Seems rhetorical, especially coming from a Pastor… right? What is church? For the record, I am not asking rhetorically. We live in a country and at a time where we seem to have difficulty agreeing on ANYTHING! So I ask because I am curious. What do we, those who have yet to give up on this thing, define church as? Is it a building? A specific location? A time set aside Sunday morning for prayer, singing, and teaching? Is it a certain denomination or faith tradition? Or is it something more than that?
Maybe it’s less…
Spoiler alert, the word “church” isn’t technically in the Bible. I say technically because the English word we use today is every so slightly different than the word it is translated from in the original text.
In the original Greek that the New Testament was written in, we have a word we associate most closely with the English word church. That word is ἐκκλησία (Ekklesia). ἐκκλησία meant assembly, or gathering and would eventually be adopted by most somewhere in history as the term for the Christian Church as a whole. Every time we have the word “church” appear in the new testament, it was always the word ἐκκλησία in the original Greek. Someone somewhere decided that the two were interchangeable.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. Especially since that’s not what most scholars would say is the root word for our English word “church.” That word would be κυριακός (Kuriakos) which simply means “of the Lord.” This definition is most certainly where we get the term the “Lords House.” Still, this is not the word that appears in the modern day English version of the bible as the word “Church.”
So why the language lesson? For me, I am of the mind that defining our terminology will help us better understand what we are talking about. Plus, I super needed a refresher on my greek. Sometimes we take language for granted, other times it becomes an exercise in futility. Still, based on all of this, I think we can safely assume that according to scripture, church meant when people of the Lord gathered.
Honestly, I am not nearly as interested in the etymology of the word as I am how it was put into practice. It is universally agreed upon (maybe not actually, nothing is universally agreed upon anymore) that Acts is an account of how the church began. The account given is a collection of individuals referred to as the early church. There is one verse in particular in this account that sticks out to me because I am of the opinion that it answers the question “What is church” in the simplest of ways.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.
Pretty simple huh? God people gathered, and they read the scripture, ate together and prayed. What a beautiful picture.
Why Do We Make It So Much More?
I ask the question what is church for a reason. We have taken this beautiful and simple thing and added to it. This, not always for the better. Especially in a world so divided by the “extra” things in life. Sometimes the things we add, the “extra” is why many my age no longer want to have anything to do with it. Millennials are fine with Jesus, in fact, most I know are incredibly interested in the things He had to say. They just see too many of his supposed followers acting little or nothing like him. Church happens when God’s people gather, and being one of God’s people is a choice to live according to His word.
What is or isn’t church should not be determined by:
- Political leaning
- or any other human-made label
But it happens all the time doesn’t it church? We let church become defined by race… by gender… by nationalism and politics all… the… time…
We need to stop and get back to the basics, or maybe we should simply stop calling ourselves the church and instead call ourselves the “same color people who all vote the same.”
What the church is and does should be defined by God and His word, not by the things we do or don’t like about the world around us… It’s not always what we care about that matters, but what God cares about and how He wants us to live that does.
So what is church? Well, what it should be is simple, but what it really is? I guess that’s for us to decide.
Until next time…