From the emails and comments received, it appears my last column, “Why I left the traditional church system,” raised a few questions from readers. Hopefully, today’s article will help clarify my position.
King James of England authorized a new Bible translation to be undertaken in 1604. Forty-seven scholars, all members of the Church of England, worked on the project.
A list of 14 instructions, approved by the Anglican Church, were given to the scholars to be followed in their translation work. Most of the instructions were general in nature and stated what previous Bible translations could be used for the sake of comparison, but Rule No. 3 was a specific one, which has continued to cause Christianity problems for over 400 years:
“The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.”
The Greek word ekklesia was the one that King James and the Church of England wanted to be translated into the English word church. Its true meaning should really be assembly.
With only a couple of exceptions, every English Bible version since the publishing of the King James Authorized Bible in 1611 has followed the same mandates of translating the word ekklesia into the English word church.
It’s interesting to note that the Greek word ekklesia is used 118 times in the New Testament – 115 times it is translated as the word church and three times as assembly. When it is translated assembly, it refers to an ordinary gathering of people.
Is this a big deal?
I think so.
For most people, the word church conjures up the image of a formal building with rows of pews or seats, aisles leading toward the front and a pulpit resting on a raised platform or stage. The word also brings to mind a definite separation between the performing leadership, or clergy, and the passive pew-sitters, or laity. Modern clergy is further divided into professionals called pastors, associate pastors, children’s pastors, worship leaders and so forth.
Where in the Bible does one find a religious setting with hired professionals like the one found in today’s traditional church?
It can only be seen in the Temple system of the Old Testament. There you will find a formal building dedicated to worshiping God and a professional hierarchy of high priests, sacramental priests, teaching priests, Levites and worship leaders.
Beginning with the book of Acts until the end of the New Testament, you won’t find Christians meeting in formal buildings dedicated to God or a professional class of clergy directing them. What you will discover are small groups of believers who simply met in homes, shared a meal together and fellowshiped with each other. Their leaders are more mature believers known as elders.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the wineskins and it will be spilled, and the wineskins will be destroyed.” (Luke 5:37)
Two things turned the world upside down in the days of the early apostles: the new wine – the gospel of the kingdom of God – being proclaimed to people and its new wineskins or places of meeting. The believers assembled in homes, marketplaces, outside and wherever they could because a formal building wasn’t needed to meet with God. He dwelled in them. They were the new temples of the living God.
Wolfgang Simpson wrote in his book, “Houses that Change the World”:
“I dreamed of a community that is simple as One-Two-Three, yet is dynamic; an explosive thing, able to turn the world and a neighborhood upside down. A church which does not need huge amounts of money, or rhetoric, control and manipulation, which can do without powerful and charismatic heroes, which is non-religious at heart, which can thrill people to the core, make them loose their tongues out of sheer joy and enjoyment, and simply teach us The Way to live. A church which not only has a message, but is the message.”
For those who wondered what I do about fellowshiping with other believers, I am a part of a small home group and a member of a men’s breakfast fellowship. Both groups allow members to freely use their gifts and to share what’s on their hearts.
Do I believe many readers will follow my example, leave their traditional churches and join home assemblies? Probably not now, but maybe in the future.
You see, if you believe we are in the last days before the return of Jesus, then you need to look in the book of Revelation, beginning in chapter 6 with the seven seal judgments. The level of persecution Christians will undergo at that time will probably demand that Christians meet in small groups.
So, as my dad often said when facing a new idea, “We’ll just have to wait and see about this.”