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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

2002--13 definitions of church (revision)

This blog I have redone a number of times.  It’s original title was “8 definitions of church”.  With this update, the number is now 13.  With each update, I feel that I am learning a little bit more of what God has said to us, the church, and a little bit more of how toxic the unscriptural traditions that have morphed into the church over the centuries are. 

2002—13 definitions of church

            My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute.  Today a word study on the greek word “ekklessia” and its English equivalent, church.  I, so far, have found 13 distinct definitions.  Six began developing a minimum of two hundred years after the writing of the New Testament, and, therefore, are not anything the writers of Scripture had in mind.  Those are:

1) the Roman Catholic Church, which in the western world was perceived to be a virtual equivalent for over 1200 years,

2) a denomination, of which others came about after the Reformation,

3) a building—buildings were forced into Christianity only after the Roman Empire legalized Christianity, or a general style of building that is exclusively used by institutional churches.

4) a special type of not for profit corporation—a benefit that the Roman Empire had for paganism, and extended to Christianity upon legalization, and

5) the special tax-favored corporation, and

6) the persons who make the policies for the not for profit corporations.

            The following definitions are connected to the word “ekklessia” in the original writings of the New Testament. 

7)  All believers in history.  Hebrews 12 verse 2, even though it doesn’t use the word, described this group.  This is the group that is going to be admitted into heaven. 

8) All believers in a city or area.  We only have one overt mention of a meeting of all believers in a city, in Acts 5 verse 12.  It is easy to picture that some of the early churches Paul describes were small enough that at some point they all met together.  Today, there are so many divisions that it is hard to imagine all believers in a city coming together, but I must mention it as one of the definitions. 

9)  A group of believers that meet together to worship, which is described in Acts 2 verses 42 to 47.  I believe that many do not wish to teach this scripture due to verse 45, where it speaks about sharing everything in common.  We must recognize the context of most of this early church being poor, under persecution from both the Romans, who saw them as a Jewish group, and the Jewish establishment, who had Jesus put to death.  The Non-Jews who had just come to faith in Jesus were travelers, as Jerusalem was on a trade route.  We see later in scripture that the Romans years later force everyone to scatter, and these non-Jews would have spent time growing in faith, and taking faith in Jesus back to their homeland upon that scattering.  This has and continues to happen.
10)     1 Thessalonians 5 verse 11 tells us that the church is a group of people that meets to build up each other.  This indicates that a local church is small enough for everyone to know each other, care about each other, and if everyone mentors one another, no one person is dominating all the teaching and mentoring.  Every believer gains wisdom to share as they desire to follow Jesus. 

11) As few as two believers, when meeting in agreement.  Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.”  Further Colossians 1:18 tells us Jesus is Head of the Church.  Conversely, Heb. 10:25 tells us not to not forsake gathering together with other believers, but to exhort one another.  One can gather together with as few as two, but if one meets in the hundreds or thousands, but exhorting one another is not allowed or is not expected by others, we need consider the possibility that our traditional large gatherings do not meet the scriptural definition of church.  Also, Jesus was said this in a way that negated to the disciples’ minds the Jewish tradition that it took ten persons to have a congregation.

12)  This is a bizarre reference, but the believer in Jesus knows that God knew what He was doing in commissioning the books of Scripture.  In Acts 19, we have the story of the idol makers of the temple of Diana, a fertility cult, organizing a protest against the work of Paul in leading persons to faith in Jesus.  Apparently, enough persons were coming to faith in Jesus, and abandoning the town worship that was built on sailor’s giving money to the temple in trade for sexual acts, that their bottom line was affected.  In verses 32, 39, and 41 of our English Bibles, this mob is described as a “assembly” or “gathering”, but in the Greek, the word was “ekklesia” the word everywhere else translated “church.”  This tells us that an ekklesia isn’t religious, could be temporary, and the word is quite vague, more like our modern English word, “group,” and not much like the very religious, stiflingly organized meaning most persons in our culture associate with the word “church.” 

13)  To that effect, given that the early church met in meetings where everyone could share what God had done in their lives or taught them, with minimal structure, one scholar says that, if we were translating ekklesia into English for the first time now, the most appropriate way would be the phrase "town meeting".
Therefore, my conclusion is that many of the informal groups of believers meeting in business break rooms, college dorms, and informally in homes, where “two or three are gathered” align more with the biblical concept than our structured rituals, and by rituals, I am as much referring to modern soft-rock praise and worship as to centuries old liturgie. If you or I personally enjoy it does not make it any less a ritual.  How do we worship in Spirit and truth?  It takes work on every believer’s part, and openness on every leader’s part, to allow Jesus to be Head of the Church in reality, and not just a quote from Colossians 1 verse 18.
  You can contact me at or by phone at 757-735-3639. To review what I just said, visit my blog,, as this is the entry for June 20, 2012.
 For more information about simple, organic worship in this area, visit
Information for this commentary was obtained from:
Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity,
On point 2) Actually, Orthodox and Thoma (in India) predate the Reformation, and a variety of small groups of believers (and also heresies) were in hiding, particularly in mountainous areas of central Europe, before and somewhat after the time of the Reformation.
On point 11) Jon Zens, in The Pastor Has No Clothes, opines that the modern phrase "town meeting" is closest to ekklesia.  In the five minute format that I am working with in this commentary, there wasn't time to more than mention that idea.

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