When God first called us out of religion in 1996, we didn’t understand exactly what He was asking us to leave. Over time we saw that He was not just calling us to leave the church we were part of, but anything and everything that was a substitute for Him. Thankfully He did not reveal this to us all at once, but has been leading us on a journey, through a process, one step at a time…
Recently Father brought me to another step which involved my use of the word “church”. Until this point, I believed that although He had called us out of religion, we were part of the church which Jesus was building; we were called to BE the church because the church was the people rather than the building. I felt I needed to constantly correct the common “misunderstanding” of the word “church”, both to myself and others, and yet saying “we are the church” was very open to misunderstanding too. Some would think we were saying “we are THE church” or “WE are the church” or thought it was just semantics. Unbelievers couldn’t fathom it at all. They understand what the word church means in English: It is a religious place where religious people go to do religious things!
Whether we like it or not, the church is part of a religious system which not only substitutes itself in place of Christ in people’s lives, but also actively prevents them from knowing Him outside of the construct of itself. Jesus is building something heavenly and not earthly; He is NOT building the religious, institutional, compromising, man-created mixture that is the church.
While editing a book for a friend, Father suddenly opened my eyes to see all of this and simultaneously gave me the freedom to leave the word “church” and stop trying to redeem it. I sensed that there had a been a season for that, but now I felt released to simply use the word “church” for what we know it to mean.
When I saw this, I realized we could no longer say we are the church or part of the church. While the world will be able to accept this without much trouble, those who consider themselves part of the church may not find it so easy. To me now though, it seems like saying we were part of the church was a justification to those who were church-goers – a way of reassuring them that although we were not attending a church, we were still part of the church because the church was the people of God… It made them, and us, feel a little bit better about it all!
But now we have left not only the buildings, the meetings, the system; we have also left the word. And just because we have left those things, doesn’t mean that we don’t have more religious sacred cows that need to be slaughtered and barbecued! Our religious mindsets blind us regardless of whether we are in the church or not. We have met people who consider themselves outside of the church system and yet are just as religious as anybody in a church. This is not about where we go or do not go, what we do or do not do, what we say or do not say – religion is an affair of the heart, and the heart rightfully belongs to only One. Seeing our religious prejudices how God sees them is an unveiling which begins in the spirit, and then brings change to the heart, mind and body. But change is often not easy for us to accept…
The Word: Church
English is a language which is evolving and constantly changing. There is nothing sacred about the word “church” although some may feel like there is due to their mindsets and what they have believed. The words we use are important. To use a word which means one thing to most people but something different to you and a few others, is to ask for misunderstanding. For instance, with the word “gay”, we don’t see many people trying to redeem the word to mean happy or insisting that they will use it by its original definition regardless of what it now means. Instead most people accept that the definition has changed and know what others mean when they use it. It is the same with us and the word “church”; why use a word that doesn’t mean what we think it should mean?
Most of us have thought of church as being Biblical; after all, didn’t Jesus say He was building His church? That is what our Bibles say He said and although we can go back to the original Greek and look back in time to see how we got this word “church”, it won’t achieve anything unless we have been given eyes to see things spiritually. Only God can open our eyes to see and accept Truth… so what is shared here is not for convincing you or condemning you if you don’t see what I have seen, but is given in the hope of watering the seeds which have been planted in the hearts of those who know they are called out of religion.
Most linguists agree that the word “church” is derived from the Greek word “kuriakos” which simply means “the Lord’s”. The word was used only twice in the Bible: in 1 Cor. 11:20 for “the Lord’s supper” and in Rev. 1:10 for “the Lord’s day”. It did not mean anything like what the word “church” means today! By the time the Roman Emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity in the year 313, another word had been added: doma. Kuriakos doma meant the Lord’s house or domicile, a building that was the Lord’s. When the Emperor declared Christianity to be Rome’s religion, he gave tax exemptions to the leaders of it, appointed Christians as high ranking officials, supported the church financially, and… built churches – “kuriakos doma”. However, the phrase “kuriakos doma” is not in the original Greek Scriptures at all.
The word commonly translated as “church” in the Bible was the Greek word “ekklesia” which simply meant a gathering or assembly. It was not a religious word, it was an every day word used in ancient Greece – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesia_(ancient_Athens). However, in the Greek language now, ekklesia means a church. Today derivations of “ekklesia” such as “iglesia” and “église” also mean “church” in Spanish and French.
The word “ekklesia” is a composite noun made up of two Greek words – “ek” meaning “out of or away from”, and “kaleo” meaning “called”. But just as composite nouns in English can’t be broken apart but instead make up a new word with a new meaning, so it is in the Greek. The meaning is changed from the individual parts of the word, into a new composite word with a new meaning and definition. For instance, we can’t take the word “outcome” and take it to mean “come out”. In the same way we can’t take “ekklesia” and think it means “called out” (I have written more about the Greek word “ekklesia” in “Assembly Required”). The word meant a gathering of people, or an assembly of people. It didn’t mean a church building or a temple.
Obviously we do have this word “church” in our Bibles and this is because in 1611 when the officially sanctioned English version of the Bible was produced by King James (who was the head of the church in England at the time) number three of the 15 rules the translators were given by him was:
“The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, viz.: the word ‘Church’ not to be translated ‘Congregation’ etc.” (The rules can be read here).
The reason he had to mandate this departure from the Greek meaning of the word “ekklesia” was because there had been a previous translation of the Bible into English by William Tyndale in which the word “ekklesia” was not translated as “church”. Instead “ekklesia” was translated as “congregation” even though there were churches around when Tyndale was alive. But the translators for King James were specifically commanded to translate ekklesia as “church” and also to not contradict the traditions of the established church of which he was the head. This accounts for many of the mistranslations still in our Bibles today.
Interestingly, William Tyndale did use the word “church” twice in his translation; in relation to pagans and their places of worship! This is what he wrote (obviously in old English): “Then Iupiters Preste which dwelt before their cite brought oxe and garlondes vnto the churche porche and wolde have done sacrifise with the people.” (Acts 14:13) “For ye have brought hyther these me whiche are nether robbers of churches nor yet despisers of youre goddes.” (Acts 19:37). This was written in 1525, 86 years before the King James version and it seems quite clear that in those days churches were places associated with idolatry and pagans (some would say they still are). Not once did Tyndale associate the word “ekklesia” with a building.
The House of God
Some people call the church “the house of God” and this phrase occurs in the New Testament six times and is from two Greek words: “oikos theos”. The word “oikos” (translated as both house and household or in some more recent translations as “family”) means an “inhabited house” or the “household of a house”, which obviously refers to people. The instances where the phrase “oikos theos” occurs in the New Testament are interesting. The phrase refers to people in 1 Timothy 3:15 and 1 Peter 4:17 and refers back to the temple of the Old Testament in all the other instances (Matt. 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4; Heb. 10:21). The writer of the book of Hebrews had been comparing the Old Testament temple to what we now have in Christ Who is the unseen, spiritual, heavenly House and Temple of God, NOT built with man’s hands here on earth.
The Scriptures make it very clear: the Temple of the Old Covenant was an example and parable until Christ came: “When God speaks of a new covenant, He makes the first one obsolete (out of use). And what is obsolete (out of use and annulled because of age) is ripe for disappearance and to be dispensed with altogether. Now even the first covenant had its own rules and regulations for divine worship and it had a sanctuary, but one of this world… Into the second division of the tabernacle none but the high priest goes… by this the Holy Spirit points out that the way into the true Holy of Holies is not yet thrown open as long as the former tabernacle remains a recognized institution and is still standing. Seeing that that first tabernacle was a parable (a visible symbol or type or picture of the present age)... But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the better things that have come and are to come, then through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not a part of this material creation, He went once for all into the Holy of Holies, not by virtue of the blood of goats and calves, but His own blood, having found and secured a complete redemption (an everlasting release for us). For Christ has not entered into a sanctuary (building) made with human hands, only a copy and pattern and type of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Heb. 8:13; 9:1,7-9,11,12,24 AMP).
Stephen, who was accused of saying: “this Jesus the Nazarene will tear down and destroy this place, and will alter the institutions and usages which Moses transmitted to us” (Acts 6:14) further enraged the Jews when he said, “It was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses and temples made with hands; as the prophet says, Heaven is My throne, and earth the footstool for My feet. What house can you build for Me, says the Lord, or what is the place in which I can rest? Was it not My hand that made all these things?” (Acts 7:47-50).
These verses mention a Building “not made with hands”. This was a radical and offensive shift from the earthly buildings and systems of Judaism (which were seen and made by man) to the heavenly which is spiritual and made by God. He had originally given the design for the temple but it had become an end in itself and had served its purpose; now Christ was in full view: “In Him the whole structure is joined (bound, welded) together harmoniously, and it continues to rise, grow and increase into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you yourselves also are being built up with the rest, to form a fixed abode (dwelling place) of God in (by, through) the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22 AMP).
“We consider and look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are visible are temporal (brief and fleeting), but the things that are invisible are deathless and everlasting” (2 Cor. 4:18). This House is spiritual but we humans delight in having something which WE can make, feel, touch, see, hear, name, go to and worship in the here and now on this earth; so we have churches.
The Assembly of God
You may well wonder why, if “ekklesia” means something different to church, the word has not been amended in subsequent translations of the Bible. Perhaps because few people today would buy a version without the word “church” in it! It would be unthinkable. The church has such deep roots in our society, traditions, beliefs, and culture. Two versions of the Bible were subsequently published without the word church in them though: Young’s Literal Translation in 1898 and earlier, in 1826, a translation of the New Testament called “A Living Oracle” by Dr Alexander Campbell. In the preface entitled “An Apology for a New Translation” is written the following:
“A LIVING language is constantly changing. Like the fashions and customs in apparel, words and phrases, at one time current and fashionable, in the lapse of time, become awkward and obsolete. But this is not all. Many of them, in a century or two, come to have a signification very different from that which was once attached to them. Nay, some are known to convey ideas not only different from, but contrary to, their first signification… that the common version [KJV] was made at a time when religious controversy was at its zenith; and the tenets of the translators whether designedly or undesignedly, did, on many occasions give a wrong turn to words and sentences bearing upon their favorite dogmas… But some are so wedded to the common version, that the very defects in it have become sacred; and an effort, however well intended, to put them in possession of one comparably superior in propriety, perspicuity, and elegance, is viewed very much in the light of ‘making a new Bible’ or of altering and amending the very word of God. Nay, some are prepared to doom every attempt of the kind, to the anathema, in the conclusion of the Apocalypse, upon those who add to the word of God, or subtract from it.” http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/oracles1st/preface.html
If you look in the Bible for the church as we know it, you cannot find it. The closest you will find is the temple system which Jesus said He would destroy and replace with Himself.
That is incredibly significant and yet many continue to unknowingly believe in and support a Judaistic type of an earthly temple, admiring churches that are large and impressive and even calling them “the house of God”. Those things appeal to our human senses and to our image of what we think is worthy of God. They appeal to our mind and emotions and so people confuse the soul with the spirit, and the emotional, cultural, and intellectual with the spiritual, and end up thinking that it is all of God when it is one unholy mixture. We desperately need Discernment… to discern not only Christ, but also to discern when something is simply appealing to our mind and emotions.
Substitutes for Christ
The focus of the church is on Self rather than on Christ: Salvation is for us, Heaven is for us, Fellowship is for us, Ministry is for us, Healing is for us, the Anointing is for us, Teaching is for us, Christ is for us, etc. etc.. Church is a place to go and get your needs met; whether it is your need to minister or your need to be ministered to, or your need to simply belong. SELF is the centre and circumference with God being presented as being like us – made in our image instead of us being transformed into His image.
“Since the Fall, blinded man has ever continued to make himself central. From his point of view, even in the religious realm, concepts and resulting methods become twisted until it often seems the church is presenting a God whose entire working is for man – his benefit, welfare, blessing and bliss. Some will admit they frankly feel this is the true work of the church. Who else is important? What else should we preach? Who else but man is important to God? Does not God Himself expend all His energies and purposes for man? Yes, until man has had a major rectification he will, even as a believer, be the very center of his very small universe – seeking to make all things serve himself.” (DeVern Fromke, “The Ultimate Intention”).
While I am not saying that everybody in the church is like this, many do cling religiously to the mistaken beliefs, teachings and traditions of man instead of allowing God to break through and shatter those and instead lead them to Truth Himself. While that breaking is very costly and uncomfortable, surely we don’t want to be holding onto things which WE think are sacred and yet which are simply the traditions of man! Otherwise we may be in danger of making void the Word of God for the sake of our traditions as Jesus said in Mark 7.
Often the church is a substitute for Christ in people’s lives. Church is their focus, their identity, what they live for, what they work for, what they love and fight for and they cannot comprehend leaving it. Ever. It is their life!
We are the assembly of those who have been called out by God – called out of all substitutes to know and experience the Reality and Truth of Christ and His Life! There is only One Who is our Life and Love, and through Him God has provided the Way to free us from Sin, Self, AND from all Substitutes. A substitute is a diabolical way of keeping us from the real and true because we are usually satisfied and quite happy with the substitute – that is exactly what it is designed to do. It is only when you have encountered the Real, the Most Excellent, the Truth, that the substitute is shown to be a lie, a counterfeit and a very poor imitation.
After reading this some may concede that even if the word “church” isn’t Biblical, the institution is still obviously of God because look at how people can find Jesus there and all the good it does in the community etc.. I would say to just look at how it takes the place of Christ and not only turns people off, but away from God. The fact is that He not only can, but does, use many people and many things which do not even acknowledge Him or know Him. We see this in the Bible and we see it now: He is God and He can utilize anything and anyone to reveal Truth! Just because He spoke through a donkey yesterday and uses a Hollywood movie tomorrow doesn’t mean those things are suddenly holy or sacred.
Just because God uses something or someone in a church to touch people’s lives doesn’t mean He either approves of it or is blessing it. I have heard Him speak through believers and through unbelievers; but what is more uncommon is holiness… God is holy, and every one who is wholly His, will have the same character.
Being “out of the institutional church” is an accepted and researched phenomena now, but the fact is that while many have heard the call to leave the church, very few have had the church leave them. Many have heard the call out, but not many have heard the call in (see Being Called). Most of us have years and years of deeply rooted religious beliefs that still need to be uncovered and pulled out. While I can no longer say that I am part of the church (which to me is wholly temporal and earthly), I can say that I am part of Christ and His Body (which to me is wholly eternal and heavenly).
There is a danger that we will stop and camp out with the last thing God showed us and not go on. Leaving church is only one step! We must KEEP listening, KEEP seeing, KEEP walking, KEEP on leaving all those things which God reveals as earthly and which are mere substitutes for the reality of Christ in our lives.
“The implications of any movement of God are not always recognized at the beginning, but if we go on with Him we shall find that much that is done here and is of time is – and has to be – left behind. The spiritual and the heavenly is pressing for a larger place and becoming absolutely imperative to the very life of the instrumentality and those concerned. It is spontaneous and just happens. We wake up to realize that we have moved into a new realm or position, and no amount of additional earthly resource can meet the need… The great pity is that so many just will cling to the old framework or partial vision. God presents His heavenly pattern in greater fulness and demands adjustment… But because it is ‘revolutionary’ or not ‘what has been in the blessing of God’ etc., etc., it is rejected and put aside… God in sovereignty will run the risk of shattering, or allow the shattering, of so much that He has used of scaffolding or framework in order to realize the fuller purpose… So, things may be taking a new and different shape, but the purpose of God is the same. We may be presented with His vision in new and further-on aspects, but it is only what He originally meant. Can we adjust? Can we leave “the things that are behind”? Without raising any questions as to the right or wrong of what has been, can we “go on” and “grow up”, “attain”?” (T. Austin-Sparks, “Vision and Vocation”).
God is delivering, separating, purifying, setting free and establishing what the enemy has always sought to destroy. Jesus IS building His called-out ones into an unseen, holy, heavenly Building of His design and making; He is calling us out of Sin, Self and Substitutes into Himself as The Place where God is… in Life, in Freedom, in Peace, Rest, Love and All that Christ Himself is!
Come and, like living stones, be yourselves built into a spiritual house, for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable and pleasing to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. 2:5