Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What Do You Mean By Church?

When we communicate with others we use words. Sometimes we can be talking to someone, and it seems like we are using the same language, but we are not understanding each other.  When the words we use have different meanings to each of us, we end up just talking past each other.

I often find conversations about church to be difficult for this reason.

What do you mean when you use the word church?

When you say "our church should do this"... what do you mean by 'church'?

When you say "invite them to church "... what do you mean by 'church'?


When you say "what church do you go to"... what do you mean by 'church'?

When you say "after church we are going to go to... " what do you mean by 'church'?

When you say "our church has this great youth program"... what do you mean by 'church'?

When you say "we are meeting at the church"... what do you mean by 'church'?


I have tried to study what the term church or ekklesia meant in the New Testament.  When I talk about my role or my prayers for church, I find it useful to go back to what church was in Scritpure.  I know meanings of words can change over time.   Please read this post for more details: Church Etymology

It seems church or ekklesia   in the New Testament referred simply to followers of Jesus, and also whenever they gathered together (2 or more).  For example the phrase "the church in Jerusalem" could mean all the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, or it could mean a gathering of some of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.  We know there were too many followers of Jesus in Jerusalem to fit under one roof for their gatherings, but they were all part of the same church.  I find it helpful to view church more like a family or tribe where some members may not see each other as frequently as others, but they all belong to the same family or tribe.

However I don't think the term church  or ekklesia ever referred  to a building.

I don't think the term church  or ekklesia ever referred  to a organization, corporate identity, institution or denomination.

I don't think the term church  or ekklesia ever referred  to a specific event.  I don't think a gathering on Sunday morning with a certain order of service would be considered 'church' more than a gathering of Jesus followers at any other time or location.

When a discussion gets confusing because we are using this term 'church' in different ways I often try to find other ways to communicate without using the term church.  For example: I feel called to serve and care for Christ's church (the people), but I honestly don't feel the same calling towards some other things that people call 'church'.  I think that can be a source of confusion.

What does church mean to you?  Do you have any advice for me how I can communicate better?

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7 comments:

Alan Knox said...

Jon,

You asked, "What does church mean to you?" When I use the word "church," I'm always referring to the people of God, especially when they are gathered together.

You also asked, "Do you have any advice for me how I can communicate better?" If there is the possibility for confusion, then explain what you mean when you use the term "church." If you think the person/people you are talking with are using the term "church" to refer to something besides the ekklesia of God, then use another term besides "church" such as "assembly," "gathering," "community," etc.

Just my 2 cents... :)

-Alan

Jonathan said...

Thanks Alan. I think we are talking the same language. :)

Greg Gamble said...

Hi Jon
In our journey, we used to 'kind of' joke that we were an un-church, because when folks asked us what denomination we were, or where our church building was, we had to answer none and nowhere. Then they suggested "oh, your'e non denominational?" to which we replied no also. Having exhausted the usual descriptors, we often heard a summary " Well then, you aren't a church" to which we replied "Yes, you may be right".
We were not, and I still am not sure what church looks like.
But I've never cared and still don't.
As long as life in Jesus Christ and among His people works in practice, it doesn't need to work in theory or on paper. Labels don't make or prove anything.
And I have a comment on the gathering together part.
There are many places we could start to deconstruct the wrong ideas of church, especially when talking to others, but the one topic I think we can get the most mileage from is meetings.
Because Christians have had an edifice complex for about a thousand years, church came to mean and be a destination, gradually losing the characteristics of a family, and a family of families all sitting at Jesus feet together.
I'd love to see a group that calls itself a church, any church, announce that for the next year, all regularly scheduled meetings are cancelled, and will be called by anyone who has need to call one, whenever the need arises, or the desire strikes them. Furthermore, all meetings are to be held in a circle, with everyone facing one another; the children are always to be present, everyone is at liberty to do or say what the Lord has put in their hearts and no discussion of that meeting is to take place afterwards, if forensics is the objective.
These few changes could permanently transform any self conscious, rule bound religious group into a delightful Jesus conscious flock of trusting sheep.
Blessings brother
Greg


Greg Gamble said...

Hi Jon
In our journey, we used to 'kind of' joke that we were an un-church, because when folks asked us what denomination we were, or where our church building was, we had to answer none and nowhere. Then they suggested "oh, your'e non denominational?" to which we replied no also. Having exhausted the usual descriptors, we often heard a summary " Well then, you aren't a church" to which we replied "Yes, you may be right".
We were not, and I still am not sure what church looks like.
But I've never cared and still don't.
As long as life in Jesus Christ and among His people works in practice, it doesn't need to work in theory or on paper. Labels don't make or prove anything.
And I have a comment on the gathering together part.
There are many places we could start to deconstruct the wrong ideas of church, especially when talking to others, but the one topic I think we can get the most mileage from is meetings.
Because Christians have had an edifice complex for about a thousand years, church came to mean and be a destination, gradually losing the characteristics of a family, and a family of families all sitting at Jesus feet together.
I'd love to see a group that calls itself a church, any church, announce that for the next year, all regularly scheduled meetings are cancelled, and will be called by anyone who has need to call one, whenever the need arises, or the desire strikes them. Furthermore, all meetings are to be held in a circle, with everyone facing one another; the children are always to be present, everyone is at liberty to do or say what the Lord has put in their hearts and no discussion of that meeting is to take place afterwards, if forensics is the objective.
These few changes could permanently transform any self conscious, rule bound religious group into a delightful Jesus conscious flock of trusting sheep.
Blessings brother
Greg

Drewe said...

Hey Jon.

You are right, our language has 'moved on'. We now see church as institution, or building, or maybe denomination.

I agree - the 'church' is the body of all believers. But I think there are also specific examples, which may be the bases of where we have taken it too far.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.
(Romans 16:3-5 ESV)

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 16:19 ESV)

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
(Colossians 4:15 ESV)

(see Philemon 1:2 as well)

In each of these cases, church does not refer to the whole body of beleivers. But 'the churches (multiple) in Asie', and 'the church in your house'

All I can think is from this we have then taken to calling each 'specific gathering' (ie, physical location) to mean 'a church', in contrast to 'the church'.

And those meeting in different houses in the same city ('churches in Rome'), might well be considered different denominations in some way, as each group would have a slightly different 'flavour'.

All I can say is language is a pain in the end! I don't think you can choose to communicate better with the one word - we may just all need to use more words to clarify our meaning, as you can see even in the above verses, the translations we have of the new testament show some form of division and difference, so, we are stuck with the terms and meanings we have!

I guess that is why we had, for a while, the term 'Catholic church' - which means 'universal' - but now also means a specific group of people, so you are stuck there too...

I guess what I am trying to say (in too many words) is that it's a mess, language is a mess, so you might just have to use more language :D

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the comments.

Greg, I'd like to see what you described happen as well. And I think you are right about the labels. I suspect most New Testament Christ followers were not hung up on these questions of what should we call ourselves.

Drew, yes those verses highlight that there were different gatherings of believers within the same cities and beyond. I suspect they viewed themselves as all part of the same family or tribe, but living in different areas. I doubt they viewed themselves as separate denominations or secs like we have now, any real divisions within the church would have been frowned upon. But over time, yes each group would have had some differences. And thanks for the advice to use more language.

Steve Martin said...

I think most of us Christians (hopefully) know that the church is the people who gather for worship and fellowship.

But to the non-churched, it means something a little different. It's a good opportunity for teaching.