What was the Church Supposed to Be?

2000 Years Later Series, Part One

By Christopher Myers

Written 29 March-8 June 2020


Link to 2000 Years Later Foreword: https://aquilitz.com/2000-years-later-series-a-foreword/

Link to Part 2, Selfish Altruism: https://aquilitz.com/selfish-altruism/

Link to Part 3, Submission: https://aquilitz.com/christian-submission/

Link to Part 4, Pride and Anger: https://aquilitz.com/pride-and-anger/

Link to Part 5, Attitude: (Coming Soon on March 26th)


Today’s Church is most regularly perceived as a building where Christians worship Sunday morning for about an hour. The term ‘Church’ is pervasive in today’s society, even outside of Christian circles. It has over time been altered to stand for something slightly different than what it was originally meant to be. Although this was a minor change, I believe that the resulting alteration in Christian culture (which has not been a trivial matter) has produced an overall stifling effect on Christians around the world and arguably led to faulty and damaging foundations for many of today’s Christians. Although many Christians have heard about the mistranslation of the term, I am writing today to discuss not only the distortion of the word, but also how that factors into today’s Church body.

Anyone that reviews the word ‘Church’ in a dictionary will likely find the first definition to be “a building used for public Christian worship.” The original definition can be found third down though, on the list of definitions in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a body or organization of religious believers.”1 This misunderstanding is due to a mistranslation of Greek to German and English. The original Greek work ekklēsia was used throughout the New Testament to describe a gathering of believers.2 This word was replaced with kuriakos, which after the Edict of Thessalonica in AD 380 (and the resulting institutionalized state-approved church) meant ‘sacred building’.3 This change was a direct result of the shift of believers meeting privately in each other’s houses, to meeting publicly as an approved organized religion in state-approved places of worship. With this move from private to public, the creation of specific denominations within the Church appeared (the most significant splits taking place in the 11th and 16th centuries), along with the requirements of what could be called a place of worship and why. While I strongly believe that Christians need to ensure their foundations are solid, there are a variety of issues that appear to have resulted from tying the Church itself to a physical structure.

The primary issue with this mistranslation is the movement away from Jesus’s biblical definition of Church. As Jesus states in John 2:19-21, the Temple (the place for Jewish worship) is His body. This is reiterated and expanded upon by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:17, to show that all believers’ bodies are the Church. Peter also offers a similar view in 1 Peter 2:5, explaining that each believer is a spiritual house. This is important, and Jesus (as well as the apostles) used these terms specifically to tear down the rules and regulations that came with the Jewish temples, which housed God’s presence. With Jesus’s sacrifice, God’s presence is able to come upon any grouping of believers (described in Matthew 18:20).

When the Christian community altered the definition of the Church to a physical structure, two primary results came about. The first was that nonbelievers were able to observe a physical Christian structure within secular communities. This was beneficial, as it provided a visible center for both Christians and secular people to come with questions. I believe that the second result overshadowed the first though, with a physical structure indirectly (and directly at times) leading to similar restrictions that Jesus desired for His Church to leave behind.

I would argue that these restrictions have led to what most people today refer to as Religion. Per Merriam-Webster, religion is ‘a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.’4 Slogans have appeared stating “Reject Religion, Accept Jesus” and “Turn to Jesus, not Religion.” Religion in itself is not essentially a negative system, but is a required concept to live by for any individual that desires to have a solid belief foundation. Religion allows Christians to understand the appropriate actions to have in specific situations, and provides guidelines to live by. The primary issue that tends to result from Religious systems is that they too often devolve into rigid structures (of rules and regulations), which keeps believers from living as Jesus desired for them to.

After all, as Paul notes in Galatians 2:19-20, Christ tore down the requirements of the old laws (specifically, the ceremonial and civil laws – NOT the moral law) so that the Church could truly live to fulfill the most important commandment, which Jesus explains in Matthew 22: 37-40. If a believer loves God and then equally his or her neighbor, then all other values will follow. Paul describes in-depth the downfalls that rules and regulations lead believers to (Hebrews 9 and 10). I believe that these downfalls have been fully realized in many ways in today’s Christian society, starting with the transition of the Church to a physical building. Along with this, the standardization of Sunday sermons has led to a cultural expectation of an experience with Christ that is contained within a single day of the week (sometimes two, depending on the denomination).

Although the mantras like “Turn to Jesus, not Religion” are technically incorrect and incompatible with Christianity (as followers of Jesus are Christians and Christianity is by definition a Religion), they are understandable amidst the current cultural expectations placed on believers by the Church. During Jesus’s time and in the following few centuries, believers appear to have met most often in one-another’s households as well as public facilities in order to directly serve their communities. Reviewing the New Testament, the three primary locations where believers spent time was at each other’s residences, in public squares, and at places of worship for non-Christian religions. Today, even believers that have been attending Church for decades rarely speak Jesus’s name outside of Sunday mornings, and serving a community often means serving secularly or offering a small financial sacrifice to the local Church. Most denominations and individual Churches (arguably, what I would refer to as Christian Organizations – as they are only a part of Jesus’s Church) have only exacerbated this mindset by focusing primarily on building physical structures to use for Sunday sermons, and leaving individual Christian fellowship and mentorship to develop naturally on its own.

Leaving mentorship and fellowship to develop separately from official Christian Organizations has led to a relative failure in Christian wisdom and knowledge among believers, as well as an overall decline in Christianity. 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians, which is down from 77% in 2009, per the Pew Research Center’s 2018/2019 surveys.5 This same study showcases that weekly religious observance is directly tied to the number of people that see themselves as Christians.6 I believe that what can be extrapolated from this is that people believe that they must not or cannot be Christians if they are not attending a Sunday morning service in a sanctioned Church building. Much more concerning though, Pew Research Center discovered in a 2019 study that only 20% of all Americans know that Protestantism teaches that salvation comes through faith alone, only 51% know that it was Jesus that delivered the Sermon on the Mount (asked in a multiple choice format), and 58% know that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not one of the Ten Commandments.7

A study by the Barna Group shows that 48% of Americans are Bible users, with only 21% using the Bible once a week or more.8 LifeWay’s study shows a similar result, along with additional information displaying that only 36% of Americans believe that the Bible is historically true.9 LifeWay also reports that Americans are confused on their theology, with 64% of evangelical believers saying that all people will ultimately go to heaven (i.e., Christian Universalism), which conflicts with the 54% of evangelical believers (meaning that a minimum of 18% answered yes to both) that state that only those that trust in Jesus Christ alone receive eternal salvation (which is the actual technical ‘evangelical’ belief, although the term evangelical has altered over time and today is one that means ‘Christian’ more than any specific denomination).10 There are a multitude of other disagreements revealed in these studies, but one surprising example is sin, where 74% of Americans believe that small sins do not lead to damnation, while 62% believe that any sin leads to hell without salvation (a full 36% answered yes to both of the conflicting statements).11

While there are a few positives to be found within the data, the overall appearance is that believers are failing to understand basic tenants of their Christian denominations. How then, can Christian Organizations correct this lack of knowledge and continue to evangelize? Common sense dictates that (at least the majority of the time) Christians with a greater knowledge of their beliefs will be more likely to evangelize, so I would suggest increasing Christian wisdom and knowledge first. Statistically, college (of any kind) helps significantly with religious knowledge.12 Considering the cost and time that goes into a college education, Christian organizations must look at the next best options. Christians that personally engage regularly with Christian material (e.g. the Bible, podcasts, etc.) are more knowledgeable, as well as those that attended religious schools and those that have attended Christian-based knowledge-seeking small groups (i.e. Bible study – most often 2-20 individuals in attendance).13 Surprisingly, it appears that personal engagement with Christian material and small groups actually have a greater impact than religious schooling.

Jesus’s teachings and the apostle’s actions agree with the need for small groups and personal engagement. It’s difficult to count the exact number of sermons compared to small groups (impossible really, considering the amount that were not included in the Bible or referenced in secular historical text), but it is obvious throughout the first four books in the New Testament that Jesus held a multitude of what could be considered ‘small groups’. He appears to have preferred them at times, purposefully leaving the crowds behind to both rest and to speak individually with His apostles as well as those He was called to communicate with. Acts 2:42-47 speaks to how the apostles met in what could be considered small groups after Jesus’s resurrection and His appearance to His disciples. Early Christians preached in the streets to present Christ to prospective followers, while meeting in homes with each other to share meals as well as the Lord’s Supper. In the book of Acts, it is stated again and again that believers shared all that they had with one another, whether that was food or real estate (Christian denominations with physical buildings closed and locked to followers and those in need would do well to remember this today). Again and again and again in the New Testament, Peter and Paul balance sermons with small groups, preaching Jesus’s love to newcomers while working through deeper questions with believers.

I hope that you’ll be able to observe from the above information that I am not making an argument for the dissolution of Sunday sermons or real-estate used officially by Christian Organizations, as I believe that both are incredibly beneficial when reaching unbelievers. I am however, making the argument that each Christian Organization needs to review their actions and speech to ensure that both align with what Christ asks of His followers, which I happen to believe is also the best way to expand the Church and save souls. I am suggesting that individual Christian Organizations review their priorities, taking a look specifically at how much emphasis they place on sermons over small groups and relationships (specifically, discipleship and fellowship).

With consideration to what I’ve explained above, I believe that the Church must accomplish three key actions to successfully repair the assumptions that have been built-up over time about the Church.

First, I believe that Christian Organizations must continue to preach the word of God to the masses, just as Jesus and the apostles did throughout the New Testament. This will continue to function as the most appropriate way to bring in and educate new believers at the most basic levels. In today’s world, technology benefits the Church in that it allows sermons to reach a multitude of people that pastors would not have previously been able to otherwise. One key factor that must be taken into consideration though, is what role the sanctuary and the attached building has outside of the time when a sermon is presented to the crowds. Traditionally, Jesus and the apostles preached to the masses in public spaces, and I believe that official Christian Organizations would do best to operate in a similar manner. It would certainly be difficult to accomplish in today’s culture (including Christian culture), but this would mean that the majority of evangelical preaching would be done in publicly-owned spaces (e.g. town squares and city parks) and that official Christian Organization real estate would be open at all hours for all of those in need (there are exceptions that are Biblically appropriate like defending against physical assault, but these are few and far in-between).

Second, Christians and especially leaders of Christian Organizations must ask themselves and each other what is being done to continue fellowship and discipleship. I believe that the best option to advance both is to maximize the quality and quantity of small groups. Today’s pastors arguably play more of a preaching role in Christian Organizations, as no pastor can successfully build relationships with and pour into more than 50-80 congregants at any one time. Pastoring and discipleship are most appropriately accomplished with the Jethro Principle, which is based off Exodus 18: 13-27. This principle suggest that a leader have no more than ten followers that he or she directly and regularly pours into relationally, as any more than that would cause undue stress (even Jesus kept His count to just 12). Utilizing this method, each of those ten are expected to lead their own ten individuals (and so on and so forth). I believe that theoretically, a pastor should be an individual that knows the hardships and mindsets of those he or she is pastoring (emphasizing fellowship first and then following with discipleship). In today’s society, pastors should ask who their ten are, and those ten must serve as pastors to another ten. In conjunction with this framework, Christian Organizations should work to ensure that as many congregants as possible are participating in small groups, which is where a majority of Church should be taking place. Having over 90% of the regularly attending congregation in small groups should be a goal of each and every Christian Organization. In doing so, Christian love and knowledge is spread appropriately throughout the Church.

Third, I believe that Christian Organizations need to regularly review (this does not mean that they necessarily need to change) their customs and expectations amidst changes in technology, law, and secular culture. These reviews (just as the early Church did in the New Testament) should contain a council of elders as well as those that officially work for Christian Organizations. The results must be disseminated clearly and regularly to congregants, with no confusion left to grow amidst small groups. Pastors must ask themselves if they are abiding by the primary commandments noted in Matthew 22:37-40, and then provide wise advice as to how Jesus’s words apply to daily challenges. A congregant that has regularly attended a Christian Organization’s services for over a year should not have a vague understanding of the organization’s beliefs and values. Congregants must have a grasp on values as well as why a Christian Organization abides by their chosen traditions. If there is success in communication, then far fewer congregants will suffer confusion about basic Christian tenants. If the Church has failed in this manner (i.e. there is confusion amongst long-term congregants), then I would suggest that Church leadership review how and what they communicate to both guests and those that are involved in small groups.

With these three actions, I believe that the Church will be able to not only reinvigorate the disillusioned Christian population, but also will expand and strengthen the current Christ-backed revival in society. If successful, the Church will be seen as more than a building, a sermon, or a small group. The Church will be where two or three are gathered in Jesus’s name, where we as followers are living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. The Church will be a place that accomplishes the Great Commission in full (continuing into verse 20), and not just living by the often-noted verse 19. As Matthew 28:18-20 states that: “Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.””


References

1. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Church. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved March 29, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/church.

2. Runesson, Anders. (n.d.) Ekklesia. Retrieved from https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/ekklesia.

3. Ditzel, Peter. (2011). Ekklēsia or Church, Does It Matter? Retrieved from https://www.wordofhisgrace.org/wp/ekklesia-or-church/.

4. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Religion. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved March 29, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion.

5. Pew Research Center. (2019). In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

6. Pew Research Center. (2019). In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

7. Pew Research Center. (2019). What Americans Know About Religion. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/2019/07/23/what-americans-know-about-religion/.

8. Barna Group. (2018). State of the Bible 2018: Seven Top Findings. Retrieved from https://www.barna.com/research/state-of-the-bible-2018-seven-top-findings/.

9. LifeWay Research. (2017). LifeWay Research: Americans Are Fond of the Bible, Don’t Actually Read It. Retrieved from https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/04/25/lifeway-research-americans-are-fond-of-the-bible-dont-actually-read-it/.

10. Smietana, Bob. (2016). Americans Love God and the Bible, Are Fuzzy on the Details. Retrieved from LifeWay Research website: https://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/.

11. Smietana, Bob. (2016). Americans Love God and the Bible, Are Fuzzy on the Details. Retrieved from LifeWay Research website: https://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/.

12. Pew Research Center. (2019). What Americans Know About Religion. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/2019/07/23/factors-linked-with-religious-knowledge/.

13. Pew Research Center. (2019). What Americans Know About Religion. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/2019/07/23/factors-linked-with-religious-knowledge/.


Full Biblical References (given below in the New Living Translation):

Matthew 18:20; “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Matthew 22:37-40; Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 28:18-20; Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

John 2:19-21; “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”

Acts 2:42-47; They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Romans 12:4-5; “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

1 Corinthians 3:17; “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

1 Corinthians 12:27; “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (and arguably all of 1 Corinthians 12)

Galatians 2:19-20; For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ephesians 1:22-23; “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Ephesians 2:19-22; “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Colossians 3:15; “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

1 Peter 2:5; “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

4 thoughts on “What was the Church Supposed to Be?”

  1. Well thought out and written. I look forward to seeing where you go from here. For your Biblical references you might want to site what translation/version your are using as there are distinct differences between say the KJV versus NLT or CSB. Otherwise good job.

    1. Thank you! I’ve updated both this and the next article to explain that the translations given are in the New Living Translation (NLT).

  2. YES!!! This is the revival I have been praying for! Jesus is speaking at this time in so many places to so many hearts. From this post to the sermon series at our church on Philippians and the unity that is to mark us as belonging to Jesus—“staked out” on the Lordship of Jesus (Phil. 4:1)—to books like Unoffendable (Brant Hansen) to studies like Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Peter Scazzero) to videos like The Chosen, Jesus is reaching out to us NOW, calling us to himself and to each other, healing our brokenness and division. I’m in! I’m ALL in!

    1. I much appreciate your thoughts, especially on revival and healing division! Also, Unoffendable (Brant Hansen) is an incredible book… I would suggest Blessed Are the Misfits as well, which he also wrote. I will have to check out Peter Scazzero though, as I’m not sure I’ve read anything by him yet!

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