The True Meaning of “Church”

Tithing has been the holy grail of fundraising and the focus is upon “giving to the house of God His tithe and offerings.  Bring it in to His storehouse –“the Church.” This ploy would not work if the focus were not on the “Church” – the organization –the building– and a good dose of coercing governance. Tithing became the preferred foundation of fundraising.  Organizational religion needs a steady flow of incoming cash which tithing supplies. This was the case of the Basilica builders of the early Catholic extortions.  The pope needed funds to build the great basilica of Rome. Johan Wetzel a monk conned the commoners of his day. Capitalizing on their spiritual insecurity and scriptural illiteracy he fleeced the flock to fund papal projects and his own extravagant lifestyle.  In fact, the masses hailed Wetzel,–clever at fund raising,– as a messenger from heaven.  Enter a monk named Martin Luther. It was his outrage that prompted the reformation.

Contrary to what a lot of Christians today may think, “church,” from a biblical perspective, doesn’t mean the exact same thing most Christians understand it to mean (because of what most all of us have learned from tradition). The early Christians had no concept of the church the way we know it, for “church” wasn’t even a word in use back then (by “back then” is meant the first century and early second century church), not to mention the fact that their concept of meeting together was something far more relational, simplistic, family-like and non-organizational.

It is a biblical fact that the Bible NEVER designates a church building as being “the house of God” or “His Temple.” NEVER!!! The time has come that ministers or religious empire builders stop misleading their congregations by telling them that the building they gather in is “the house of the Lord.” There is no other “temple” in the New Covenant than the one that is not made with hands.

Our modern word “church” is actually derived from the Middle English word “chirche,” which is from the Old English word “cirice.” There is some speculation about how the word originally came into being, but many scholars believe that it comes from (or perhaps “was inspired by”) the Greek word “kuriakon,” which is a derivative of “kuriakos.” Kuriakos is used in the New Testament (twice) and means “of, or belonging to a lord, master, etc.” In the context of Scripture, it refers more directly to something belonging “to the Lord” (examples of use: I Corinthians 11:20; Revelations 1:10). Prior to Christian use of the word, kuriakos was typically used to refer to things belonging to the Roman Emperor.

From the earliest influence of Roman Catholicism and pagan tradition, right up to the present day, “church” has been typically understood according to its traditional definition, NOT according to its biblical one! In light of the influence it has derived from traditional, NOT biblical, teachings. We have bought into a myth that “church” is about maintaining a routine and mandatory program that God is not able to work without. We have been led to believe that this “activity” of attending church and “plugging in” to its programs is the most essential part of being a Christian. So our lives, as believers, tend to center more on this thing called “church” than it does simply around the Lord and the revelation that WE ARE HIS CHURCH (His Ekklesia; His assembly; His people; His Priesthood)!

The words “kuriakon” and “ekklesia” are NOT synonymous! Even though some still want to take the word kuriakon into use metaphorically (i.e. the Lord’s House) in reference to believers. The problem is that not only is kuriakon not used at all in Scripture, but it doesn’t mean the same thing as ekklesia so it is completely improper to use it in its place. Simply stated: kuriakonpertains to a building, or to physical property that is in the direct control/possession of some authority figure (in early times, this would be the Roman Emperor and later the Pope. Christian use would later apply this term to their religious buildings and designate them under the Lord’s name, but this was not so in the first century. The Bible NEVER uses ekklesia to refer to a place of worship.

In our modern English Bibles, the word “church” is supposedly translated from the Greek word “ekklesia” which simply means: people assembled. I say “supposedly translated” because, while most of our modern Bible translations use the word “church” in place of “ekklesia,” the striking reality is that the two words are actually not synonymous and “church” is a poor translation because it is really not a translation at all.

There are several uses of the word “ekklesia” in the New Testament. All of these uses have the same basic meaning but are emphasized specially according to their context. The earliest societal meaning of ekklesia was merely a “public assembly” of people. Acts 19:39 refers to settling something in a lawful assembly. This describes the word’s secular understanding. Secondly, in Christian use, the word means “the Lord’s Assembly” or, all those who have been called out by God and joined together (assembled) in His family; the body of Christ. The first apparent use of this word in a Christian context was by Jesus Himself in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “…I will build My Church…” Again, it did not refer to a building or to organized religion.

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (re: Church) says, “by the church, is meant, not an edifice of wood, stones, etc. but an assembly, and congregation of men; …the elect of God, the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven.

People’s New Testament Commentary says, “…the church, the spiritual temple, formed of living stones, and built upon the rock. So is every confessor of Christ.”

For example, when reading a verse like Acts 15:41, which says (in the KJV), “And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” It might rather sound like this, “And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening and building up the believers assembled throughout those regions.” Or, passages like I Corinthians 16:19, which say, “The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house,” might better read, “The saints who assemble together throughout the province of Asia… Aquila and Priscilla greet you affectionately in the Lord, and so do the people that meet together in their home.”

You can see, just from this example, how “assembly” paints quite a different picture in the mind than does the word “church” how we commonly understand it; as a “place” of meeting and all that goes on there, rather than placing emphasis on “those that meet” and “who they belong to. I cannot “go” to church because, biblically, “church” is not some “place” that anybody can go to.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897) says, “There is no clear instance of it (ekklesia) being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.”

Ekklesia, refers to people assembled. In a biblical context, ekklesia refers to the Lord’s people (who are His body) and bears no connotation whatsoever of an earthy building, temple or shrine. In the 16th Century, men of God like William Tyndale (Greek scholar and translator of the first printed English Bible) knew it and did not translate “ekklesia” as “church.” They (the religious leaders of his day) called him a heretic and burned him at the stake all because he translated the Scriptures from Greek and Hebrew into terms that more closely identified with their original meanings!

For example: instead of using the word “church” in his translation, Tyndale used the word “congregation” to place emphasis upon people congregating together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; themselves being “the church.” Tyndale’s emphasis was deliberate and true. It is obvious to see how this offended the religious leaders of his day, just as it probably would many of the religious leaders of our day; because Tyndale’s emphasis on people being the Ekklesia of God distracted readers from seeing organized religion, hierarchical leadership and the buildings dedicated for religious service as pertaining to and even defining the church.

Tyndale further showed his contempt for the word “church” by using it just one time in Acts 19:37 to describe, not Christian, but pagan temples. This is interesting because the Greek word for “church” in this passage is not “ekklesia,” but another Greek word, “hierosulos” which means “a temple despoiler.” This is the only occasion in Tyndale’s New Testament where “church” appears. It is also the only place in the KJV where “church” is not translated from “ekklesia“. This is an important detail that most Christians have no clue about. It appears that Tyndale was making a rather strong (not to mention controversial) emphasis of distinction, but his emphasis was (and is) in complete harmony with the original languages.

He was entirely correct to make this distinction because “churches,” historically (from the biblical era forward), were raised up under mostly pagan influence. I say this because the very idea to “build a church” (as in a temple) was regarded wholly as a pagan concept. The early church did not entertain any such concept as building a “church” building or a “temple” for they well understood that they were the Ekklesia of God; His royal assembly. They were the only temple Jesus dwelt in on this earth as it were. They understood that the Lord’s house is a spiritual house made of living stones (I Peter 2:5) and is fashioned by God Himself, not man (Matthew 16:18; Psalm 127:1; Acts 7:48-49; Acts 17:24; Hebrews 9:24; etc.). As a matter of fact, the early Christians were very much against erecting temples in dedication to God. Such was seen as an insult against the holy temple that God had ordained so clearly in His Word (I Corinthians 3:16; II Corinthians 6:16). This is an amazing fact to consider when we look at how “temple/church building” is perceived today in contrast.

German-American theologian and church historian, Schaff, Philip (1819-1893), stated the following in his book, History of the Christian Church, Vol.2:   “Until about the close of the second century the Christians held their worship mostly in private homes, or in desert places, at the graves of martyrs, and in the crypts of the catacombs. This arose from their poverty, their oppressed and outlawed condition, their love of silence and solitude, and their aversion to all heathen art (p. 198).”

“The first traces of special houses of worship occur in Tertullian, who speaks of going to church, and in his contemporary, Clement of Alexandria, who mentions the double meaning of the word ekklesia. About the year 230, Alexander Severus granted the Christians the right to a place in Rome. . . . After the middle of the third century the building of churches began in great earnest” (pp. 199-200).

This “building of churches in great earnest” mentioned by Schaff, refers to what happened after the entrance of the Roman Emperor, Flavius Valerius Constantinus (or simply “Constantine”). As the Roman Empire grew and monopolized its version of Christianity, the term “church,” speaking of an edifice and the rituals attributed to it, had virtually become set in concrete. Once Emperor Constantine (312 A.D.) took power, the building-up of organized religion plowed ahead, full steam. Seeking power, dominance, wealth, and to spread his pagan beliefs, He made Christianity the legal religion of the state and plundered many of the pagan temples, confiscated their pagan treasures and deposited them into his treasury, and called the pagan priests to convert to Christianity (i.e. Catholicism) and many were made priests over Christian religious temples:  “Constantine, from 312 A.D. until his death in 337, was engaged in the process of simultaneously building pagan temples and Christian churches, and was slowly turning over the reigns of his pagan priesthood to the Bishop of Rome. However, the family of Constantine did not give up the last vestige of his priesthood until after the disintegration of the Roman Empire ? that being the title the emperors bore as heads of the pagan priesthood ? PontifexMaximus ? a title which the popes would inherit. (The popes also inherited Constantine’s titles as the self-appointed civil head of the church ? Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Bishops.)

Constantine, who imposed himself as the Vicar of Christ (literally meaning “the substitute”), making himself the “head” of the Church, also imposed his Roman-styled, top-down official rule of government in religion, this influence has (ever since) remained predominantly in tact and virtually unchallenged, even though the Scripture does not support it (e.g. Luke 22:24-27) and history shows that neither did the early Church support it, for the first few hundred years after Calvary.

When the King James Bible was published in 1611, it had been a deliberate order by an appointee of the King, named Bishop Bancroft, to refrain from translating the Greek word “ekklesia” to anything other than “church.” This is historical fact! Not only was the word “church” to be left as is and not translated into more appropriate terminology (such as Tyndale did), but the other ecclesiastical terms were to be left according to their traditional definitions as well and not according to their actual textual meanings. As a result we have a Bible translation that is tainted – hiding the revelation that all God’s children are priests unto God through one High Priest; Jesus Christ. Rather, it incorrectly places self-appointed leaders in mediation between men and God, usurping the authority of Christ. Men sought to alter the Bible text just enough to make it appear supporting of their hierarchical rule and false authority.

When you study the history of the Bible in translation and transition, throughout the centuries, it is easy to see why those in authority sought to hide the original languages from the common people’s understanding – for those original texts (as men like William Tyndale knew) would incriminate them completely and show their authority to be utterly false. In case you are concerned that I am saying there is a problem with your modern Bible translation, understand that a translation is not “inspired.” It is the original writings that are inspired, for they are what the apostles penned directly by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These we can trust! I am not saying you should throw away your Bible… God forbid! But understand it is a translation and we all need to rely strongly upon the voice of the Holy Spirit to reveal to us His Word as He intended. We should study, as the Scripture commands us, and flee all ignorance and hold fast to the truth. Jesus warned:

Mat 7:15  “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character.

Mat 7:16  Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

When does this Scripture become contemporary? Do we stand idly by and say everything is ok at the present–that this references another time.  No. The time is at hand. We need to be diligent now.  There can only be one reason for the desperate miss translation of the word ekklesia and that is due to the money criteria. Without the focus of Christians on there being a building to compare to the Old Testaments temple there would not be room for the demand of congregations to tithe.  Such concepts have too long been used to manipulate people into investing large amounts of money into non-essential things (but things which people are being led to believe by their leaders are essential). God is very jealous about His holy temple; Hisekklesia. It’s not an insignificant matter to just ignore these things. If they were important enough for God to reiterate them all throughout the New Testament then who are we to call them unimportant? Tyndale thought it important enough to give up his life as he burned at the stake!

All I wish for all readers to come to is that their focus must be upon Christ’s spiritual universal body and the true liberty it brings rather than on a building and all it’s concerns that will bind up the true liberty that is enjoyed in the true fellowship of believers with Christ at the head.

Blessings, Larry