23 July 2015

The proper meaning of the word "church"

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Frank back in October 2007. Frank offered his thoughts on the Biblical implications of the word "church."

As usual, the comments are closed.
We have this funny word in our Christian vocabulary that appears in our Bibles – namely "church". Webster's dictionary says this about where we get that word:
Middle English chirche, from Old English cirice, ultimately from Late Greek kyriakon, from Greek, neuter of kyriakos of the lord, from kyrios lord, master
Which, you know, is interesting because we use "church" in the translations of the Bible in English to represent the word "ecclesia," not the word "kyriakon" – that is, it is possible that we mean the same thing by saying "church" when the NT says "ecclesia," but the word "church" doesn't come from the word "ecclesia."

Now, here's what I'm not equipped to do here: I'm not equipped to criticize guys (and women) who have spent their lives studying Greek who all agree that "church" is a fine word in English for the Greek word "ecclesia," I accept that this is the word we are going to use and, frankly, ought to use.

What I'm thinking about today is what we mean by using this word.

The over-arching theme of this series, btw, is that the believer needs the church. You need it. Part of that, of course, is that it needs you, and I have beaten that almost to death. But I was reminded of this theme this weekend as I listened to Dr. MacArthur preach broadly and enthusiastically at DGM's national conference on the theme "Stand," meaning a call to the perseverance of the saints.

At the end of his life, from a prison cell, probably through some kind of amanuensis, Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy a letter which we receive in Scripture as 2 Timothy. So this letter, whatever else we want to make of it, is Paul's last word to a young man he loved dearly and had discipled in the faith apparently from the start of the young man's faith.

Paul knew Timothy's family – his mother and grandmother, who were themselves Jewish women who had accepted Christ. And if we read Timothy at all, Paul has the highest confidence and love for Timothy – like Titus, Timothy is called Paul's "true son" in the faith.

And in that, Paul's last words to Timothy are important to us as we have to believe that he wrote these things as a farewell.

But as Paul writes, we find some very troubling things in his words. All of Asia, he says, has forsaken him for false teachers; Demas has decided that the world looks pretty good and the Gospel not so much. So in that environment, you'd think Paul would give Timothy the advice any wise man would give: run away from the bad guys and go find someplace else to start a new church – because we have to run away from false teachers, and a church with false teachers is a church where it is necessary to leave.

You'd think.

Instead, Paul calls Timothy to stand firm in the truth and preach and teach what is right in spite of fads and the tastes of men.

He didn't tell Timothy, "Dude, my method landed me in jail, so you have to try something different. Check with Demas as he has found a nice job in the world -- obviously he knows something I don't." He told Timothy to not change and not adapt and not go his own way, but instead to "endure suffering" and "continue in what you have learned" and "depart from iniquity" and so on -- but not to leave the church.

We are not called out of the church to preach the Gospel – we are called out of the world and into the "ecclesia" to preach the Gospel. Standing firm for the truth is standing where? Whatever "ecclesia" means, and whatever "church" is supposed to mean in its place in English, it is something we are called into in order that we may demonstrate who God is and what He has done.