Monday, January 26, 2015
Postchurch and the people of God
I’m trying to break the habit of using the word “church.” It just has too many meanings: The Church, The Church Universal, the invisible Church, churches, local church, the city church, mega-church, purpose-driven-church, the missional church, the emerging church, house church, simple church, organic church.
It was not always this way. The people of God have been around for a long time, at least since Abraham or even Noah. The people of God in Abraham’s day were called a family. In his son’s era, they became the tribes of Israel. Another a couple of hundred years later, the people of God were a nation. Then they built a temple (we could argue the point, but I don’t think that God particularly wanted a temple, he seemed quite content in a tabernacle, and a temple could not contain him anyway. Evidence? Every time they tried to rebuild the temple, he allowed it to be destroyed).
During and after the Babylonian captivity, the Jews began to meet for prayer and to study the scriptures in synagogues as long as they could muster a quorum of twelve heads of households. Without access to a temple, they could no longer offer the blood sacrifices and so Judaism set out on its long transformation from a national identity to become a major world religion that has changed the course of world history.
After the three years of the ministry of Jesus, the people of God came to be called “followers of the way” (that phrase always reminds me of the Dao and Chinese Daoism).
In the gentile city of Antioch, they first became known a Christians (little Christs) and somewhere not long after, St. Paul borrowed the secular term “ekklesia” from Koine Greek to describe the new communities of Jews and Gentiles that were coming together to follow Jesus. Ekklesia was a Greek political term for secular city assemblies (it was used twice in Acts 20 to describe the near riot of the silversmiths who were losing their business of making representations of the goddess Diana in Ephesus).
Why didn't Paul just use the word “synagogue” and give it a distinctively Christian meaning? Because he was developing something new, a community of God’s people that was not Jewish. So he selected a new word, ekklesia, with a secular Greek meaning (Paul Banks, "Paul's Idea of Community).
In the gospel of Matthew, the word “church” only occurs twice. However, it is highly unlikely that Jesus actually used the Greek word “ekklesia” in Matthew 16 when he spoke of building his people on the rock of revelation, or in Matthew 18 where he spoke of taking an unresolved conflict “to the church.” He was speaking in Aramaic (not Greek), and when the gospels were written some thirty years later, Matthew simply inserted the word that had become standard through the work of St. Paul among Greek-speaking believers, to represent what Jesus had meant when he spoke of the congregation of God’s people.
Fast forward to 1610 and the King James translation of the Bible. The most obvious English word to use in translation of ekklesia would have been congregation or perhaps assembly, both of which give a word picture of people gathering, rather than a building. But the problem was that the Church of England, recently separated from Rome, had a lot of cathedrals that required upkeep and maintenance. Using a word like “congregation” might undermine support for the cathedrals, so the translators adopted a word related to the Scottish “Kirk” which had some roots in German. Thus, we ended up with the morass of meanings that currently come under the huge umbrella of “Church.”
I think it is time to stop going to church and to become the people of God. Wherever two or three are gathered together (in his name) … Jesus promised he would show up.
What comes after church? We really don’t know yet, so for now I will call it Postchurch. I don't like using another iteration containing the word "church" but it will have to do for now until something better comes along. Perhaps "meetup"?