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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Church as group

            In Acts 19, we are told the story of the riot of the idol makers guild.  The idol makers were in Ephasus, and the town religion was worship of the goddess Artemis/Diana, a fertility cult.  The temple was very much a financial success by its offering cult prostitution, with the temple being built very close to the portage area.  The sailors left a significant amount of their earnings with the temple, such that the temple opened the town bank, and had opened branch temples around the Mediterranean.
            I had a question, which turned out to be more difficult to find the answer to than I would have first thought, and I wish to thank Don Davis for helping me on this.  The question is:  Would the idols that the idol makers were making be a thing that, in our culture, be considered pornographic?  In many cultures, the formal or informal deification of sexuality has connected to it cartoonish images with oversized sexual parts.  Given the attitude in Ephesus, it would be reasonable that we would find this in this culture.  Archeology, at this time, has not found any examples of these idols. An interesting side note is that a word in Hebrew that sounded similar to a word connected to Artemis worship, and that Hebrew word meant a young, female deer.  A statue of Artemis that has survived and is currently in the Louve in Paris shows a woman standing beside a young deer.  This definitely shows an effect of the Diaspora on Ephesian culture. Therefore, the answer, surprisingly, is that we do not conclusively know one way or the other.
            Now, the normal point the believing church makes from this story concerns the word translated “proconsuls,” which tells us that we can date this incident within an 18 month period of time, from which we can relatively date the timing of much of the New Testament. Many other persons have told that story.  The one I wish to point out is based on the word “assembly” in Acts 19, verses 32, 39, and 41.  The word in Greek is ekklesia, which in other parts of the New Testament is translated, “church.”  Things that need to be pointed out are:
1.  The word means assembly, gathering, or in our common usage, close to our word group.  It had no religious connotation—in Acts 19, it is a mob formed for a thinly veiled protest due to the preaching of the Word hurting some unbelievers economically.  People coming to faith in Jesus no longer purchased nick-nacks benefitting those connected with the fertility cult.
2.  If the word ekklesia meant something as common as assembly, gathering, or group, how did we get the idea of all the things we associate with our modern word “church”?  The early translators of the Bible into English knew it, but they were getting paid and had their positions due to connections with the institutional religious organization of their day, and the word “church” was not necessarily incorrect, but sufficiently vague that those who did not know and did not have access to check these guys’ work could reasonably infer meanings that weren’t there.  As all believers know, sins of omission are easier to miss or self-justify than sins we commit.
3.  Therefore, what we have in the Bible is that church is a group of believers that interact with each other to worship Jesus (Acts 2:41-47) and to build up each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  The problem with this otherwise innocuous statement is that most institutional organizations we in western culture call churches don’t allow the second of these, being replaced by one or a very few attempting to do all or most of the building up.   
Some references works for statements, above:

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