We can sometimes be careless about the words we
use. The author suggests we should better understand what specific words
and phrases actually mean, in order to precisely convey the true meaning.
Many of the Christian religious organizations today name themselves "Churches of God." Did we ever stop and think what the word "church" means? Most Christians say the word "church" is from the Bible.
For that matter, what is a bible? A bible is a book. There is a big difference between a bible and the Holy Scripture inspired by God. A bible may be just an ordinary book written by man, while the Holy Scripture is from God, for teaching, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
There are many words that Christians use when they speak about the Word of God, without scrutinizing what those words mean. Our choice is: Are we going to allow God to explain the words that we would like to convey to others, or are we going to just use the words according to the world's definition?
Jesus Christ has taught us to be faithful, even in little things (Matthew 5:17-19; Luke 16:10). Words that we use in daily life may be little things, but they are reflections of our spiritual understanding. When we perceive something, through seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling, we try to convey what we have perceived to other people through showing, writing and speaking. We should even attempt to do these things faithfully!
To be more specific: A word contains a sum of many single features. The concepts of each word must be laid down so that men can communicate among themselves (Genesis 2:19-20), otherwise clear communication is not possible. A fish is not a bird, and an insect is not a mammal. A bicycle is not a motorcycle, and a truck is not a ship. Likewise, the terms that God used in the Holy Scripture contain certain unique spiritual characteristics.
God would like to speak to us in a clear and definite language. He teaches us this language through the prophets, through Jesus Christ, and through the apostles.
In the Old Testament (KJV), the word "church" is nowhere to be found. Instead, the word "congregation" is used to denote an assembly (see accompanying side bar article).
In the New Testament, the word "church" is a mistranslation if the Greek word ekklesia. "Church" actually comes from the Greek word kyriakon, which means "belonging to the Lord." This word does not occur in the scriptures. So the word "church" does not rightly belong in the English translations.
According to the Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 6, "church" denotes primarily a building in which Christians meet for religious worship. Following that, in a wider sense, it denotes a variety of relationships, ranging from that of a group of Christians professing a particular creed, to the whole body of the faithful, either in the practice of their faith or in their dealings with the state!
All of the organized churches have one thing in common, however: the various types of relationships to the state, ranging from coordination (i.e., the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church; the British Empire and the Church of England), to cooperation (the many denominations among the Protestant churches), to widely disparate attitudes and beliefs (and small congregations) -- a situation which often results in persecution.
Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build My ekklesia" (Matthew 16:18). The word ekklesia has been defined as "the assembling of the called-out ones." Many of the clergy in the Christian churches interchange the words "congregation" and "church," and so mislead their followers into thinking God established a church. Nowhere in the Holy Scripture does it say that God founded a church through a human leader.
God started calling Adam to the tree of life, but Adam disobeyed. Then God established His covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:9), Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 2:24), and then with the children of Israel (Exodus 24).
God laid the foundation of His chosen people, His congregation, even before the world began (Ephesians 1:4). Christ came and built His ekklesia, His called-out ones, upon the Rock, the sure Foundation (Matthew 16:18; Isaiah 28:16) -- not on some doomed-to-die organized church!
Why are we examining these various words and their similarities? Does it make a difference whether we call the book "the Bible" or "the Holy Scripture"? Does it make a difference if we call the group the "church" or the "assembly"?
Similar terms may at first glance seem harmless, but the devil can use similar-sounding terms to soften God's righteousness and lead people away from God.
Consider this: Nowhere in the Holy Scripture have men who were committed to obeying God named themselves as "Christians." True, in Acts 11:26 we learn that the disciples in Antioch were first called "Christians." But who named them that? It doesn't say they called themselves Christians!
In Acts 16:14 Lydia is called a "worshipper of God," not a Christian. You see, the early followers of Christ were reviled by being called "Christians"! It was not a term of respect. But they were not ashamed of the name (1 Peter 4:12-16).
King Agrippa used the term derisively, also. "And Agrippa replied to Paul, 'In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.' And Paul said, 'I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become [not "a Christian," but] such as I am, except for these chains' (Acts 26:28-29, NASB).
Today, in an irony we can enjoy from the perspective of history, the term "Christian" is not a slur against someone, but a respected and honorable title. But the devil, who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9), has made this word so presentable, so acceptable, that many are deceived by its use. Many who are claiming to be ministers of God use the words "true Christian" and "the true Church" to distinguish themselves from other religious groups who also call themselves "true Christians" and "the true Church"! Misleading words, used by misleading religious figures, mislead those who believe them!
So let's take a look at a few words we should be cautious about misusing:
"Bible" (which means "books") instead of Holy Scripture, or Word of God;
"Church" (as the house of God) instead of Temple of God, or Body of Christ, or Congregation of the Saints;
"Theology" (meaning the study of God) instead of Explanation through the Anointing, the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27);
"Religion" (belief in a God) instead of Belief in and obedience to the only God;
"Christian" instead of Children of God, Israelite/Jew, Follower of Jesus Christ, Man of God, Saint;
"Christian" as an adjective (i.e., "Christian behavior") instead of "godly" (i.e., "with godly fear");
"Service" (i.e., "church services") instead of Assembly.
These are some terms we should re-evaluate in our speaking to one another, so we are not led astray by careless use of language.
To put these thoughts into a little narrative: Christian people belong to a religious community called a church, and are led by men who, through their studies in theology, have acquired the ability to recognize God and to understand the Christian attitude, while respecting unrighteousness in some people. They then convey this understanding to the members of the church (the "lay members") who come to services from time to time, and who should have a Bible, and maybe even read it sometimes.
Now contrast that scenario with this one: Children of God, Abraham's spiritual children, heirs of the Kingdom of God, followers of Jesus Christ, are parts of the Body of Christ, building stones of the Temple of God, members of the Congregation of Saints. Jesus Christ is their Head and Chief Apostle; it was He who revealed to us the love of God. Every member of the Body has a function, and no one is "over" another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father teaches us His righteousness. Through the Spirit we can obtain a righteous attitude and a godly perspective. We receive the Word of God revealed in the Holy Scripture being taught during assembly on the Sabbath. These godly assemblies (Matthew 18:19-20; Hebrews 10:24-25) give us the strength to apply God's commandments and laws in our daily life. A man of God serves God in his daily life through service to his neighbor.
By comparing these two stories, you can see how the terms that differ from one narrative to the next are not similar at all, but because people don't see the difference, they can be deceived and misled, subtly, over time.
We must not confuse a church structure for "the government of God." God's government is not an organization. There is no human "government of God" on earth, for our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20)! Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body (Colossians 1:18). Only God can govern us perfectly, so we pray, "Your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10).
It is worldly to build a church organization and register it under human government in order to operate! There is no indication in the Holy Scripture that the early New Testament congregation of God was recognized by human governments. Paul traveled to visit the congregations of God in various cities. He did not go to one big church organization, but rather to a little flock (Luke 12:32)!
God is commanding us to come out of this Babylonian world and not be
partakers of her sins, so that we don't receive her plagues (Revelation
18:4). Are we going to take heed?
* * * * *
Sidebar Article: The Congregation of Israel and the Church of God
The word "congregation" is used throughout the Old Testament scriptures in the KJV. This word has the same connotation as the original sense of the English word "church" (and the Greek word ekklesia) -- that is, an assembly.
"Congregation" is translated from four different Hebrew words:
'edah (ay-daw', Strong's #5712): a stated assemblage (specifically, a concourse, or generally, a family or crowd);
mowed' (mo-ade', #4150): properly, an appointment, i.e. a fixed time or season; specifically, a festival; conventionally a year; by implication, an assembly (as convened for a definite purpose); technically the congregation; by extension, the place of meeting; also a signal (as appointed beforehand);
qahal (kaw-hawl', #6951), and qehillah (keh-hil-law', #6952): an assemblage.
In the New Testament, the English word "church" is used in places where the Greek scriptures use the word ekklesia. Strong's defines ekklesia (#1577) as: "a calling out, i.e. (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both)."
Thayer's Lexicon defines ekklesia this way:
A gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.
a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating;
b) the assembly of the Israelites;
c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously;
d) in a Christian sense:
1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting;
2) a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, to observe their own religious rites, to hold their own religious meetings, and to manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake;
3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body;
4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth;
5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven.
Of course, the final definitions are not strictly biblical, but might rather reflect the Roman Catholic concept of the "Church Triumphant" in heaven.
In actual word usage, the four Hebrew words, and the one Greek word ekklesia, all refer to a group of people, regardless of the reason for the group coming together.
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