Some of us use this dirty word so often that we’ve stopped appreciating its value or its power to offend. When it was first used, it had nothing to do with anything religious, but today it stirs up strong feelings around the world. Think twice before you use the word “church.”
Jesus made the word “dirty.” When He first uttered it in the Greco-Roman city of Caesarea Philippi, a city where Syrian and Greek people would’ve been familiar with the word “ekklesia.” The Greek word referred to a group of citizens called out to gather together at a public place, an idea promoted by Greek ideas of government, of every person being able to be a citizen.
But when Jesus used the word in Matthew 16:18 , He said He would build HIS ekklesia, and not even hell would overcome it. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He announced a gathering of citizens belonging to Him and undefeatable. It’s was a threatening idea then, and it is a threatening idea now.
“Ekklesia” still offends. You might not be surprised to hear that in one of the regions I visited this summer, we could not use the English word “church” in public. Instead, we substituted: congregation, group, gathering, fellowship, other followers. The culture around us would hear the word Jesus used to foretell the growth of a unified, identifiable, powerful body of followers and consider it a fighting word. They stand against the ekklesia of the One who claimed to be the Son of God.
Offense we don’t expect
But would you be surprised if I told you a lot of the “called out citizens of God’s ekklesia” avoid using the word? Maybe you avoid it. Maybe you’re afraid to associate yourself with a word that has been associated with judgement, legalism, insincerity, and piety. Or maybe you’re like some of the people in my region, assuming that the “ekklesia” is old style, irrelevant, and unexciting. A lot of people in my own hometown would rather spend their limited time with people who talk about Jesus, but won’t expect the fellowship, accountability, or service that comes with being part of the called out citizens that Jesus said would be His “ekklesia.”
God has chosen to use a gathering of heaven’s citizens as His vehicle to show who He is and to reach the world with truth. It was so exciting … awe inspiring … to worship with groups of Christians in many countries this summer. I love it! It’s not surprising when people who bow down to animal shaped idols or spit at the name of Jesus consider “church” a dirty word. But I’m surprised when people in the church body avoid identifying with and embracing it … like it’s a dirty word.
How do you use the word “church” and what does it mean to you?
Other dirty words: