Posts Tagged church
“Increasingly, Christian life seems to be nothing more than a particular way of behaving, a code of good conduct. Christianity is increasingly alienated, becoming a social attribute adapted to meet the least worthy of human demands – conformity, sterile conservatism, pusillanimity and timidity; it is adapted to the trivial moralizing which seeks to adorn cowardice and individual security with the funerary decoration of social decorum.”
Most English bible translators have interpreted the Greek word “ekklesia” as “church”, but “ekklesia” has nothing to do with the word “church”! Every word study and reference available agree that the word “church” does not come from the original Koine Greek word “ekklesia”, but comes from a different, late Greek word, which has a totally different meaning!
“Ekklesia” means an assembly of the “called out”, or “gathered apart”. In Scripture, it refers to a “convocation, assembly, or congregation”. “Ekklesia” clearly refers to people.
However, the word “church”, as you will learn, is defined as a place (physical building and its associated institutional infrastructure), and not as a people. That is the difference. Now, a group of believers, the Ekklesia, may go to a “church” building to worship God, but the “church” building and its supporting infrastructue is not the Ekklesia.
The English word “church” is derived from the Greek word kyrios, meaning ruler or lord. Specifically, it comes into English in the context of, “kyriake oikia”, “Lord’s house”, which by the 4th century was shortened to the adjective “kyriakon”, “of the Lord”, and was used to denote houses of Christian worship. Neither “kyriake oikia” nor “kyriakon” ever appear in the Greek New Testament referring to a congregation of worshippers or as a place of worship. This association did not occur until about AD 300, 270 years after Jesus’ Crucifixion. Regardless, this is the late Greek word that was first translated into Old English as “cirice”. It was then translated into Middle English as “chirche“, from which we get the modern English word “church”.
The Wycliffe Bible (1385), the first Bible printed in vernacular English, was a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible (Jerome used “Ecclesiam”), and Wycliffe used the Middle English words “chirche”, “chirches”, and “chirchis” some 111 times in the New Testament.
On the other hand, if you look at William Tyndale’s Bible (1526), which was the first English Bible translated directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, he correctly translated “ekklesia” as “congregation”.
The first recorded use of the Modern English word “church” in a Bible was in 1556 by a Presbyterian follower of John Calvin, Theodore Beza. The following year the New Testament of the Geneva Bible (the Bible of the America’s Pilgrims) was published by Beza’s friend, William Wittingham, and he also used the word “church”. And of course, the later King James Bible of 1611 also uses the term “church”.
The word “ekklesia” is used 115 times in the Greek New Testament, and in most English bibles, it is always incorrectly translated as “church” with the exception of three instances (Acts 19:32,39,41) where it is properly translated as “assembly”.
By the Protestant Reformation, after some 1,200 years of institutional cathedrals, clergy, liturgy, ritual, doctrine and dogma, Jesus’s New Testament concept of “ekklesia” had become so obscured that Protestants, long preceded by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churchmen, considered the Greek word “ekklesia” virtually synonymous with “church”! We continue that convenient institutional rationalization and error today.
“Church” is not found in the original Greek New Testament in either word or concept. It is an afterthought and convenient rationalization of post-apostolic institutional men.
“Unfortunately, the bottom-up, inside-out, whole-making instinct [of early Christianity] did not last. Starting in AD 313, Christianity gradually became the imperial religion of the Roman Empire. It was mostly top-down and hierarchical for the next 1700 years. As the “imperial mind” took over, religion had less to do with Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, inclusivity, forgiveness, and simplicity, and instead became fully complicit in the world of domination, power, war, and greed itself. The wolf started living right inside the hen house, and the common pattern of low-level religion was repeated.
…I am sorry to have to share this with you, but the impact of the Church’s collusion with empire must be confessed or we will never be free from it. It also helps us understand why so many have given up on Christianity and often, unfortunately, thrown out the baby with the bathwater.” ~Daily Meditation, 1/18/2017
D.B. Hart: “For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles.”
“For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles. And the contrary claims made by a brutish imbecile Emperor are of no consequence.” – D.B. Hart, from a blog post 11 May 2015.
“It seems to me, and I am personally convinced, that the Church must never speak from a position of strength…It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. As soon as the Church begins to exercise power, it loses its most profound characteristic which is divine love [i.e.] the understanding of those it is called to save and not to smash…”
– Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
Christos Yannaras (1935 – ) was Professor of Philosophy at Pantion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. His books include Freedom of Morality and Person and Eros. His essay first appeared in French in Contacts, No. 179 (1997), pp. 202-206.
“I dream of an ecumenism which will begin with a confession of sins on the part of each Church. If we begin with this confession of our historic sins, perhaps we can manage to give ourselves to each other in the end. We are full of faults, full of weaknesses which distort our human nature. But Saint Paul says that from our weakness can be born a life which will triumph over death. I dream of an ecumenism that begins with the voluntary acceptance of that weakness.” ~ Christos Yannaras
“In the Biblical tradition, the power on the Right and the power on the Left are symbolized by the kings and the prophets, respectively.” Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Fr. Rohr brings up a thought-provoking truth. The Jewish prophets were mainly engaged in acting as agents of God to communicate with his people. This communication came in the forms of prediction of future events, criticism and indictment of native and foreign domination systems, and energizing and encouraging the people to faith and hope. The prophets didn’t just know about God, they knew God in a direct and experiential way. This gave them great authority, passion and confidence. They cared about what God cared about. In the words of theologian Marcus Borg, “the strongest passion of the God of the Bible is the transformation of the humanly-created world into a more just, compassionate, peaceful kind of world.” The prophetic voice echoed that passion.
Because Christianity has been in league with the secular “kings” of this world (discussed yesterday in the post “Christendom: 1,700 years of sleeping with the enemy”), the institutional Christian Church silenced its prophets and lost its prophetic voice and authority early in its history. In fact, so thorough was this purging, the ministries of Apostle and Prophet virtually disappeared from the institutional church (cf., Eph. 4:11). All this in the face of the advice and direction of St. Paul to the individual members of the body of Christ to “strive for the greater gifts”; specifically, “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers”, in that order (cf., 1 Cor 12:27-31). Oh well, “Christendom” did indeed require the institutional church to compromise some core values, didn’t it?
The point is, that when the institutional church suppressed and abandoned its prophetic tradition, the only prophetic voice left on the field was that of secular liberals. The obvious problem with that situation was that these secular prophetic voices often had little or no grounding or authority past the limitations of their own human intellect and passion. That can be a very dangerous thing indeed, as history has amply demonstrated.
The fall of Christendom, starting after WW I in Europe and a little later (post-WW II) in the U.S., marks the breakdown of the unholy alliance between institutional church and State. The universal Church (read: Ekklesia, Body of Christ) now has the opportunity, for the first time in 1,700 years, to reclaim its traditional Prophetic voice and authority. We have the clear advantage over secular prophets in that we know God experientially (some still do, praise God!) and thus can again speak with the authority, passion, and confidence of a loving God who calls us to restore ourselves and the world to union with him.
This is truly an exciting time for the Ekklesia, Body of Christ. Just think, we might even grow some Apostles…
I was recently reading a piece by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, on history’s habit of fluctuating between extremes of the “Left” and the “Right”, between Liberalism and Conservatism. Rohr made the interesting observation that, “It is interesting that these two different powers took the words “Right” and “Left” from the Estates-General in France”. What he said next really caught my attention, “On the right sat the nobility and the clergy (what were the clergy doing over there?) and on the left sat the peasants and 90 percent of the population”.
It struck me that the image of the clergy sitting with the nobility is a good working definition of “Christendom”. It applies to Protestants as well as to Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox starting in 313 AD, when Roman Emperor Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians and made Christianity the preferred religion of the Empire. We just quietly celebrated the 1,700 year anniversary of that dubious milestone (The Edict of Milan) last week on June 26.
The institutional “church” is not preaching the fact that although the “Clergy” has been sleeping with enemy, the “Nobility”, for a solid 1,700 years, both Jesus and Paul have been sitting on the opposite side of the isle with “the peasants and 90 percent of the population” for that entire period.
I have often said that the demise of “Christendom” in the late 20th/early 21st century was a great opportunity for the universal “Church” (the Ekklesia) to become better operative and reflected in the local institutional church. But, it will seem an apparent short-term disaster for the contemporary institutional “church” as it exists today. The institutional “church” will have to “morph” itself (cf. Rom. 12:2) or fairly quickly fade into irrelevance. I believe that the institutional “church” needs to do corporately what it continually calls for the laity to do individually: confess and repent. Were that metanoia to happen, a whole lot of “tradition” would instantly disappear, “Poof”! On the positive side, the necessary metamorphosis would be faster and, in the long run, less painful. Then perhaps the local church might do a better job of transforming the saints to union with God than it did under Christendom.
Unfortunately, I think that the institutional “church” is far too proud and far too arrogant to admit that it has been this wrong for this long. I anticipate that it will continue to fume and bluster in denial of its own sin and carnality. At least for now.
Like any worldly institution, the institutional “church” will ultimately do whatever it has to do in order to survive, even if that means violating its own core values; like it did 1,700 years ago.
The beginning of the first century AD saw the rapid rise of the Roman Imperial Cult. This religious cult was based upon the proclaimed divinity of Augustus Caesar (c.62 BC – 14 AD / Reigned 31 BC – 14 AD) and subsequent Roman Emperors. This Imperial Cult was a unifying political and religious factor across the whole Roman Empire in the first century. The emergence of the Imperial Cult preceded, but also developed with, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The earliest written Christian records we have are the Letters of St. Paul from the mid-first century. A good summary of the theme of his gospel message is contained in the Letter to the Romans Chapter 1, Verses 3 &4: “…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead…”.
In the opinion of British theologian N.T. Wright, “Despite the way Protestantism has used the phrase (making it denote, as it never does in Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith), for Paul “the gospel” is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord.”
Wright goes on to explain that Paul’s euangelion, his gospel (Good News) message, was every bit as much a confrontational and subversive political proclamation as it was a religious one: “Paul was announcing that Jesus was the true King of Israel and hence the true Lord of the world, at exactly the time in history, and over exactly the geographical spread, where the Roman emperor was being proclaimed, in what styled itself a “gospel”, in very similar terms.”
Later, Wright applies Paul’s gospel message to his [Paul’s] vision for the ekklesia, the church. His basis for this comes from Chapter 3 of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Wright tells us: “We may begin with 3.20. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah”. These are Caesar-titles. The whole verse says: Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t. Caesar’s empire, of which Philippi is a colonial outpost, is the parody; Jesus’ empire, of which the Philippian church is a colonial outpost, is the reality.”
Wright goes on to discuss the implications of Paul’s vision of this empire of Jesus: “if Paul’s answer to Caesar’s empire is the empire of Jesus, what does that say about this new empire, living under the rule of its new lord? It implies a high and strong ecclesiology, in which the scattered and often muddled cells of women, men and children loyal to Jesus as Lord form colonial outposts of the empire that is to be: subversive little groups when seen from Caesar’s point of view, but when seen Jewishly an advance foretaste of the time when the earth shall be filled with the glory of the God of Abraham and the nations will join Israel in singing God’s praises.”
Paul’s vision for this ekklesia, as subversive colonial outposts of the coming empire of Jesus, could not be realized after a series of events in the fourth century. In AD 313 Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan, a proclamation of religious tolerance that officially ended the persecution of Christians. The Christian Church greatly increased in power and influence in the fourth century under Imperial patronage. The Church quickly became fully integrated into the political and cultural fabric of the Roman Empire, culminating with The Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, issued on 27 Feb 380, by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. This edict ordered all subjects of the Roman Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. The edict officially made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
And the Church has been “sleeping with the enemy”, the world’s domination systems and institutions, for the entire 1,700 years since. This is Christendom. This is not the vision of the ekklesia of the Apostle Paul.