About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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His Counter Culture Church


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 you.    


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 building.       


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 "oikodomeo".  "Oikodomeo" 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 "ekklesia".  "Synagoge" 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 religious establishment.         


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 Laodicea that many Bible teachers understand to represent the final expression of church that exists just prior to the seven years of tribulation that ends this age.  This church is arrogant, wealthy, and self sufficient.  I suggest that it's the ultimate expression of a man made church that Constantine and others had aspired to over the centuries. 


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. 



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