WHAT’S YOUR HEART SAYING?

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.

Ephesians chapter 5, verses 18 and 19; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Something happened to a good friend of mine the other day and I thought it was worth sharing. Rex is a serious follower of Jesus, and he also sells used cars. Now, some of you may think that a used car salesman and follower of Jesus is a contradiction in terms. It’s not, and Rex makes it work. Selling used cars for Rex is just a way of doing something, and hopefully making a little bit of money along the way.

Last week at an auction he bought a diesel pickup truck. Before he left the auction to bring it home, he added some fuel, thinking it would be enough. On the way home the truck quit and was putting out an error code. I asked him what it might be and Rex said it could be any of a number of things–ranging from expensive to very expensive. A couple of days later I inquired about if he had found out what was wrong. It turns out, all it needed was fuel. And for now at least, he’s driving and using that truck. It quit running for lack of fuel.

What does this story have to do with The Kingdom Life? Glad you asked. Every person is like a vehicle–we need a source of fuel. And it needs to be the right kind of fuel. You can’t fuel up a vehicle designed to run on gasoline with diesel fuel–and you can’t fuel up a vehicle designed to run on diesel fuel with gasoline. Well, you can–but the results are both disastrous and very expensive.

As human beings, created in God’s Image, there is only one source of fuel that will work in us. And that “fuel” is The Holy Spirit. Human logic or reasoning does not–will not–CANNOT–give us what we need to successfully navigate this life. Trying to live each day by the values and standards of this world is like putting gasoline in the fuel tank for a vehicle designed to run on diesel fuel.

Oh, just one more thing about The Holy Spirit. We don’t advise The Holy Spirit on what He needs to be doing. And we certainly can’t control Him. The church of 2022 has become more of an institution rather than a movement. And it’s all because people are not listening to the error code being sent out by their heart. Our work here is Spiritual Work–and for Spiritual Work we need Spiritual Fuel! And we need Spiritual Tools! There’s only one source for both of them! That’s why we need to live in The Spirit while living in the world.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

2 Corinthians chapter 3, verse 17 and 18; (NLT)
Advertisement

MOTION OR MOVEMENT?

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

Acts chapter 13, verses 2 and 3; from the New Living Translation

Any given moment of every day–you are either in motion or you are in a movement. Think about this definition of Motion: the action or process of moving or of changing place or position. In other words, something is moving. When I think of Motion, I think about a rocking chair. There’s motion in a rocking chair. Am I right? Well, of course I am. But where does that motion take you? Well, when you stop rocking, you’re still where you started. Capeesh? Motion, but going nowhere. Or think about a playground swing. Lots of motion going on. Right? But when the swinging stops you’re right back where you started. Well…unless you fell off or jumped out of the swing. Motion happened, but you really didn’t go anywhere. Ever heard the expression: “Going through the motions”? It describes life that is dull, drab, and empty.

But what about a Movement? Here’s the definition of Movement: abundance of events or incidents. With a Movement things are happening–and often at a rapid pace. Right now I’m thinking about a bulldozer! Yes, I am a man! Now there’s some Movement! When it’s done with it’s work–the landscape changes when there’s movement with that bulldozer! It just isn’t the same. It can’t be the same. I can’t speak for you, but I can, and will, speak for myself.

I want to be a part of a movement. But not just any movement, mind you! I’m talking about that Barnabas and Saul moment you just read about. If doing what you’ve always done is still leaving you bored and a bit empty–if all your motions (you know, all the things you’ve been doing to have a better life) you’ve gone through is leaving you with the same scenery, I would suggest–Nay! I urge and beseech thee by the mercies of God to stop going through the motions and get involved with The Movement Of The Holy Spirit!

Remember my analogy of that bulldozer? The Movement of the Holy Spirit that is happening all around us even as I write, is intended and designed to change our scenery. Church as usual is going away. Church as usual has a lot of motion but it’s not changing the landscape. But I sigh and say Alas! Some people want the motion more than the Movement! Not me! Ever heard of this thing called motion sickness? A lot of folks, and way too many churches are suffering from motion sickness. The sad thing is that some don’t even realize it.

But I’ve never heard of a condition called Movement sickness! That ought to tell you something right there!!! If you will allow me a bit of literary license, I want to say: Choose today! Choose right now whether you will embrace motion or movement! If motion seems better to you, then own it! But as for me and my house, we choose The Movement! So make up your mind! But don’t be surprised if the landscape changes and business as usual goes away–if your choice is The Movement.

WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING???

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

Romans chapter 8, verses 6-7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow United Methodist clergy on Facebook. It was focused on a post this individual had made. It was surprisingly civil (up to this point)–still, I couldn’t help but think: What are they teaching now in United Methodist Seminaries? Here’s the screenshot of that comment:

This person compared understanding Scriptures to a 3-legged stool. The top is the Scriptures and the 3 legs are tradition, reason, and experience. Thus, without tradition, or reason, or experience, one cannot adequately understand Scripture. The primary (and often times “sole determining factor”) way to understand Scripture is through tradition, reason, and experience. Now, before you call me that dreaded “fundamentalist”, hear me out. We do not study the Scriptures in a vacuum. There are traditions. We all have experiences. And God created us to be able to reason, or think if you prefer.

But it seems that many of our clergy are using reason as the final determining factor. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to us, or if the culture tells us something contrary, then we are free to change or ignore what the Bible clearly teaches. This is what many seminaries are teaching. Not all of them, mind you; but enough of them are and the result has been the dilution and devolution of the power of Scripture to guide us and form in us the life of Holiness demanded by God for His Image Bearers. Go back to the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool.

The writer is correct in stating that for a three-legged stool to be secure enough to sit on, it needs all three legs. And, by implication, those 3 legs need to be the same length. Otherwise it is unstable. But do not overlook the other implication–that Scripture (the seat of that three-legged stool) cannot safely support us until all three of those legs are the same length. In other words, Scripture is to be formed by OUR traditions, experiences, and reasoning.

Can I be frank with you? I know, my name is Randy. But I need to be FRANK with you this morning. Using the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool, when those who are supposed to be our Spiritual Leaders are taught that human reasoning overrides the Scriptures and that we need to change our beliefs about anything in the Bible, then the result is the chaos and soon to follow destruction of the United Methodist, and any other church that follows the same primrose path. And to my fundamentalist friends, if you allow your traditions to determine your beliefs about the Bible, then your three-legged stool is just as unsteady.

Hear me out! Yes, reason, tradition, and experience are helpful tools when it comes to understanding Scripture! But they do not determine what is THE TRUTH! The Truth is set by the Bible for all matters of faith, life, and conduct. But none of them gives us the permission to change The Standard clearly set in The Bible! From my perspective, many seminary professors took a bite of that apple Satan offered Eve and Adam, and unlike Eve and Adam who recognized the shame and mistake, they “reason” that the apple is good, and that Satan was right. Is there any doubts now as to why the United Methodist Tribe is imploding? It looks like that three-legged stool analogy doesn’t work after all.

THE WRONG PRONOUN! (and maybe the wrong noun)

28 Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.” 29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

Luke chapter 18, verses 28 thru 30; from the New Living Translation

This morning’s passage comes on the heels of what is commonly referred to as The Story Of The Rich Man. He came to Jesus looking for real life; and if you remember, this man decided the price was too high. This passage came to me when I was reflecting on some posts in a “clergy” page on Facebook of which I am a member. There was a group of folks whinning about the fact that THEIR (the wrong pronoun) church they were in before they answered the call to ministry, had voted to disafilliate. In their view it was just WRONG for THEIR CHURCH to do such a thing. For the uninformed, it took a two-thirds majority vote to disafilliate. THEIR emphasis was on the one-third that would were being left out in the cold.

I’m remembering now a story when one of our granddaughter’s, Caroline who was about 4 years old, had been staying with us. When it came time to go home, Gramma laid her out some clothes to wear home. Even gave her a choice between two outfits. But Caroline wanted something different. Gramma insisted, and finally Caroline put her hands on her hips and said, “Well, whose clothes are these anyways?” And many seem to feel the same way about their church name and church buildings.

There is an unhealthy pronoun being thoughtlessly being tossed around: OUR CHURCH! MY CHURCH! Spoiler alert! It’s not YOURS, OURS, NOR MINE! And it doesn’t matter which side of the fence one stands on–it’s still the wrong PRONOUN! It is unhealthy to use such pronouns when talking about CHURCH! Way to much emphasis is being put on buildings and names on the sign.

Jesus says to Peter, (and to the rest of us today!) that one has to give up EVERYTHING in order to follow Him! And offers the positive promise that we gain much more now–and even more later–when we stop using those nasty possessive pronouns. Friends, it isn’t OUR church. We didn’t buy it! Jesus did on the Cross! It was never OURS to begin with–and it will never be OURS!

If what we have to offer this world is inseparably tethered to a building and a name–then we really don’t have anything worthwhile to offer. There’s a bigger story out there–it’s the story of The Kingdom Of God! After Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness, he came back with a single message: “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark chapter 1, verse 15; NLT).

Friends, our story isn’t connected to a building–but The Movement! The Movement of God’s Kingdom that is storming the strongholds of the one who is trying to steal it, Satan! When our story is anchored to The Kingdom Of God, there’s something bigger and more powerful at work than a building or a name. Every church building has a beginning point, and even a name. And THAT name may have changed over the decades. But The Kingdom Of God doesn’t have a beginning point–it is eternal and everlasting. And this message is the one–the only one–that can and will change cultures, nations, and people.

There’s not doubt about this: that when we use the pronoun MY, it’s the WRONG pronoun. And perhaps when we use the noun, CHURCH, it’s the wrong noun. It’s all about The Kingdom Of God! And that’s a much bigger story than the one about our buildings and signs!

Wanting One Thing, But Doing Another

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 

Romans chapter 7, verse 15, from the New Living Translation

The news is filled with stories about conflict. From homes, communities, within nations, and between nations. Even the “Church” is not exempt from conflict. But this morning I want to bring that word closer to home. And the word I am using isn’t conflict–but Conflicted. The definition of Conflicted is “having or showing confused and mutually inconsistent feelings. Notice those last 3 words: mutually inconsistent feelings. In this morning’s passage, Conflicted is what Paul is talking about–mutually inconsistent feelings.

It’s not enough to say there is conflict. Nay! It must go deeper within each person to realize that one is wrestling between 2 mutually inconsistent feelings. For example–let’s say someone has hurt you and you refuse to forgive them. And maybe it doesn’t bother them that they refuse to forgive that person. BUT. . .one day they read Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32: “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (NLT) Now, if they are serious about following Jesus there is more than a conflict going on. They should be Conflicted.

There are 2 mutually inconsistent feelings happening. More than feelings, it’s conflicting ideas; more than ideas–it’s between truth and THE Truth: Unforgiveness versus Forgiveness. Our “truth” (not being willing to forgive, as in this example) is in conflict with THE Truth (that forgiveness is uncondition)! If we are serious about following Jesus, the result should be that we become Conflicted! Like with Paul, we know what we should do–maybe even “want” to do it. But instead we don’t. In every issue of life there is our “truth” and THE Truth.

Until we are Conflicted we will never deal with the difference between our truth and THE Truth. And when we become Conflicted, what should we do? Well, simple! First become Conflicted! In verse 24 Paul wrote: “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Thankfully for us, Paul answered his own question (and what should be OUR question) in verse 25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

Jesus delivers us from whatever it is that is Conflicted with THE Truth. He doesn’t bless our truth–but works to take away that Conflicted desire we have. And to my fellow United Methodist Institution tribal members, we should be Conflicted over what is happening. We have mutually inconsistent feelings within this Tribe. So, will you live with and in “your” truth, or will you trust God enough to take you into THE Truth? Being Conflicted is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Now we are contronted with truth versus THE Truth. Don’t allow truth to guide you to your conclusions. Instead, let THE Truth guide you and trust God with the results.

Using The Wrong Specifications

Image from Dreamstime.com

Are specifications important? Ask an engineer! Commercial jets are manufactured to exacting specifications. In the manufacturing and in the maintenance of an airliner each and every part must match the specifications in the design. If any part falls outside the tolerance levels, then we get to watch how it affects that plane on the show Air Disasters!

Why this musing about specifications and tolerance levels? Because I’ve been thinking–seriously thinking–deeply thinking–about the malaise of the church in the U.S. and throughout Western Civilization. Civilization! Now there’s an oxymoron–ain’t much civilized in the Western Culture. Let’s go ahead and address the pink elephant in the room–Western churches are in a state of decline. Truth is–this isn’t a recent phenomenon; it’s been happening for decades. And it breaks my heart.

My conclusion? The church has been built to the wrong Specifications–and it is way outside the tolerance levels. And like that jet headed towards that Air Disaster, so are we. In fact, many local churches have already crashed and burned–debris and dead bodies lying everywhere. They have built the church according to their specifications rather than God’s! The color of the church carpet? Our Specifications! The kind of music to sing? Our Specifications! Use of church building facilities? Our Specifications! The type of preaching? Our Specifications! The kind of people they want in? Our Specifications! Who’s in leadership? Our Specifications! The mission? Our Specifications! The expectations of members? Our Specifications! Got the point yet? Good!

When we build a church on Our Specifications it falls way outside the tolerance ranges established by the One who designed it, and the One who owns it. Instead of building by Our Specifications, what if we started asking those OUTSIDE the building what THEY would like to see in a local church? WHAT IF we designed a church that those who don’t like church would like it instead of designing a church that WE LIKE? I’m not talking about changing The Message! That would fall way outside the Specifications! Besides, look at many United Methodist Churches in The West who have changed The Message, and see the disaster that’s happening. In North Georgia, the largest United Methodist Church is being accused of not kowtowing to the progressive agenda and the Conference is attempting to take it over. They are accused of having closed hearts and closed doors–even though they are the largest congregation in that Conference. Madness, I say, Madness!

What if we designed our church according to God’s Specifications rather than our own? The church is designed to be a refuge for the messes (that’s not a typo–messes not masses). After all, that’s the kind of people that were attracted to Jesus when He walked His Creation in the form He helped create. Jesus attracted crowds of people who were messed up, broken up, and confused. They were drawn towards Him! And those Pharisees and Sadduccees, operating accord to their Own Specifications? How many were drawn towards their Specifications? Figure it out for yourself–and see if you are using the Wrong Specifications.

Time To Turn The Collars Around, Or So It Seems

This post may be offensive to pastors, but please read the entire post before making up your mind about me

A text message this morning got me to thinking. My thinking went way back in time–October 1974 to be exact. This was when I was appointed to serve 2 small congregations while I pursued licensing as a pastor at the ripe old age of 18 years old. I mention this because we all know that beginning at 18, we tend to be full of vim and vigor; or was the vim and vinegar? Come to think of it, the latter is more true for me than I want to admit. My thinking moved forward through all the years I served as a pastor all the way to right now.

And now? I have less vim, but at times, a whole lot more vinegar. If you have followed me here on this blog, you know it’s true. And you may wonder who is about the become the object of my vinegary thoughts. It is my profession–“the” pastor. I was trained in the classical model of “The Professional Pastor”. I had someone whom I thought was a colleague, tell me once after I made the decision to remain in serving small and medium churches as what we call a “Local Pastor”, “You really need to become one of us.” His poke was that until one was an ordained elder in the UMC, they weren’t really pastors. By the way, I was eventually ordained, but not to be “one of them”.

The text message from this morning, well, it brought me under conviction of the Holy Spirit. Stay with me a moment, especially if you are a pastor. And really hang in with me if you are studying to become a pastor. In reflecting over these past 46 plus years, one picture stands clear to me. The church in the U.S. has been in a steady decline; almost to the stage of an avalanche. There have been all kinds of explanations, even justifications (even though we can never justify decline) for this event. But the biggest thing is the placing of blame on this state of disgrace.

I realize that some of this decline is caused by Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who vainly think the local church exists for them–and who fight tooth and nail to keep their control. But from my perspective–we pastors share the major share of the blame. We were trained to be professionals rather than authentic people who are to be servant leaders. I remember an incident at my previous appointment. After a funeral in my first year, the family was gathered for a meal in the church fellowship hall. I noticed the tea glasses, water glasses, and coffee cups were nearly empty. Well, I proceeded to go to each table refilling their beverage of choice. One of the church members mentioned, “This is our new pastor.” and the response was obviously one of shock when she said, “Oh, really?” To my fellow pastors–if you expect church folks to do things you are unwilling to do or think it is beneath your training, then you’re in the wrong place.

I am convinced that Professionally Trained Pastors are the Achilles Heel of the U.S. Church. It did not happen overnight–it took centuries for this to develop and in 2021, we are reaping the harvest of this with declining congregations. When I began this journey, I thought my job was to herd them up and get them moving in the right direction under MY leadership. What I discovered was that this model was more like herding cats. So I started looking for a different model to emulate. Here’s what I noticed over the past 4 decades plus of noticing.

  • The Underachiever Model. This is the pastor who really doesn’t care about the flock, just the paycheck, and the next church.
  • The Don’t Rock The Boat Model. This pastor is focused on survival–their own and that of their family. These fear confrontation–and as such, cannot guide the church to where it needs to be.
  • Then on the opposite end is The Dynamite Model. I do not mean as in dynamic–but dynamite, C-4 explosives, and the like. They are convinced that their job is to correct the problems that they see as the real problems. Their definition of “real” problems are typically about 7 bubbles off plumb. They do catastrophic damage to a congregation and leaves the damage behind for the next pastor to deal with. And you can always count on The Dynamite Model to leave a few unexploded devices behind which will explode at the worst possible moment.
  • The One Issue Model. This pastor has defined the one issue that a church needs to address even before they arrive. They are convinced that their own wisdom knows which issue the church MUST address.
  • The Goodyear Blimp Model. I’m not talking about their physical size. It’s the size of their ego. It is large and very inflated. They want the church to know that they have the latest Rock Star Pastor. I once listened to a mega-church’s podcast of a worship service. Truthfully, I only listened for about 3 minutes. The person who was going to bring God’s word opened up that “their” pastor and wife would be back next week. And she said, “Let’s give a hand to Pastor ________ and his wife _______ and let them know how much we missed them. I changed to another podcast–it was about herding cats.
  • And last but by no means least, The Control Freak Model. Churches are not churches without them. Instead of checking the pulse of the congregation, they are putting the thumb down on folks. Nothing can be done without their permission. If something is done without their permission? Forget that adage that says it is easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek permission first. Obviously, whoever came up with that adage never had to deal with The Control Freak Pastor. They make Kim Jong-un look like the second coming of George Washington.

Why do I say that The Professional Pastor the primary cause of church decline? I look at the first Models of the church. There was leadership, trained leadership–but that leadership did not get in the way of the church reaching thousands and thousands of people. Oh, for sure, when a local church lost its sense of its true mission, someone was there to set the record straight. And then turned them loose to be The Body Of Christ. No one had to ask permission to lift up the name of Jesus. No one had to ask approval to feed the hungry, take care of the widows and orphans, and bear witness to Jesus and the power of the Cross to save. No one waited for some Professional Pastor to do the work.

There is another Model, a Model that the U.S. church in particular needs today. I would call us The Pastor Model. This pastor guides the congregation into a deeper relationship with Jesus, first and foremost. Then The Pastor Model challenges and equips the Congregation to BE the Body of Christ. And when the Congregation wants to be that Body–he or she gives them PERMISSION to be the Body Of Christ. The congregation doesn’t have to ask The Pastor Model for permission to do anything that lifts up the name of Jesus–and lifts up the least, the last, and the lost. In recent years, when someone comes to me and asks, “Is it OK with you if I do this, that, or the other?”, my response now is: “If it exalts Jesus, if the honors God and the Holy Spirit, if it touches the least, the last, or the lost, then know you have God’s permission and that’s good enough. Now, can I help you or do I just need to stay out of the way?”

In my tribe, only Ordained Pastors can administer the sacraments–as if we are somehow more holy than anyone else. Local pastors can administer the sacraments ONLY in the church they serve. The irony of my tribe is that it also professes the power and importance of the priesthood of all believers. I guess all doesn’t mean all. Before this pandemic hit, there was a significant rise in the number of House Churches. These are homes where people are hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus, a connection with other Followers, and believe that the Kingdom Of God is needed in their neighborhoods, towns, cities, communities, states, and nation.

To my fellow Pastors, encourage your congregations. Inspire your people given to your care (not your dictatorship)! Don’t be afraid to give them permission to be who God calls them to be, The Body Of Christ. Support them in what they do. Help them but only when asked. Praise them when they look like Jesus. And if they get off-mission–gently take them aside and remind them who WE BOTH serve. You can’t build someone up (remember Ephesians 4:11-12) if you constantly tear them down, or worse, never give them the opportunity to do the real work of Jesus Christ.

If some pastor (or Churchian or Tenured Pewsitter) is upset with me, understand I will soon be 65, closer to the moment I stand before my Judge. The last thing I want to be held accountable for is my failure to speak the truth in love. So if you are offended–it is what it is. I still love you and my prayer for you is that your heart, mind, and eyes will be opened to the Mission God has called us to do.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

Cultural Bias And “The Church”

 

 

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!)