Daily Archives: September 7, 2009

What makes a church a church?

churchThere’s been a lot of talk lately about whether online churches qualify as real churches and even whether they are more harmful than helpful.  Many people say that a church cannot be a church unless people are gathering together in person, face to face.   Some say that online churches aren’t biblical – that in order for a church to exist it must include certain elements, such as preaching, sacraments and discipline.

It got me to thinking … what makes a church a church?

Is it the music, the preaching, the tradition, the tax exempt status, the sacraments, the programs, the elders, the building, the stain glassed windows??? 

To begin, I did a little research on the church and found that the word “church” has an interesting history.

The Greek term “ekklesia” is normally translated by the English word “church” in the New Testament. I knew that bit of information, but what I did not know is that the English word “church” did NOT originate from the word “ekklesia” or from the concept of the “ekklesia” expressed in the NT.  “Ekklesia”, a commonly used word in NT times, referred to a group of people gathering or an assembly of people.  Instead, the English word “church” originated from a Greek word that is used twice (Cor 11:20 and Rev 1:10) in the NT – the Greek word is “kuriakos”, which means “belonging to the Lord.”

What I found even more interesting is that Jesus only used the word “ekklesia” twice, never used the word “kuriakos” but spoke of the Kingdom of God/Heaven over one hundred times.

Anyway, at some point, the place where believers met together started to be called “kuriakon” or “the Lord’s house,” which is the neuter version of “kuriakos”. This word made its way into German (Kirche), Anglo Saxon (circe), and Middle English (chirche). When Luther translated the New Testament into German, he did not use the word “Kirche” to translate “ekklesia”, instead he used the German word “gemeinde”, which means something similar to the English word community. And when Tyndale translated the New Testament into English in 1536, he also did not use the word “church” to translate the Greek word “ekklesia”.  Instead, he used the word “congregacion”. But over the next century all English translations started translating “ekklesia” by using “church”.

Does all of this matter?  I think it does because when I began to substitute the words “gathering” and “congregation” and “community” and “assembly” for the word “church” I began to get a picture that the church is more about people who were connected together through a supernatural kinship and that all their resources and abilities were meant to be used to produce a continuation of the life and activity of Christ himself – instead of an event that is required to include certain traditions or practices.

So, the question was…what makes a church a church?  I think the answer is a group of people who gather together in the name of Christ, through the power of Christ, for the purpose of being Christ.  And IMHO it seems that could take a lot of different forms – even the form of an online church.

What do you think?

(Now – having said all that I think there are better ways to do church – maybe I will write a post about that soon)