Because I know you love the Lord and want to do the right thing, beloved child of God, I know you’ve probably given some thought to what it means to be a part of God’s forever family. Our quest for authentic Christianity will certainly take us into the realm of our personal relationships with others who have, like us, surrendered their hearts and lives to the Lord. In fact, the Apostle Peter reminds us that we are to, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (I Peter 2:17, NASB). We will talk more in-depth about our call to community and what it means to “love the brotherhood” in a later section of our study together. But before we do, I believe there are some very basic things that we need to understand about our calling.
Typically, when people think about what it means to be a Christian, their thoughts run immediately to the idea of “church” and to being a member of some church or another. However, I think it will help us immeasurably if we realize that the term, “church,” has been gravely misunderstood and misused in our modern era. Not only that, but some modern concepts of church are actually destructive and can hinder our Christian walk. Therefore, in light of our continued quest of authentic Christianity, every disciple of Christ should exercise a great deal of caution before choosing a particular church with which to associate. We should be aware of the many man-made religious organizations masquerading as church—Satan has his substitutes. These organizations can actually lead people away from the simple truths of God’s word and into the destructive doctrines and traditions of men.
This should not surprise us because, even in Bible days, there were already false teachers moving among the Christian community subtly leading people away from truth and pulling them after themselves. The Apostle Paul says, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NASB).
Having intimate fellowship with other believers with whom we can share life, love, and even the struggles we sometimes encounter as we sojourn together in this mortal realm is an essential element of our Christian faith and a great blessing. However, that does not mean that we are obligated to run out and join up with any particular religious organization simply because it calls itself a church. In fact, concerning this matter, we would do well to remember Jesus’ word of warning to His disciples when He told them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NASB).
It is not uncommon for so-called “churches” to compete with one another and to exalt themselves to the degree that Christianity becomes more about the church, and serving the needs of the church, than about simply loving others and living for Jesus day-by-day. In some instances, church has even assumed the status of an idol, wherein loyalty to some religious organization has supplanted people’s love, devotion, and allegiance to Christ. You’ve probably already noticed that there is a tendency for people to take pride in and glorify their church. People who identify themselves as Christians often talk about and promote their church more than they do their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This kind of religious pride is not a healthy thing for it often produces a party-spirit and divides people who should be fellowshipping in unity with one another. It is not uncommon for churches to become seedbeds of strife and division, feeding and fueling human pride, stroking individual egos, exalting men, and providing a catalyst for the arrogance and self-will that has so often quenched love; thus separating people from one another and hindering the unity that Jesus prayed for and that the Bible commands.
We should also be aware of the fact that many so-called “churches” do not even pursue the central mission of the Christian faith; which is to carry on the redemptive mission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; as Jesus Himself stated it: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, NASB). Rather than simply seeking to love, serve, reach, and teach—planting the seeds of faith in human hearts and helping people remain strong and growing in their faith—these churches concern themselves with every social and political cause under the sun; and having duly socialized and politicized themselves, they play right into the hands of powerful social and political lobbyists who use them to further and to finance their own agendas.
Given how the term, “church,” has been so blatantly misused over the centuries, and particularly in the modern era, it should come as no surprise that many people today have little use for the concept, or for the many and various religious institutions that claim that descriptor. While many people feel blessed to be a part of a radiant Christian fellowship, there are also many who have been more hurt than helped by a church. The world is filled with disillusioned people who were once willing to give church a try, but finding no meaningful significance in the experience—beyond some mild entertainment value and a few social connections—eventually just gave up on the whole idea as a waste of their time and energy. So, as we continue with our quest for authentic Christianity, perhaps a little up-front knowledge regarding the whole idea of church is in order before deciding whether or not we should go join up with one.
It might surprise you to learn that the actual word, “church,” is nowhere found in the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. The word, “church,” is a relatively modern invention, and was not actually used by Jesus, or the apostles and prophets of the first century, to describe the global or local community of God’s people. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the modern word, “church,” is simply a transliteration of the Middle English word, “chirche,” from the Old English word “cirice,” which had been ultimately derived from the Greek word “kyriakon,” which came from the original Greek word, “kyriakos,” meaning: “of the lord” (Church, 2013).
This Greek word, “kyriakon,” can only be found twice in the New Testament: “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s [κυριακόν – kuriakon] supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20, NASB), and, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s [κυριακῆ – kuriake] day and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet…” (Revelation 1:10, NASB). In both of these instances, the Greek word, “kuriakon”—from whence we derive the English word, “church”—simply refers to something belonging to the Lord; in this case the “supper,” and the “day.” The word has no direct connection to any particular organization or group of people.
So, the word, “church,” in the English language is not really a translation; but, actually, just a substitute for an entirely different Greek word—that word is “ekklesia.” Just why this substitution was made remains somewhat of a mystery, but it likely has much to do with the power and prominence of organized religion—Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, Church of England—by the time the ancient New Testament manuscripts were translated into English during the Middle Ages.
The original Greek word for the community of God’s people—“ekklesia”—is used 111 times in the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. The word, “ekklesia,” is a compound word composed of two other Greek words: “ek” – meaning, “out of,” or “away from,” and “kaleo” – meaning, “to call.” So the word, “ekklesia,” refers to those people who are “called out” or “called away” (Ekklesia, 2013).
I know we have to be careful with the words we choose when trying to convey important concepts to others; especially concepts related to understanding God’s will for our lives. One of my pet peeves is people using fancy, high sounding, ecclesiastical terminology—or worse, Greek words—when trying to share simple Bible truths. However, with your permission, I’m going to make an exception here. I like the word, “ekklesia,” and its meaning. I’m glad that our Lord Jesus chose to use that word in describing God’s forever family. And, because of all the misconceptions, not to mention all the religious doctrine and dogma that have grown up around the word, “church,” I much prefer to use the word, “ekklesia,” when referring to God’s new covenant children. So, as you and I embark upon this holy quest in search of authentic Christianity, and throughout the remainder of this book, I will use that word.
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