Category Archives: Bible Study

The Meaning of Church

 

In this series on the study of church, we began with a look at some questions regarding the common understanding/misunderstanding for the usage of the word church.  Then we looked at some modern conceptions of church, or what has come to be some traditional definitions of church.  Here, we will add another layer to that by asking if our societal usage of church corresponds with it’s meaning.  Next time we’ll explore the relationship between church and it’s original Greek counterpart, ekklesia.

Recall that in our previous post, we summarized some of the more common societal uses of church as follows:

  • A religious building
  • A religious organization (may or may not be truly Christian)
  • A religious meeting
  • A religious people
  • A religious institution
  • A recurring religious event
  • A particular religious denomination
  • A tax-exempt religious business

We turn now to the origin and meaning of church.

The origin of our English word church is difficult to pin down.  Some state it is a derivative of the Greek word kurios, which we often find translated as Lord.  Following this theory, the specific derivation of this word, kuriakon in Revelation1:10, is of particular interest (see also 1 Corinthians 11:20).  Here we see John was in the Spirit on the “Lord’s Day”, kuriakon hemera, or the day that belongs to the Lord. As most words do, kuriakon underwent some changes when it was imported (transliterated – alphabetic equivalence) into other languages, first being shortened to kuriak.  Then depending on the dialect differences became kurk and eventually kirk (Scottish origin).  Once in English, kirk became church.  So, in summary kuriakon eventually became “church” and generally means belonging to the Lord.

Similarly, another theory is the relationship between church and kuriakos, a compound word of kurios (lord) and oikos (house) and came to mean the “house of the Lord”.  One can see that this meaning could have a dual application, both spiritually as a people comprising the house of the Lord and architecturally, i.e. a building, as in similarity to the temple of God in the Old Testament.  Logically, this is why some church buildings have a “sanctuary”.

However, others have disagreed with these etymologies stating instead that the origin of church is not rooted in Greek, but is Celtic and is derived from the word “cyrch”, or circle, and that this is how we arrived at kirk upon which church is derived following the pattern in the previous two theories.

Along this same line of thought, in the German world, the origin of church is sometimes traced through such words as kirche and kerk, derived from the Latin circa, circumcicare, circulus, even circus!  (Has your experience with church been a circus?!?)  It should be pointed out that Martin Luther disliked the word kirche, using it sparingly in his translation of the Scriptures, in reference to pagan shrines in the Old Testament and the dedication feast at the temple in John 10:22.  He preferred “the congregation of the saints as the people or company of God.” (TDNT, Kittle, pg. 534)   In the revised Lutheran Bible and its related concordance, the word kirche (church), is not found at all.

Regardless of the exact origin, it’s clear that church generally means belonging to the Lord, either as a reference to His people or a particular place of worship.  Clearly, church carries with it a religious connotation, as noted in its meaning and confirmed in our societal uses listed above.

So far so good, right?

It’s easy to see the relationship of society’s usage of church to its meaning.  Perhaps some expansion of the meaning has led to some misapplication of the word, as in applying it to a people/building that do not belong to the Lord in a salvific sense, but this is not entirely unusual.  In other words, societies usage and understanding of the word church corresponds with its accepted meaning, generally speaking.

The question that needs to be asked next is whether this word church, as properly defined, is an appropriate translation of the Greek word ekklesia.

 

Twin Implications of Original Sin

 

Having examined the doctrine of original sin, along with some of the more common objections levied against it, we turn now towards two implications that flow naturally from this neglected, yet profoundly significant Scriptural teaching.  These twin implications are the Doctrine of Total Depravity and the Doctrine of Total Inability.

As with original sin, these daughter doctrines are usually objected against strongly.  Often, some will affirm original sin, yet emphatically deny her two offspring, certainly an inconsistency, but perhaps most likely the fruit of failing to think deeply on the things of God.  Bear in mind, though I’m using the word doctrine rather freely, it shouldn’t be thought of as academic, high-browed, or otherwise reserved for the theologian.  In a sense, we are all theologians (students of God, i.e. disciples) and doctrine is simply shorthand for the “teaching of Scripture” as in 1 Timothy 4:16.

The much maligned doctrine of total depravity refers to the influence that original sin has had on an individual’s human nature, specifically corruption.  We can think of it like this, if we have a glass of water and add to it a drop of cyanide, the entire glass is polluted.

Is it as polluted as it could be?  No.  It certainly could be at a higher percentage of cyanide, but it is nevertheless polluted, completely.  Could you spoon out a little corner of the water that was untainted?  No.  Some have summarized total depravity as corruption, “not in degree, but in extent”.  Additionally, all of our faculties have been corrupted, from our exterior bodies and members to our interior thoughts, will, and desires.

Biblically, Romans 3 is the locus classicus on total depravity:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

I’ve discussed this passage elsewhere, particularly the trajectory that the Apostle moves along from the mind, to the mouth, to the hands.

A.W. Pink summarizes:

The doctrine of total depravity is a very humbling one. It is not that man leans to one side and needs propping up, nor that he is merely ignorant and requires instructing, nor that he is run down and calls for a tonic: but rather that he is undone, lost, spiritually dead. Consequently, he is “without strength,” thoroughly incapable of bettering himself; exposed to the wrath of God, and unable to perform a single work which can find acceptance with Him. Almost every page of the Bible bears witness to this truth. The whole scheme of redemption takes it for granted. The plan of salvation taught in the Scriptures could have no place on any other supposition. The impossibility of any man’s gaining the approbation of God by works of his own appears plainly in the case of the rich young ruler who came to Christ. Judged by human standards, he was a model of virtue and religious attainments, yet, like all others who trust in self-efforts, he was ignorant of the spirituality and strictness of God’s Law, and when Christ put him to the test his fair expectations were blown to the winds, and “he went away sorrowful” (Matt. 19:22).

As to the doctrine of total inability, this refers to man’s incapacity to improve his standing with God through his own efforts, will, or exercise of his volition apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to renew the heart, changing both the affections and the will.  When God says in Ephesians 2 that man is dead in his trespasses and transgressions, this implies the doctrine of total inability.  Dead men cannot choose God.

To clarify a common misconception regarding the will, man still retains his “free will”.  He is not a robot.  However, his will is consistently bent towards sin.  He is so comfortable in it, he lacks the desire to do anything otherwise.  In his own, unregenerate “free-will” he cannot and would not choose God, a total inability.

Turning again to Pink we read:

Fearful indeed are the effects of this darkness. Its subjects are rendered incapable of discerning or receiving spiritual things, so that there is a total inability with respect unto God and the ways of pleasing Him. No matter how well endowed intellectually the unregenerate man may be, what the extent of his education and learning, how skillful in connection with natural things, in spiritual matters he is devoid of intelligence until he is renewed in the spirit of his mind. As a person who lacks the power of seeing is incapable of being impressed by the strongest rays of light reflected upon him, and cannot form any real ideas of the appearance of things, so the natural man, by reason of this blindness of mind, is unable to discern the nature of heavenly things.

If we misunderstand Original Sin and subsequently Total Depravity and Total Inability we misunderstand grace, ultimately the Gospel.  It is a front line issue.  A failure to understand the sinfulness of man and rightly explain it in a biblical manner has been a great malady throughout the history of the church.  The remedy is coming face to face with the holiness of the Sovereign God.

For more see these posts:

http://voiceoftruthblog.com/sermon-total-depravity-voddie-baucham

This post summarizes several posts, including answering some key objections brought against it.

http://voiceoftruthblog.com/summarizing-total-inability

 

Final Objections to Original Sin and their Consequences

 

This is our final post addressing some of the more common objections brought against what is often called the Doctrine of Original Sin.

Objection #5 – The theory of evolution does not allow for an historic Adam, therefore there is no connection to a concept of original sin.

This is the appeal to science that the authors of Adam and the Genome attempt to make.  Some make the argument that Adam wasn’t an actual historical person, but it is instead simply a shorthand designation for all of mankind.  This however destroys the One to Many representation argument that Scripture develops in both Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 – Adam to many, Christ to many.  Just as Scripture states that there was a historical Jesus, so too does it state that there was a historical Adam and their relationship is clear.

Objection #6 – Real sin is only committed through an act of the will or volition.  Since we were not in the Garden with Adam, it was not our choice to sin and thereby we do not share in his guilt.

This is true, the actuality of sin is committed by an act of the will or volition, as we saw in the Ezekiel 18 objection.  However, that will has a natural bent towards sin.  It is not morally neutral and certainly not morally good.  It’s natural inclination towards sin is a direct result of the corrupting influence of Adam’s original sin in the Garden.  As was already mentioned, the case with Adam was unique in his representation of mankind.  In this respect, we were there with him.

Objection #7 – If Adam is the natural progenitor of all mankind, and Christ was born into mankind, wouldn’t this make Him guilty and polluted for being “in Adam”.

Christ is commonly understood to be the Second Adam.  By means of His divine, miraculous conception, He assumes the full human nature of mankind, but not the fallen nature of mankind, thus the importance of both the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the Doctrine of the Incarnation.  Additionally, we must remember the uniqueness of Christ, not merely human, but divine-human, distinguishing Himself from Adam and all other mere humans.

As to His humanity, in a sense, he was made human in a similar way as Adam, that by direct divine intervention (His divine nature is eternal and uncreated).  Adam was formed from the dust of the ground by the hand of God.  Similarly, Christ was formed, humanly speaking, by the power of the Holy Spirit and conceived in the womb of Mary.  Here too it is important to clarify that the Holy Spirit did not have intercourse with Mary, as some erroneously assert.  The purity of the conception of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit stops the corruption of human nature from passing on to Him.  Simply stop and wonder at the majesty of God and the sinlessness of Christ through His miraculous birth.

Consequences

Though the doctrine of original sin may be unpalatable to some people, it nevertheless must be wrestled with, as Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord.  We must not let go of Scripture til we have been blessed by it through a clearer understanding of this teaching.  Otherwise, there are grave consequences.

Though we have looked at the consequences for denying the resurrection as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, let’s briefly expand on that for our subject of original sin.

Consequence 1 – Denying original sin denies the need for Christ’s obedience and death on the cross.  If people are born innocent, unstained by their relation to Adam, then we would do well to usher them to an isolated island ensuring their ultimate salvation apart from the corrupting influence of the world.  Christ’s death then would be for only those for whom Plan A, isolation, had failed.

Cons. 2 – Denying the relationship of Adam, his original sin, and his posterity, undercuts the necessity for Christ’s virgin birth.  Consequently, Christ would have no need to be the product of divine conception, because the corrupting influence of Adam would be non-existent.  The doctrine of original sin explains the necessity for Christ to be born of the Spirit through the vessel of Mary, apart from the seminal influence, i.e. Adam, of Joseph.

Cons. 3 – Denying the relationship of Adam to his posterity undermines the parallel relationship between Christ and His posterity.  In other words, if there is no “in Adam” then there is no “in Christ”.

Cons. 4 – Simply stated, if there is no “in Christ” then we are doomed.

Cons. 5 – Denying the relationship of all mankind “in Adam” leads to a logical conclusion of evolution and the denial of a historical Adam.  This consequence works from both directions, either starting with a denial of the historical Adam and working forward or a denial of original sin and working backwards.  In any event, the consequence is grave and one would not be surprised if the next shoe to fall is the doctrine of inerrancy.

Summary

The concept of union with Adam, as a result of our birth, places all men under condemnation and God’s wrath, worthy of eternal punishment.  Likewise, it explains our need for a Savior and  the necessity of Christ’s virgin birth, thereby establishing Him alone as sinless and apart from the original sin of Adam, i.e. outside Adam’s seminal line and federal headship.  Additionally, original sin magnifies God’s grace.  Truly Christ is our only hope and the only name under heaven by which man may be saved.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul brings union with Adam and original sin into his argument of Christ’s resurrection and it’s benefits for the specific purpose of introducing the concept of death, namely that all men die as a result of being in Adam.  The reason for this is to assert the supremacy of Christ over death and the glorious resurrection for all those who are in Him.  But that is a subject we’ll take up yet another future post.