I found this to be an interesting article about the meaning of “church” in the Bible.
Is ‘Going to Church’ Compatible with the Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth?
For those who might be new in trying to follow Jesus of Nazareth (or those even trying to understand what it means to follow Jesus), the answer to this question might be unclear. If you have been exposed to christianity, which claims to represent Jesus of Nazareth, you have been taught that the essence of being a christian involves being a member of ‘the church’, attending its ‘services’ and actively serving God through that organization. But is this what Jesus of Nazareth actually teaches?
Let’s start with the basics. The English word translated ‘church’ in the new testament is based on the Greek word transliterated ‘ekklesia’. If one looks up that word in a Greek dictionary, one will find a definition that says something to the effect of ‘the called out ones’, plural. Some say the word carries with it an actual gathering or meeting of people, but this author’s opinion is that the plurality of ‘the called out ones’ is sufficient. What is absolutely certain is that the word itself does not mean a building, an organization, a leadership structure, religious or social programs, or a place to worship God. What is equally certain, by knowing Jesus’ other teachings, is that the ‘out’ that is referred to in ekklesia’s definition of ‘the called out ones’ is the world.
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” John 15:19
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” John 17:14
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:17-19)
And so the term “church” is defined by the Jesus of Nazareth as his collective followers who are called out of the world. And yet christians almost universally refer to ‘the church’ as the building on the corner where they go each Sunday to hear a clergyman give a speech, partake in rituals regarding ‘the last supper’, and sing songs about God. Even at this basic level, there is error. There is no commonality between what the word’s actual definition is (and the context in which Jesus uses it as we will see shortly), and what christian’s say it means. Many christian leaders of sects that say they are careful to follow the bible will say, ‘oh, no, we know that the building is only the place where the church meets’. But even in these organizations, if you listen to the words of the people as they speak about ‘the church’ during the week, you will find that the normal usage of the term ‘church’ means the building, the clergy, the Sunday meeting, and the programs.
Sadly, they don’t see themselves called out of anything (except perhaps gross moral sin), but rather called into a building for the weekly ‘service’ and a few good works that fit into their schedule. In fact, that building, leadership and organization is very much a part of the world, accepted by the world as a good thing in general. It is merely another religio-social organization no different than any other religion or good works social club. The government in the US even grants them a special tax status so that they don’t have to give to ‘Caesar what is Caesars’! How is it that a visible organization which is supposedly representing the kingdom of God is accepted and blessed by the world’s governments? How does that fit in with all of Jesus’ teachings that his called out ones will be hated, rejected and persecuted by the world?
It should be startling to the reader that Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom the christian’s say is the founder of ‘the church’, not only says very little about ‘the church’, but gives teachings that go against what ‘the church’ has come to stand for and practice.
Here is all that Jesus of Nazareth has to say about ‘the church’:
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18
So here in the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus simply says that Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah is what Jesus will build his Family (called out ones) on the rock of himself and those who have true faith in him and confess him for who HE SAYS he is. He also says that the gates of hades will not overpower his called out ones, although it will obviously try.
No buildings, clergy, programs or meeting there in those words of Jesus.
Let’s look at the only other time Jesus uses the term ekklesia.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:17
In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus leaves his followers instructions on how to handle the situation of someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus, yet who continues in sin (harmful behavior that Jesus defines). Jesus gives a simple instruction of how to correct such a person. He says escalate the correction if the person doesn’t respond to the correction of the originally offended person. If they don’t respond, bring a few other followers with that original person. If they again don’t respond to that, finally bring the matter before the whole little flock (God’s Family) in that particular area ‘ the called out one’s of Jesus. If they don’t respond to the collective little flock’s correction, then that person is to be put outside the Family and not trusted, even while they remain loved and witnessed to.
When Jesus says to bring them before the ekklesia, he certainly is teaching that his followers will have a collective life of following him in any given geographical area, thus they are organized enough to gather to consider the matter. However, how that gathering takes place – where it takes place, the format of the meeting, the place of the meeting, the details of how it is organized – and most important why it takes place – is where christianity morph’s (twists) this teaching of Jesus to fit their traditions. What is left after the traditions nullifying Jesus’ teachings is merely another religious based social club. One thing is for certain – this teaching of Jesus cannot reasonably and rationally be used to justify the buildings, clergy, the Sunday meeting (that contain no disciplinary actions) and programs. In fact those things are not taught by Jesus ANYWHERE in all his teachings addressing the kingdom of God and how his followers are to live, and he has many such teachings.
So, there you have it – all the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth on ‘the church’.
And yet Jesus has many dozens of teachings regarding the kingdom of God and how his followers are to live while in the world. Many dozen’s of teachings on eternal life – how one attains to, and remains in – eternal life. Yet only two statements about ‘the church’ and those two statements have nothing in common with how the term ‘church’ is currently defined in christianity.
Does this trouble the reader at all?
Again, I hope this startles the reader, because if you listen to, have participated in, or watch christianity and its words and practices regarding ‘the church’, you will see two things. First, that the actual meaning of the word ekklesia has been re-defined and twisted to mean something it is not. Instead of being the called out ones of Jesus ‘ called out of the world and its ways and called into the kingdom of God – it has come to mean the building, clergy, Sunday meeting and programs…a religious social club.
Second, that Jesus of Nazareth cared little to teach about the called out ones collectively as the ekklesia, and thus he only does so twice. This is a great contrast to what christianity makes of ‘the church’.
Who are you going to believe, reader, Jesus or your religious leaders who say they represent Jesus even while they contradict him and practice their religious traditions which nullify his teachings?
Teachings of Jesus Which Go Against the Practices of Christianity’s ‘Church’
Who Should the Follower of Jesus of Nazareth Follow???
First and foremost, Jesus plainly teaches that he is to be his follower’s only Teacher and Leader, Master and Lord. Please listen to him:
“But do not be called Teacher (Rabbi); for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
“You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.” (John 13:13)
“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20)
Truly be servant-like.
Is this what is represented in the christian or messianic organization? In truth, no. But the deceit comes in the form of, ‘Oh, but God told us through Paul that there are leaders in between Jesus and his followers’.
For those not blinded by their religious bible dogma, that would obviously make those who believe that statement followers of Paul, since Paul directly contradicts Jesus on this most important matter. Or another favorite one is, ‘oh, but my pastor is a great servant of all’. Really?
First of all, who is he serving if he disobeys Jesus of Nazareth? When Jesus says his followers will have “One Shepherd/Pastor” that does NOT mean two, dear reader.
In addition, servant’s stand up on a stage/pedestal and teach the people? In what culture and at what time in history? Talk about turning something up-side-down on its head! If your pastor is the lowest servant, why does he bless the hiring of the custodians to clean the toilets?! (and even if he did clean the toilets, that would not justify his disobeying Jesus’ commands).
“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd (Greek poimen).” (John 10:16)
How many shepherds? Isn’t it interesting that translators at some point decided to translate the Greek transliterated term ‘poimen’ as ‘shepherd’ in John chapter 10, and as ‘pastor’ in Ephesians chapter 4:11. It is the same exact term used in both places and the contexts are the same – they are both talking about leadership.
Now why would those translators do that? Perhaps because the Way was too narrow for them and they liked Paul more than Jesus? Perhaps faithfulness to their religious system or prior translation traditions?
I ask again, how many shepherds will the followers of Jesus have? Jesus says ‘one’. Paul – and the religion founded on his teachings (and the rest of the bible apart from Jesus’ teachings), christianity, – says ‘millions’. Who are you going to believe?
Moreover, if you believe Jesus, how could you attend an organization which openly has teachers, leaders and shepherds/pastors? If you are a new follower of Jesus, you would approach the organization’s leaders and share Jesus’ Words with them and ask them to turn away from their great error of usurping Jesus’ role and instead follow Jesus. If they look at you like you are crazy, or belittle you as an ignorant laymen, then what are you going to do? Continue going to a place and explicitly endorse those leaders (by your participating in their teaching sessions) who not only refuse to obey Jesus’ plain teaching, but who claim to represent him? How could you, in good conscience, listen to the Words of your Master be disobeyed under the guise of actually representing him?
How could you participate in the deceiving of others? “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) says the Real Master.
Please dear reader, he mean’s what he says, and to think we are “loving” people by watching his commands be nullified by those who claim to represent him, is to be deceived. The Real Jesus of Nazareth never said it would be easy or pleasant to follow him. And the only Way we will have his joy and peace in our heart, is to have him, his Words and voice ONLY as our sole spiritual authority. To disobey him or watch others do the same is not compatible with Jesus’ plain commands and teachings.