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05 September 2009

the word "church" -- who cares?

I've tried several times to adequately put into words why I believe that our misuse of the word "church" is not only evidence of incorrect thinking, but it severely undermines our understanding of who we are and who we're called to be. The problem is, I tend to come off as someone who's splitting hairs.

So I'll try this once more. Your responses and reactions are welcomed.

Which one of us would say, "Thank goodness it's Friday! I'm looking forward to going to family and crashing in the recliner." Of course, you might say, "It's family night," but in doing so you wouldn't be thinking of your family as an activity. You'd be describing and thinking of a group of people.

Splitting hairs? Isn't it at least a little bit odd that out of 118 uses of the Greek word "ekklesia" (which is translated "church") in the New Testament, not a single usage refers to an activity? Each refers to a collective group of believers. (note: some manuscripts claim 111 uses, and in three cases it may be tenuously argued that the word means something vaguely like a verb)

As we've done with the word "witness," with incredible effectiveness, we've confined "church" to an event that occurs in a designated, finite time and space. We no longer think of "church" as a family of believers. Instead we think of it as an event or activity in which we have the option to participate or not. Further, we're encouraged to bring as many non-believers as possible to these events so that they can listen to the pastor and get saved.

At the very least, here's what we've done in the above paragraph:
  • Removed the bond of family from the body of believers. "Church" is not a unit now; it is an event.
  • Acknowledged that our off-hours (if we consider Sunday morning only) -- the other 166 hours of the week, literally 98.9% -- do not include "church"
  • Assigned our command from Jesus Christ -- to be witnesses -- to be handled by a professional Christian
  • Reassigned ourselves from the task of going and making disciples to inviting people to sit with us and hoping that they become disciples
Whether or not we'd like to admit it, these lines of thought come directly from the understanding we now have of "church". Our incorrect use of this word simply and accurately represents how we view ourselves. How pervasive is this thinking? Do a Google image search for the word and you'll see what it means not only to believers, but to the rest of the world.

If we've given this word a new meaning, how then do we refer to the actual ekklesia? (I'd venture to say that we don't refer to it very often.)

As a side note, piggy-backing onto my post about teens giving up on Christianity, if this is all that they think church is, is it really all that surprising that teens find nothing life-changing about it, or even that they might find the whole thing boring?


sarah chia said...

Well, first of all, I agree. The word church has changed over time. It does bother me to think of "church" as an hour on Sunday. But even though this is how it is defined often in actual usage, that doesn't mean there aren't other underlying associations. I am fairly certain that if I surveyed my church (oh, hey... I used it to mean the people!), the results would come back that most people understand that Christianity is not limited to 1 hour. Seekers and non-religious people may not get that, but it will come with salvation and maturity.

But even if the word church is never used correctly (which I don't agree with), I think we do talk about the people as a unit a lot. "The body" comes to mind as the way the unit of people is described. And of course, that's very biblical.

Dean Lusk said...

Sarah, I always love your comments! Good stuff, and right to the point. I agree with much of what you said, but I'm not sure how many people think the way you do.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments. I know you were trying to be so blatant so your points get across that some may think you are splitting hairs. Often I hear from pulpits that "aren't you are glad you are at church?" or " how many of you are glad you came to church today?" I think it is absurd to think that what Christ died for is being referred to as an event. Wether that is 1 time a week or three, truthfully he meant for the believers (the saved church) to meet often together. How can the "church" ever be effective if in the minds of those leading it takes place with them preaching in front of them? The church is a called out group of individuals that together for a body of believers that God uses to build His Kingdom, not fill a building.
Tom Parker
I cant remember my login info

Christy said...

I know I give you a hard time about your hair splitting, but I do admire you for your strong convictions and resolution.

Dean Lusk said...

Thanks, Tom and Christy.

Honestly, I reinforce the hair-splitting thing with my personal friends by answering questions in an annoying manner. For instance:

Q: "How was 'church' the other day, Dean? We were out of town."

A: "I don't get it. You and I are the Church."

Sometimes I don't think I'd like to hang around with me. :-)

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