In this my personal journey (which I am sharing through this series of blogs) about the influences of what I am calling “cultural bias”, I have already discovered many things that have caused me to question much of what I have been taught, and what I have taught over the decades. I am already questioning the term “christian” as the dominant term to describe people who believe Jesus is the Savior of all (see: Which Is A More Accurate Term: Christian Or Disciple?). Where else has cultural bias, even “Christian Cultural Bias” influenced us, and maybe even changed our true identity and real purpose? So now I address another issue where I see an over-abundance of cultural biases. (Here is the conversation going on in my head…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised. The Spiritually immature, not be be confused with “new believers” may not be able to comprehend these thoughts.)
Me: What does the Bible really say and teach about “the church”? Well, let’s look at what the One whom we are supposed to reveal said about “the church”. Jesus only mentions the word “church” twice. Well, truthfully He never said the word “church”.
Mr. Churchian: “You idiot! You need to be tarred and feathered and run of town! Blasphemer!” (He’s looking for either a torch or a pitchfork….not sure)
Me: Well, as I am fond of saying, “The truth will stand even when the world is on fire.”
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: “Now you know the word ‘church’ IS in the Bible. So, Mr. Smartypants, what word did Jesus use if it wasn’t church?”
Me: Oh my, did you ever ask the wrong question. In the Greek…
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: “Wait a minute, we’re not talking about the Greek. We’re talking about English, you know, the language Jesus used.”
Me: As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, the Greek manuscripts use the word ekklēsia. Ekklēsia has been translated as “church” in the Gospels.
Mr. Churchian: “Aha! Proves my point!”
Me: Not so fast, bucko! According to James Strong, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, ekklēsia means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly”. Joseph Henry Thayer, primary editor of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says it means an “assembly, company, congregation, multitude”. It is used to describe secular, Jewish and Christian settings. In other words, it can accurately be translated “synagogue” as well, public arena, stadium, or town square would all work in place of the word CHURCH. More than likely, the preferred language of Jesus was Hebrew, the common language, and the Hebrew equivalent is the word qahal, which means assembly or congregation. This is the most likely word Jesus would have used. Remember that the audience of Jesus isn’t 21st Century Americans. His audience is 1st Century Jews.
Mr. Churchian & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: (Sitting silently. Their faces are still angry red, but there’s a look of confusion now, finally they break the silence, in unison, of course) Huh?
Me: The Bible was originally translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the “official” language of the Roman CHURCH. A few had attempted to translate some of the Bible from Latin into English…
Mr. Churchian: Look, I showed up to argue with you and prove you wrong, not to hear a history lesson.
Me: I’m getting there, be patient. Now, as I was about to say before I was rudely interrupted, the Bible was not translated into English until John Wycliffe led a group of scholars who rendered the Latin texts into English…
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: (frustrated) Get to your point! Enough of this nonsense!
Me: I’m trying but y’all keep interrupting me. As I was about to say, the Bible appeared in the English language, much to the consternation of the Roman CHURCH, around 1382. In fact, after his death, Roman CHURCH authorities exhumed his body and burned it to ashes. That will definitely teach Rev. Wycliffe a lesson, won’t it! Patience please, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, stop rolling your eyes at me. I’m getting to my point.
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: Well it’s about time!
Me: As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, again, it was the Wycliffe Bible translation that first used the word “church”. Wycliffe wanted fellow Catholics to be able to hear and read the Bible in their own language. His concern was not necessarily about rendering the best meaning of those original words; just getting them into the language of ordinary women and men was the goal.
Mr. Churchian: Now are you ready to repent, you blasphemous sinner? The word is CHURCH! Hey, anybody seen my torch? Get my pitchfork while you’re at it!
Me: (Sigh…….) Well, overlooking that last interruption, Wycliffe and his crew chose the English word “church” when translating the original word ekklēsia. However this is a translation from Latin to English, not from Greek into English. John Hus promoted this idea of the “common” language to the point, and he was burned at the stake by the Roman CHURCH. An interesting side-note: they used a copy of the Wycliffe Bible to start that fire. Surely by now Wycliffe has learned his lesson. But in 1526, William Tyndale and his team published the first New Testament that was taken entirely from the Greek texts. And…
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: (Angrily) Get to the point! I need to be dusting the covers on all my King James Version Bibles!
Me: (Now I’m rolling my eyes AND sighing) And for the Greek word…
Mr. Churchian: I still don’t know what the Greek has to do with it (while shaking his head in disgust)! It’s all Greek to me!
Me: And for the Greek word ekklēsia, Tyndale and his crew translated it congregation. Truthfully, the word they used was congregacion, which was the way they spelled “congregation” back then. The word “congregation” fits both the Greek word AND the Hebrew word. When the Roman CHURCH set out to put the Bible together, they selected Latin as their OFFICIAL language. No problem there–but…there isn’t a Latin word for ekklēsia so they opted for the word circulous which is translated either “circle” or “circus”. It was chosen because in their culture, gatherings or congregating, happened in, you guessed it–CIRCLES! Circle or circus (which the latter is a better fit for many congregations today in the U.S.) became the English word CHURCH.
Me: (Amazed I haven’t been interrupted again) NOW my first major point: The Latin word circulous and the Greek word ekklēsia, have 2 diametrical meanings. Excuse me and forgive me Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, I was so caught up in this moment I may have used a word that you may not understand–diametrical. It means one thing is completely different from another thing.
Me (continuing without interruption, PTL!): Circulous refers to the actions and activities of people. Ekklēsia refers to the action and activities of the One who does the calling out. Circulous/Circus/Church focuses on the people–they are the “star” attraction (sorry, I couldn’t let that one slip by me–the circus reference about the church). The Ekklēsia focuses on God who calls us out from the world to be visible assembly of–you guessed it–Jesus Christ.
(This conversation will continue in the next edition. And remember–Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!)