Tuesday, 29 December 2009

1. what is a church?

Can we define 'church', 'baptism', 'bishop', 'deacon', 'apostle', 'prophet', 'pastor'? All these words and many more like them are not really English words at all, 'they are transliterated Greek words; ie the Greek letters have been replaced with English letters rather than the words being translated into English words. The English translations would be 'House of the Lord', 'plunge', 'supervisor', 'servant', and 'messenger'. The problem that lies with tranliterating rather than translating is that it leaves us with no definition of the words other than the way in which I choose to use them. Let me try to illustrate what I mean, let's take the Greek word 'kuon'. (if you know what it means please humour me and pretend that you don't for a while). Now suppose I begin to use that word in a sentence or two. "The kuon's trunk is very versatile and its tusks are very dangerous". Ah, you say "I know what kuon means". But what you don't know is that I am using the word wrongly; 'kuon' is the Greek word for 'dog'. If enough people begin to talk about the kuon's tusks it will form an image of 'kuon' in the mind which is defective, to say the least.

This same thing happens with words like 'bishop'. "Ah," you say, "I know what a bishop is." It is very probable that you don't know what a 'bishop' is but rather what someone's personal definition of 'bishop' is. This means Bible students have to work hard and consistently to try to use Bible words accurately, otherwise they effectively re-define them. This is what has happened to the word 'bishop'; centuries of wrong use have re-defined it and now when we see the word in the Bible we have to make a conscious effort to correct our immediate image of a 'bishop'.

The word 'church' probably comes from a Greek phrase 'KURioKos oikos'. (I have capitalised the key letters to show the link with 'church' or if you are Scots 'kirk'. The word 'kuriokos' means 'belonging to the Lord'. The whole phrase 'kuriokos oikos' means 'the Lord's House' and is NEVER used in the Bible. The word 'church' ought not to be in your Bible. So why can I find it 115 times in my King James Bible? Well there is a history to this.

The first 'English from Greek' translation was done by William Tyndale in the 16th century. His version only uses the word 'church' twice... to describe heathen temples! Where most versions have 'church' Tyndale had 'congregation'. The word he was translating was not 'kuriokos oikos' but 'ekklesia'. This word has a long history but it means a group of people separated from the 'crowd' with a special purpose in mind. It can only mean 'people', it can never mean a building.

So where do we get the word 'church' from? In the early 17th century England got a new king, a Scot. He was king of two kingdoms and consequently the Scots know him as James VI of Scotland, while the English know him as James I of England. But James didn't want to be king of two kingdoms, he wanted to be king of a United Kingdom (that phrase is his!) He wanted a United Kingdom, with a United Parliament, and a United Religion and he wanted to be head over it all. Half a century later, during the reign of his son Charles I, this lead to the English Civil War.

Part of James' project to create one nation out of two was the book we know (and love) called the King James Bible. He specifically insisted that Tyndale's word 'congregation' be replaced with the word 'church'. But the word 'church' really meant a building and ought not to be in the King James Version at all. We cannot turn back four centuries so we are stuck with the word 'church' which we have to constantly re-define! The waters become very muddy. So what is an 'ekklesia' and how would be recognise one? In Bible terms the 'ekklesia' is a covenant community. It is not part of the local community, in fact, it has been 'called out of' the local community and become a separate entity with a distinct purpose. Over the next few days, I will try to define 'ekklesia' from a Biblical perspective and try to see how well it compares with those things we tends to call 'churches'.

If you would like to ask questions or discuss this please join us on the Biblebase Discussion Forum under the thread what is a church?

1 comment:

Alex said...

looking forward to this - I'm glad I can view blogspot blogs again!