Christian Relaunch


The English word "church" is so problematic that I never use it. It has been used in various senses, but I think the accusation that I "neglect the church" arises from confusion between the following senses.

(#1) Renewed mankind. The New Testament word is ekklesia. Christians constitute ekklesia in all their activities.

"To the ekklesia in Corinth, [that is], to those sanctified in Christ."

1 Cor 1:2. (Here ekklesia is given its full scope.)

(#2) Christians gathered en masse. The N.T. authors only mention this a few times. They use no special word to distinguish it from other manifestations of the ekklesia, but the context shows the distinction. Such gatherings play a major role in Christian life, but this includes industrial enterprise, university or artistic association; all these, if pursued by God's friends and kept pure from his foes, are ekklesia, and none of them has the sole right to be called ekklesia.

"It is better, when assembled [in ekklesia] to speak ..." (followed by advice on what is most helpful in that setting, which differs from what is most suitable on other occassions)

1 Cor 14:19. (There is no suggestion that there is no ekklesia between meetings. The new humanity is always ekklesia, as the previous quotation shows.)

(#3) Christians gathered to express reverence. The N.T. never mentions this, as there was no such differentiation at that early stage; every gathering was multi-purpose. The reverence group is only one field of activity among others; an important one I think, but ideas about it should not be elevated into basic beliefs.

(#4) A place for Christian gatherings. There is no N.T. word, because the ekklesia met in folks' houses not in special places, and because even if they hoped eventually to have special places it was evidently well down their priorities list. Whether or not to have dedicated buildings I regard as a matter of mere expediency, certainly not of basic belief.

Etymology. The word church comes from the Greek stem kuriak ("of the lord") which was used by early Christianoids of objects and practices that they regarded as pertaining to Christ. Thus "the lord's house", "the lord's day" (what we call Sunday) or "the lord's prayer" might be called kuriak. Presumably they used this word because there was no corresponding New Testament word, overlooking or disregarding the very good reason for that void, namely that real Christianity recognises folk, not things, as holy. In this matter at least, they continued after conversion to practise paganism rather than Christianity. For the lord's folk, however, there was a N.T. word, ekklesia, and this remained in use. But by the time the Bible began to be rendered in English, the practice had arisen of also calling the lord's people "church". Wycliffe wisely rendered ekklesia as "assembly" but Tyndale (author of the first printed English Bible) used "church", as did subsequent translators including King James's men.

Back to Humanity's Unchanging Task (3).