s designed plan —along with the services that go on in the building, when in fact: NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.
    Yes words are important, and the ideas they convey. Names such as “church” are words that have importance in this world and in the heavenly realms. Using the word “church” has far reaching implications. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Jacob’s name meant supplanter (thief, usurper, also strategic replacement of another by scheming), Israel means Prince with God. The devil came to steal (insert himself into) God’s rightful place in our life. It is his old habit; he wanted to take God’s place in heaven, in the garden, and in the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Jacob (the thief) stole the rightful place of Esau as the firstborn; it meant the loss of the authority, rights, and privileges, everything valuable in Esau’s proper inheritance. This was possible because Esau had little regard for his birthright. Replacing Christ’s living body with an institution would have a similar result: the loss of position of authority, rights, and privileges, everything valuable in the Bride’s proper inheritance. It is hard to comprehend the full ramifications of this supplanter named “church” in light of spiritual warfare. Fortunately the story does not end there, as we know Jacob changed and so did His name. He went on to fulfill the Father’s kingdom purposes.
    The ekklesia Jesus is building has spiritual authority as attested to in Mathew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Also Mathew 18:15-20 records an example of how the assembly (the whole group, the Lord’s community), the ekklesia, exercised this spiritual authority.
    Jesus purpose for the ekklesia as stated by Paul: Ephesians 3:8b-12a ……….”this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church (ekklesia), the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    It is the spiritual Body and Bride of Christ that demonstrates the depth of God’s boundless riches in Christ, His manifold wisdom, and His eternal purpose accomplished in Christ. Do we think that church buildings and the activities happening in them are demonstrating God’s authority, and wisdom to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms?

  2. 2-20-2012

    Tony,

    I appreciate your heart for God’s people. Words do not have a meaning; they have ranges of meanings. And, language is not static; it is dynamic. Meanings of words change over time. Yes, it is possible to think of the word “church” and to not think of a building.

    By the way, many people think of the word “ekklesia” and think of a building or organization also. Simply changing the word that you use does not change the concept. That’s why I always (or almost always) define the word “church” or “ekklesia” when I use it.

    If it helps you to use a term other than “church” to refer to God’s people, then by all means do so. However, recognize that those entities that are labeled “church” – even if they are not the church themselves – may include or be associated with God’s people (his ekklesia). And, the fact that someone chooses to continue to use the term “church” does not mean that person has a nonbiblical understanding of God’s people (or the ekklesia) or that the person is referring to a building or organization or denomination or anything like that.

    -Alan

  3. 2-20-2012

    Alan – it reminds me that just as humans are fallen into sin, that which we use falls also – such as language.

    I had a conversation about this with a Lutheran leader in the USA. His interpretation of Lutheranism was very different from another. He beleived he was a ‘true’ Lutheran, and other should stop using the name – the others beleived they were ‘Lutheran’, and he should stop. And so it goes on – the term ‘Lutheran’ now means not a whole lot apart from ‘not Catholic’, and even in some cases (with the lutheran-catholic accords) don’t even mean much or anything.

    Not wanting to decend into a demoninational discussion, lets try a different word.

    Christian.

    No doubt, the word meant what it should mean (disciples of Jesus who follow His commands) at some point – see Acts 11:26. But now many people call themselves Christian. So many in fact that it is a wide road of people that call themselves this, as the language has broadened. For many, you need to just think of Jesus as a ‘good teacher’ or ‘spiritual guide’ and you can consider yourself a ‘Christian’ by our language definition.

    And the same goes, as you point out, with Church.

    Language is always moving, changing, and more often than not, growing wider in it’s breadth. What was once very specific, very tightly defined, is now so wide and broad the original speakers of these words would have no idea what we speak of.

    To end – this is not limited to church, but all area’s of life. Our language changes. Any who have read of watched Lord of the Rings will remember the scene of Galadriel and her mirror? Even there Tolkien points out how language changes and morphs, that one doesn’t know fully what another means, because it is fallen just like us…

    “And you? ‘ she said, turning to Sam. “For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?

  4. 2-20-2012

    Drewe,

    Did you know that Tolkien started as a linguist? He began LOTR by building the languages…

    -Alan

  5. 2-20-2012

    Alan, I did – fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) I rather enjoy Tolkien, and have read LOTR many, many times. Also the Cosmic Trilogy by CS Lewis – the first book with all his philological writing I find interesting :D

    Drewe

  6. 2-20-2012

    Drewe,

    Most of my friends like Perelandra, but That Hideous Strength is my favorite of Lewis’ Space Trilogy.

    -Alan

  7. 2-20-2012

    Alan – funnily enough, that is my wife’s too… If only all literature could be such a high quality, but then, how would we know what is good?

    Drewe