I don’t know what comes to mind when you hear the word church, but my hunch is that it’s a little different from what the people in the first century thought of when they experienced that initial gathering; There weren’t any bibles. There weren’t any bands. They didn’t put words on a screen. They didn’t even have hymnals. They didn’t have buildings and they didn’t have any staff; no children’s pastors, no youth pastors, no singles pastors, no young adult pastors, no worship pastors, no associate pastors, no social media pastors . . . they didn’t even any executive administrative assistants. What?
You see, from the very beginning the church wasn’t so much a location with a hierarchal structure and really-cool websites and marketing schemes as we have come to know it but rather, the church was a movement. A movement that was launched around an event in history; the resurrection of Jesus.
And whether you are an active part of it or not, the church is still moving.
As we begin this series, I want to give you a little background and history about this whole idea of church. My goal is for us to deconstruct our cultural assumptions and baggage about the church and begin to rethink and redefine what the church is all about.
So, today you’re going to get a little theology, a little history, a little linguistics study . . . it’ll be fun.
The word that is translated “church” in your bible, is the Greek word, Ekklesia – which just so happens to be the name of our sermon series. It literally means “an assembly or gathering”.
So, when Jesus launched the church, although he used some amazing analogies to help us understand the function of the church (as we just heard in the video), he actually launched it around one simple idea with a very simple focus; to gather.
Later, Paul in his letters to the churches he planted offered some specifics about what should or should not take place when you gather but his instructions did not change Jesus’ simple idea with a simple focus; to gather.
But then something happened; Around 300 A.D., there was a transition from the idea of church being a movement of people who assemble and gather around an event in history; the resurrection of Jesus to church being a location. This happened because of a misunderstanding of the word, church.
This little Greek word that couldn’t be any clearer, Ekklesia, was transitioned to the word, Kirche which means, “Lord’s house”.
This was a throw back to the Old Testament idea of a temple. If you remember, in Israel there was a temple and the people of God gathered in the temple because that’s where God lived.
So, as you can see, church being a gathering and church being a location, are two very different ideas.
And this terrible linguistic transition resulted in some terrible theology and praxis – meaning the practice of theology. In other words, because this is what we believe, this is how we express it.
Before long, the church was in a building, and whoever controlled the building, controlled the church. Whoever controlled the building, controlled scripture. Whoever controlled the building, controlled the people. In some segments of Europe, whoever controlled the building, controlled the government.
In fact, entire Cities throughout Europe were designed around a church building. We even see this in some of our older cities in the United States.
Over a short period of time, what began as a movement of distributing truth throughout the world became a very insider focused, hierarchal, ritualistic, and even unethical and destructive movement that had absolutely no reflection of the first century movement when the church was launched.
This linguistic shift from Ekklesia, a gathering, to the idea of a location resulted in some things that are absolutely embarrassing. It’s part of the reason why some people continue to turn their back on the local church.
But then something awesome happened in the 16th century. A linguistics scholar named, William Tyndale, showed up in England and he decided that it was time for the average person to have access to the bible, because in that day people had to go to church and listen to a priest read from a translation of the scripture that they couldn’t even understand.
So, William Tyndale decided, “enough of this silliness – people need to read scripture for themselves” and he began to translate scripture from its original language into English.
Now, the religious leaders weren’t very happy about it because putting scripture into the hands of commoners was going to challenge their authority. You see, if you control the Bible, you control the message, and if you control the message, you control the people.
Needless to say, William Tyndale became an outlaw and he had to leave England and he fled to Germany, where he continued to do his translation work.
Thanks to a guy named Johannes Gutenberg, who designed the printing press 100 years before, Tyndale was able to print copies of his version of the New Testament and began to smuggle them into England.
Suddenly, the average person had access to their very own copy of God’s word and as a result, the cultural assumptions about the church started to change.
Eventually, Tyndale was betrayed by his friend and brought back to England, put on trial, found guilty of being a heretic and then strangled to death and his body was burned at the stake as a public display.
Their hope was for the people to see Tyndale as an enemy of the church, but it was too late, because now the Word was out.
English speaking people had a copy of the scripture that they could read for themselves, and the church – the church that thought in terms of location and control of people, began to lose its power.
This was the beginning of what is known as the English Reformation.
Now, one of the things that drove the religious leader’s crazy is that as William Tyndale was translating the scriptures, when he got to the little Greek word, Ekklesia, he didn’t translate it “church”, the version which meant “The Lord’s house”. Instead, he put in the word, “congregation”.
It was his attempt to return the gathering of God’s people back to what it was meant to be and what it started off as in the first century – a growing multicultural, multiethnic, mission centered movement of people with a very simple message around a single event in history; the resurrection of Jesus.
William Tyndale was right, the church was a gathering, growing group of people.
This is exactly what Jesus said.
In Matthew, chapter 16, there is an incident where Jesus gathers together with his disciples and asks them a question . . . “What’s the word on the street about me? Who do people say that I am?”
His disciples replied, “Some people think that you are the re-incarnated John the Baptist. Others think that you’re a re-incarnated version of some Old Testament prophet; Elijah or Jeremiah”
Then Jesus made it personal and asked, “What about you . . . who do you say that I am?”
And Peter, who is always jumping in first replies, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Listen to Jesus’ reply . . .
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my . . .
Here’s our word – Ekklesia – not a building or a location . . . I will build my gathering, my congregation, my movement.
I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (your translation might say Hell, but the idea here is death) will not overcome it.”
Jesus was saying, “No matter what happens, even if the people who begin this moment pass away, this gathering will continue, because the church was birthed as a movement of people around a simple message and simple idea.”
It was not a building. It was not about any of the things that it would quickly become in the few hundred years that followed; it would become and continue to be a movement.
Not long after this, Jesus was crucified. He rose from the dead and spent about forty days with his followers. On one of those days, he gathered them on a hillside and gave them his final instructions. In Matthew we call that the great commission, but in the book of Acts there’s a version of that and it’s here that Jesus predicts the beginning of the church.
We heard this text earlier but let’s break it down . . . Acts 1:6-8
So, when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
They weren’t thinking in terms of a growing, multicultural, multiethnic, gathering. They were thinking that Jesus was going to restore the Nation of Israel; right here, right now.
He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
We don’t know exactly what they thought when they heard these words but considering that they believed that Jesus was going to restore the Nation of Israel, surely, they got excited when they heard the word “power”.
“We’re going to get some kind of special power”. In my imagination, there was dialogue about what kind of power each person wanted; “I want to fly. I want invincibility. I want to light people on fire with my eyes.”
This is so cool but what exactly are we supposed to do with this power?
Jesus says . . . as a result of this new power that you don’t understand yet, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Again, we don’t know what they thought, but if we can just try to imagine: You’re standing with a man who Rome crucified, the religious leaders hated, there are about one hundred of you, and he says, “Hey, here’s what’s going to happen . . . you’re going to get power that will allow you take the message of me, to take my teaching, and you’re going to take the fact that you are eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and you’re going to take it to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the rest of the world.
And they’re looking at each other going, “OK, Jerusalem. We can do Jerusalem. And Judea. Ok, we can do that too. Samaria? We don’t like to go there but fine we can do that too. But the rest of the world? Come on Jesus, time out, do you realize how big the world is?”
To which Jesus could have said, “You don’t even know how big the world is. All you know is the Roman world, but this message, this movement, this gathering, this momentum that we’re creating is going to touch every single part of the world.”
Which is exactly what happened. This is one of the most significant prophecies in the entire bible, because we – sitting here in my house – are in some way a fulfillment of it.
And then, Jesus departed, and this little group of around one hundred and twenty people went back in to the city of Jerusalem and they began to gather and pray.
About two weeks later . . . something amazing happens. But you’ll have to come back next week to hear about it.