About Jesus Steve Sweetman
What I write in this
article concerns that which is traditionally and commonly called church
in our western world. I use
the term "that which is called church" to represent church in
general terms. That would
include all groups who consider themselves to be church, including
conservative Bible based groups to liberal groups who deny the deity of
Christ. I acknowledge that
within this generality there are some good Bible based groups and some
very fine godly believers. I
make this qualification because I know some will think I'm unreasonably
critical. I will speak to
the reason for my criticism next week.
You can clobber me then if my explanation doesn't sit well with
It's my opinion that over
the centuries the word "church" has consistently been robbed
of its Biblical meaning. If
you mention church to a non-church person, he'll think of the building
down the street, as do many Christians.
Our present day English
word "church" has gone through quite an evolution in spelling
over the centuries. It finds
its roots in the Old English word "cirice" that dates back
prior to the fourth century A D. The
word "cirice" evolved from the Greek word
"kuriakon", meaning "house of the Lord".
Even way back then "cirice" was associated with a
Along with changes in
spelling, the meaning of church has gone through an evolutionary
process. Each evolutionary
step is a departure from what Jesus meant church to be when He
prophetically said, "I will build my church". (Matthew 16:18)
The Greek word translated
into our English phrase "I will build" in Matthew 16:18 is
is made up of "oikos", meaning "a house", and,
"domeo" meaning "to build".
"Oikodomeo" literally means "to build a
house". Even though
Jesus wasn't thinking in terms of building a brick and mortar house for
Himself, we've taken His words literally.
Building houses for God has consumed much of our time, energy,
and finances, over the centuries. Many
of these historic structures are considered marvelous works of art, and
that they are. Ironically,
they are viewed by many as a testimony to the ingenuity of man.
The phrase "I will
build", or, "oikodomeo", is a future active indicative
Greek verb. Future means
that the building process will take place sometime after Jesus spoke
these words. Active means
that it is Jesus Himself who is actively doing the building. Indicative
means that this building project will be a guaranteed certainty.
As I study church
history, it's clear to me that the church Jesus intends to build has
been hijacked. In our fallen
wisdom we've decided to take matters into our own hands.
Although few realize it, the Roman Emperor Constantine in the
fourth century A D, along with a subsequent paganized Catholicism, have
been the architects of what we presently know as church. Lest
we Protestants become proud in our protest against Catholicism, the
Protestant Reformation of the 1500's did little to nothing to remove
this unbiblical and humanistic architectural design from church that
exists to this day.
This leads me to the
other important word in Mathew 16:18 and that's the word
"church". I hope
you realize that Jesus never spoke our English word church.
Matthew recorded Jesus' words in what is called Koine
Greek. The Greek word
translated into English as "church" is "ekklesia".
"Ekklesia" is made up of "ek", meaning
"out of", and, "kaleo", meaning "to call".
"Ekklesia" is a group of people who has been called out
of the general population for a specific purpose. It
wasn't a religious word as our word "church" is today. However,
Jesus did put a religious spin on it when He said "I will build my
ekklesia". In Matthew
16:18 Jesus predicted that at some future point in history He Himself
would call people out of the world and unto Himself to be His
representatives to the nations of the world.
Jesus didn't give His ekklesia a name.
He kept it nameless, and I believe for good reason.
Of course, in our fallen wisdom we've chosen to divide Jesus'
ekklesia up into a million named, separate, and distinct, parts.
Matthew recorded Jesus'
words in Greek, but it's highly unlikely that Jesus said "I will
build my church" in Greek. He
probably spoke these words in Aramaic, the majority spoken language of
first century Jews. He would
have spoken the Aramaic word "synagoge", not the Greek word
means a gathering of people, and in first century Judaism meant a
gathering of Jewish people for worship.
The word "synagogue", a building for Jewish worship,
comes from the Aramaic word "synagoge".
It seems that no matter the culture, human nature tends to turn
the assembly of God's people into a place where God's people assemble,
as seen in the word "synagogue".
Any Jew hearing Jesus
saying "I will build my synagoge" would naturally associated
His words with their religious assemblies.
Many thought He was going to form a new Jewish sect.
That wasn't His intent. If
the Jews would have received Him as their Messiah, they would have been
His "synagoge", "ekklesia", or, "church",
but they didn't. They
preferred their paganized Judaism instead.
So Jesus' "synagoge" would be an assembly of people
that He'd call from all ethnicities, including Jews. If
you think about it, in one real sense of the word, "I will build my
church" was a counter-cultural response to a paganized Jewish
No matter what word you
use, "ekklesia", "synagoge", or "church",
the point of Matthew 16:18 is simple.
Jesus will call people to Himself and place them into His
nameless counter-cultural assembly to be His representative to the
nations of the world. If you
think the term "counter-culture" sounds too sixtyish or too
hippie like; it's not. True
followers of Jesus have always, and always will, buck the established
systems of men.
The last mention of
church found in the Bible is seen in Revelation 3: 14 - 22.
It's the church at
Jesus hasn't anything
good to say about this expression of church.
He says that it's pathetically pitiful.
I'm sure this church does a lot of good.
It has the finances to support a myriad of humanitarian causes,
but it lacks one important thing, and that's Jesus.
We see Jesus standing outside of this church knocking on its door. It's not that Jesus wants into the church because He's about to spit it out of His mouth. (Revelation 3:16) If you read Revelation 3:20 carefully you'll note that Jesus is calling on individuals from within the church to let Him into their lives. He's not calling on the church as a whole but calling individuals out of the church and unto Himself. You might say He's fulfilling His prophecy of Matthew 16:18. He and He alone, is seen building His church as He calls individuals out of the Laodicean expression of church at the end of this age. No more will the gates of Hades advance against church, as Matthew 16:18 goes on to say. Satan will eventually be imprisoned for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1 – 4)
If you're honest, I'd
think you'd agree; "that which is called church" today isn't
the Mathew 16:18 church we see Jesus speaking about.
This won't always be the case.
Be assured, Jesus will build His church as He predicted. He
will be triumphant. Until
then, let's submit ourselves to the rule of our Lord in all things.