Category Archives: Theology

The Importance of Studying Church

 

We’ve been working our way through several posts that examine what it is that we have come to call church.  The posts are as follows:

Sometimes these types of posts seem academic, or removed from practical Christianity.  Sometimes it can be difficult to see how a study of terms like ekklesia, synagogue, or church apply to our daily lives.  For instance, if you scrambled to get the kids to school and to work on time, what value does a post on Tyndale and Luther’s bible translation add to your situation?

At first glance maybe nothing.

However, perhaps for one, it shows that our daily struggles are short-term and temporary.  When we consider that God has had a plan to unite a people for Himself from before the foundation of the world in the person of His Son Jesus Christ it puts everything else in perspective.  Two, considering those who have gone before us and the battles they faced for the advancement of the kingdom of God puts the perspective on a human plane.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve compiled some  blog posts that have shown up in my news-feed, all fundamentally related to how one understands the nature of church.  Seeing the questions that others have raised and the related issues helps me to realize that their is eternal value in taking the time to understand what God has communicated through His Word regarding the assembly of His people.  I’ve offered a brief synopsis on some of these posts below.

http://feedingonchrist.com/weight-of-the-church/

In this post, the author discusses the weight that church should factor into our decisions on where we live, go to school, etc. and places membership in a local church above jobs, school, and housing.  Is he correct?  Should the geographical location of 4 walls weigh more on our decisions about these things?  Only a proper study and understanding of God’s Word can determine this.

https://www.challies.com/resources/can-you-help-me-find-a-good-church

In this post, “Can you help me find a good church?”, Tim Challies answers one of his commonly received emails from readers trying to locate a “good church”.  He lists a couple church directory links to aid in the search.  God’s Word may have something to say along these lines, but we would have to take the time to study and listen.  Is church available on the market shelf like everything else?

http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2017/05/in-defense-of-the-sabbatical.php

This is an interesting post where the author defends the pastors sabbatical, or time off, due to the nature of the 24/7 calling.  It’s no wonder there is so much pastoral burn-out.  But maybe we should ask, have we properly understood the nature and function of the pastor according to God’s Word?  Do we see 1 or 2 men in Scripture on call 24/7 tending to needy sheep?  Or do we see the burden distributed among all the believers through the “one-anotherings”?

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/dilemma-of-bivocational-pastor

Similar in direction as the previous post, this author discusses the dilemma of the bi-vocational pastor.  It is an interesting self-created dilemma where a small church’s survival depends on affording their building and their pastor.  Did Paul or the other Apostles face this same struggle?

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-is-this-thing-called-church

This is an interesting post that hits at the heart of our series here, namely What is this thing called church?  There is much that I commend the author for and agree with, but some other things that hopefully we’ll be able to look at through our on-going series.

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/rayortlund/2017/05/23/is-your-church-institution/

Another post discussing a topic that we’ll directly address (Lord willing), namely the institutionalization of the church.  The author concludes that the church is in fact an institution.

http://deadstate.org/u-s-churches-are-now-costing-taxpayers-71-billion-a-year/

Three interesting notes here 1) The tax-exempt status that most U.S. churches seek and are granted 2) The cost of these churches 3) The universal use of the term church which lumps protestant-evangelical, Muslim, Mormon, etc. into the same category.  Is this what Jesus meant when He said I will build My “church”?  I doubt it.

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/churchless-christian-oxymoron/

Finally, a recent post discussing the importance of a believer’s church membership.  Some decent observations, but  there’s no way to agree/disagree with him unless we take the time to search the Scriptures.  Is church membership biblical?  Implied?  Assumed?

Each of these posts in their own way are specifically related to the questions we’re looking at in our own study of the church.  Simply put, these questions matter.  But finding and applying the biblical answers matters more.

Lessons from History on False Teachers

 

This is an interesting and timely post related to our recent, brief series on Arnold Murray, specifically his false teaching concerning the nature of the Trinity.  In this post by well-respected author, Randy Alcorn, he cites some observations made by Kevin DeYoung on the nature of false teachers, i.e. wolves, throughout history.

Before quoting DeYoung, Alcorn offers his own striking statement,

More theological battles have been lost to enemies inside the church than to those outside. The evil one has targeted us for deception. Nothing less than the welfare of God’s people is at stake.

Here is DeYoung’s definition of a false teacher:

A false teacher or a wolf is someone who snatches up sheep (John 10:12), draws disciples away from the gospel (Acts 20:28), opposes the truth (2 Tim. 3:8), and leads people to make shipwreck of the faith and embrace ungodliness (1 Tim. 1:19-202 Tim. 2:16-17).

Summarizing his observations from reading history, DeYoung offers 5 salient lessons on these wolves:

  1. Wolves don’t usually know they’re wolves.
  2. Wolves can quote the Bible.
  3. Wolves tend to be imbalanced.
  4. Wolves are impatient with demands for verbal clarity.
  5. Wolves can come in different shapes and sizes.

The entirety of Alcorn’s post may be found in the link below.  He links to Kevin DeYoung’s original post.

http://www.epm.org/blog/2017/May/29/church-history-false-teachers

 

What is an Ekklesia?

 

 

We have been slowly working our way through a study of church, or what some may call the doctrine of the church, simply stated, ecclesiology.  In this series thus far we’ve looked at:

We turn now from the English word church to the word used in the original Koine Greek, ekklesia.  After working through the meaning of ekklesia, we’ll need to ask whether the meaning and use of church corresponds accurately with ekklesia, whether church conveys the meaning of ekklesia, and what our Lord intended by using ekklesia over a similar word, sunagogue (synagogue).

In biblical translations, we arrive at our English equivalents in one of two ways: 1. Transliteration, or simply the English letter equivalent 2. Translation, inserting the near English equivalent in the place of the original language word.

In our Bible translations however, particularly English, this can be tricky because no word in the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) has a single word that corresponds to its meaning.  There is usually a range (semantic range) of words and context is the best guide to determining which word fits best.  So even the best, formal equivalency (attempted word-for-word) translations have a bit of interpretation in them.

Sometimes we use transliterated words (our English letter equivalents and the Greek words you see here because I don’t have Greek fonts) from the original biblical languages in our modern parlance, such as Hallelujah or Messiah or Christ.  However, our usage doesn’t always match the words meaning:  Hallelujah = Praise Yahweh; Messiah = Anointed; but sometimes they are closer as in Christos = Christ.  Other common transliterated words in our New Testament are, Apostle (apostelos), Angel (angelos), Baptism (baptismo), Evangelist (euangeli), and Deacon (diakonos).  Note that these words have not necessarily been translated into an English equivalent, but because they are transliterated instead, they carry their original meaning over, sometimes avoiding unnecessary replacement, but sometimes failing to communicate the actual meaning, as in baptismo= immersion.

Our English word “church” is the most common translation of the Greek word ekklesia.  As Mounce’s dictionary affirms we find his definition of ekklesia as “church, congregation, assembly.”  Since ekklesia is the transliteration of the original Greek word, we can see clearly that it has no transliteration relationship with church.  Ekklesia is sometimes said to mean “the called out ones”, because it is a compound of ek (out of) and kaleo (called), while possible, it’s not entirely accurate.  We know that the combination of words into one doesn’t necessarily convey the meaning, as in our English words butterfly or greenhouse.

Likewise we can see that the other possibilities (semantic ranges) given by Mounce could have a greater bearing on what this word ekklesia actually means, neither a location, building, or event but rather an assembly or gathering.

Ekklesia is used as a noun ~114 times in the New Testament, first appearing canonically in Matthew 16:18.  Our Lord was not novel is His declaration to build an ekklesia, rather He was using or perhaps clarifying the Old Testament use and understanding of ekklesia.  Were you aware that the word so often translated as “church” was used in the Old Testament some 100 times?

In the Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint (LXX), ekklesia is the most common translation of the Hebrew word qahal, meaning “assembly” or “to assemble”.  Of the 162+/- occurences of qahal (or maqhel), ~96 times it is translated as ekklesia.  However, qahal can also be translated as sunagogue or what we know as the transliterated word synagogue.  This translation choice for qahal occurs ~45 times in the Septuagint.  Commenting on the OT use of qahal, Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology, writes, “[Qahal] properly denotes the actual meeting together of the people.” (p. 555).  In other words, qahal wasn’t abstract, but took place when the people actually met together.

The remaining translations of qahal occur in a variety of ways.  As an aside, note how we have come to recognize the transliteration of synagogue and keep it in our English translations, but ekklesia is conspicuously absent.  It’s worth pointing out that unlike church, ekklesia doesn’t carry a specifically religious connotation, it simply means gathering or assembly (see Acts 19:32, 39, 41; now why isn’t it translated church in these verses!?!).  It gains its religious meaning when the phrase “of God” or “of Christ” is attached or implied.  We might say for our purposes that ekklesia simply means an assembly of God in Christ.

Ekklesia is used in at least of couple of different ways in the New Testament which has caused no little amount of tension.  As well as being used in the singular (church) and plural (churches), it’s use in the aforementioned Matthew 16:18 seems to be generic or what some have called a universal sense.  While it’s next use, the only other occurrence in the Gospels seems to be more specific, carrying a local application, Matthew 18:16.

Kittle, writing in volume 3 of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament writes, “From the time of Thuc. [Thucydides, 460-395 B.C.], Plat. [Plato, 428-348 B.C.], and Xenoph. [Xenophon, 430-354 B.C.], and especially in inscriptions, ekklesia is the assembly of the demos [people, mass of people assembled in a public place] in Athens and in most Greek poleis [cities].  The etymology is both simple and significant.  The citizens are the ekkletoi, i.e., those who are summonsed and called together by the herald.”

Think again how we use the word church in our modern vernacular and even in the definition of church itself and ask whether it fits with what we’ve seen regarding ekklesia. As we saw, typically church means a people or building belonging to the Lord, but has also been applied to denominations, events, institutions, even businesses.  Ekklesia simply means an assembly or gathering.  Ekklesia is never used in reference to a building, ever.  Also, implied in the meaning of an assembly or gathering is a plurality, not individuality.

Translating ekklesia as church may have seemed like a fine idea if one is wanting to convey the idea of “belonging to the Lord”, but as we have seen so far, that is simply not the meaning of ekklesia and church is now a loaded term with baggage.  It would have been acceptable in our example we looked at last time from Revelation 1:10, John was in the Spirit on the church day, but not as a translation of ekklesia.

Our other word used in the original Greek, sunagogue (synagogue), seems to have overlapping meaning with ekklesia, i.e. they can both mean a gathering.  However, unlike ekklesia, synagogue can also refer specifically to a building, or the place where the gathering takes place.  On a surface level, it would appear that our English word church may more appropriately be related to synagogue, rather than ekklesia, particularly when we consider that synagogue carries with it a religious meaning.

However, let us be reminded that our Lord stated specifically in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His ekklesia, not His synagogue.  Both have meaning in the Old Testament, only one, synagogue, carries with it a specifically religious connotation as well as a strict geographic location that would have been easily recognized as such in the first century.  Ekklesia was much more generic, carrying with it the idea of a city council or local government.  Are these difference merely pedantic?  Or does understanding the meaning of church, ekklesia, and synagogue, respectively, influence the form or function of what we have come to call and participate in as church?

Let’s conclude with a final word from Kittle in his NT Theological Dictionary after stating that the use of assembly or gathering may be a more accurate way to translate ekklesia, “This does not mean that we should banish the words ‘Church’ and ‘congregation’ from our vocabulary. Apart from the impossibility of such an undertaking, there would be no sense in forfeiting the wealth of meaning proper to these terms. What is needed is that we should grasp the precise significance of the word ekklesia, since at this point linguistic sobriety will help us to the true meaning and bearing from the standpoint of biblical theology.”

Two main questions remain: 1. If it’s not the best-fit translation, how or why did church make it into our English bibles? 2. What, if anything, is the significance of all this?