Comments

  1. Matt says

    Myles Munroe makes the “kingdom” vs “church” statement in his teachings about the kingdom of God, from the perspective that Jesus brought a kingdom with him, not a religion. The idea being that religion is a manmade entity. His point about church focuses mainly on the institution, or denominations, that many christians think about when they hear the word “church” His teachings about the “ekklesia” are along the lines of what your teachings are, in my opinion.
    I think the 100 times kingdom is mentioned over 2 times church statement only works when the ekklesia meaning is explained. Without the “ekklesia”, the kingdom is not manifested on the earth….etc.

  2. says

    Frank, I understand where you are coming from. It is my desire and I have had the privilege to participate in such “church” at various times in my life. At present, such an opportunity does not exist, but we are building into the lives of people (not yet or soon to become followers of Jesus), that we are hoping will participate in the church as Jesus wants it.

    For me personally though I do try to refrain from the word church. I like to explain it however possible using terms such as the Body of Christ and God’s people gathering in a certain place. I personally find it a challenge, but one that is an important journey for me to go through.

    Words are tools and sign posts in a linguistic sense. So long as people understand our meaning then that is the purpose of using a word.

    I commend you in your work of educating God’s people.

    May the Lord see his Bride come to completion and purity.

  3. says

    I think one of the basic obstacles we have to overcome is one of language. Far too often, we use the word “church” to refer to the organization, rather than the people, the body of Christ. Even when we use big-C “Church,” most people still think of it only as the organization.

    Of course, such a delineation merely highlights the fact that the “church” we are familiar with is different from that which Jesus spoke of. The shame is that if I say, “Church,” 90% of people will think first of the organization, rather than the body of Christ. The church was always meant to be an earthly incarnation of the Kingdom, a living example of Christ in the world. Unfortunately, such is not the case often enough, hence the confusion between the terms.

    • says

      Daniel: What’s even more difficult is that the idea that “church” refers to all Christians (a very popular concept) is also wrong. In the NT, “ekklesia” always refers to an assembly of people. That’s what the word meant in Century One. It has in view a community of people who assemble regularly. So it’s not just “God’s people,” but God’s people who assemble together in a given place. This meaning is revolutionary to most believers as it’s so often mistaught. More here using a metaphor: http://frankviola.org/2009/08/18/why-i-love-the-church-in-praise-of-gods-eternal-purpose

      • says

        That’s a good post. It highlights the fact that we don’t currently seem to possess adequate vocabulary to accurately convey the concept. “Church” just means too many different things to different people. And, “ekklesia,” while appropriate, isn’t immediately known to most people, especially those would consider themselves “unchurched.”

        Having to explain the nuanced differences in the word “church” so that we can even have a meaningful discussion about it seems self-defeating, in a way. It seems like it would be better to come up with a unique term, and then define it from the beginning, thereby eliminating confusion and the needless animosity that comes from people getting defensive about their own personal definitions.

        Seems to me like there is an opportunity here.

        • says

          Daniel: See my comment to Paul about “a noble goal.” Sounds good on paper. But I’ve never seen anyone successfully do it who is writing and speaking to God’s people at large. What typically happens when this has been tried is people will say “oh, they aren’t talking about “real church,” but something else and that’s cool” … and then go on supporting and participating in the status quo. So at least for me, I’m redeeming the meaning and intent of God when it comes what church (ekklesia) really is. And showing how far the mainstream understanding has strayed from it. So far that course has been extremely effective. See http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org – your mileage may vary of course.

  4. says

    In fact, the word “church” is unhelpful. It is probably more clear to use the word “ekklesia” so as to distinguish from the semantic shift that has occurred with the word church. We may like to “steal the word church back again”, but perhaps it needs a generation or two rest before it can be used properly.

    Let’s allow the word “church” to lie as a fallow field for a couple generations. Let’s strive to find new ways to explain the concepts that truly explain what Christ intends for his bride, body, kingdom, ekklesia, etc, etc.

    “Church” just confuses everyone.

    • says

      Paul: A nobel goal. If you can have conversations with the general Christian populace without ever uttering the word “church” and have them understand you, I tip my hat to you. I’ve never been able to pull that off successfully.

  5. Mark says

    Hi Frank,

    “Reimagining Church” was a very well written book. I enjoyed it a lot.

    I can see how you use the idea of a “triune Godhead” as a model for the church, and how it should function. I would think that using the apostolic model in the new testament would be enough though, as the idea of a triune God or “trinity” is a later development (fourth…fifth century?) and unknown to first century christians.

    Sure, the “trinity” can be vaguely inferrred from scripture, but only by taking a passage from here and another from there…you know, the “cut and paste” method =). There is nothing in scripture that unambiguously explains or teaches such a notion. The Apostles didn’t teach it, so why should we?

    I hope you will consider looking closer at this doctrine as see it for what it really is: an addition to scripture.

    I look forward to further discussion on this matter.

    Mark

    • says

      Mark: Glad you enjoyed “Reimagining Church.” The fact that God is triune, Father, Son and Spirit, is attested all over the NT. It’s not something I care to debate. I’ve had those debates long ago with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the United Pentecostals, and the Mormons and their explanations failed to satisfy me. If you are open to the subject, I’d suggest you read all the books I reference in “Reimagining Church” on the question. “Community 101″ is a great place to begin. http://www.ptmin.org/library – I’d also add “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. The other books I reference are much more sophisticated.

  6. Mark says

    Hi Frank,

    I will see if I can read “Reimagining Church” soon. I will be interested to see how you tie everything together.

    I don’t agree with you when you say, “That God is triune is without dispute biblically.” I don’t think that scripture supports such a notion, but I will read what you have to say on the matter in “Reimagining Church”.

    Mark

  7. Mark says

    Hi Frank,

    I enjoyed reading this, as well as “Pagan Christianity”. It is refreshing to see someone who has taken the time to research the early (1st century) church and how it functioned as opposed to what we call “church” today.

    I would challenge you to rethink your position on the “trinity”, as I do not believe that such a concept/doctrine was ever imagined, let alone taught, in the 1st century church.

    Mark

    • says

      Mark: Forget the doctrine called “the Trinity.” That God is triune is without dispute biblically. And the church doesn’t make sense without that understanding. Read “Reimagining Church” to understand that sentence. Pagan Christianity ISN’T a stand alone book. You’ve only heard one end of a conversation. The other half is in “Reimagining” and I discuss the Godhead there.

  8. says

    Adam: They are distinct, but not separate. You can’t separate them anymore than you can separate light from visibility. The kingdom is God’s society, the manifestation of God’s rule and God’s presence. That’s what the church is called to be — the kingdom community.

    Often what we call “church” isn’t. See my article on “Why I Love the Church” in the archives (at the top menu).

  9. says

    The following explanation may be a little long but I think it is important to think about the history of the language and that part of the problem is that the word “church” does originally refer to a “place”. The word ekklesia should have never been interpreted into the English word “church”. People did “go to church” – church was the place that followers of Jesus Christ met. Language matters – it can shape ideas and behaviors. I feel that continuing to use the word “church” is an obstacle to communities of followers of Jesus Christ. Read the following and let me know what you think.

    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” and at some point the “places” that christians met started being 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”.

  10. Angela says

    Great article, Frank. And let me say THANK YOU for getting rid of the horrible white on black posting on your old blog background!

  11. Jay Ferris says

    Thanks Frank,

    Much needed in light of some of the new labels that are being offered for the same old snake oil. Now how about addressing the timing of the new birth in light of a wedding that hasn’t yet taken place. :-)

    Love!

    • says

      Yep. And understanding what the kingdom really is, that can be translated “seek first the Lord Jesus Christ” … or as Paul put it in Colossians “that He might have the first place in all things.”

  12. says

    Since FB is not the best place to discuss and from your encouragement Frank I thought I’d bring my questions here. Sorry for the late engagement of the conversation here but work is now done and I can sit for spell and digest this some more.

    You said, “they were the embryonic expression of the ekklesia” yes I can see that, but wasn’t this expression only born with the coming of the Holy Spirit? Why didn’t the writers of the gospels look back when writing the Gospels and describe themselves as a church by using that word? It would be more accurate to say that they described themselves as a band of disciples awkwardly fumbling forward and seeking to enter into the kingdom which Christ was describing, no?

    Is it important that they in large part did not choose to use the word “church” in their writings until Acts and the epistles? I agree there is great need to look beyond this popular cliche but is it just to say that it doesn’t really exist? I always choose my words for a reason and the reality is that the Gospel writers were burdened by the Holy Spirit to describe Christ as one passionate about the concepts of being a disciple, entering into the kingdom and describing what that kingdom looked like.

    Obviously there’s more to what I’m saying and asking here but this is a start…

    • says

      JC, the ekklesia was certainly born in Jerusalem, but it was clearly embryonic and a proto-type in Galilee with Jesus and the 20. See “Finding Organic Church” for details on that point. And Jesus makes many references to the church where He doesn’t use the word “ekklesia” — I just listed a few in the article as examples.

      Note that the Gospel writers rarely inserted back into their documents verbiage that was used later on after Jesus ascended. For instance. they never called themselves “Christians” or “believers” in the Gospels, but those terms are profuse in the other NT writings. We also have to keep in mind the Aramaic in the Gospels and the Greek in the other NT writings. For this reason, “kingdom of heaven” is used in the Gospels, but not in the Greek writings of the NT. Equivalents are used instead in these kinds of cases. And so it is also with “Godhead”, “church,” “justification”, etc.

  13. George Dunn says

    Amen, some time ago I was challenged to adjust my vocabulary away from the word church (from the German Kirke or circe (circle) and find another phrase to use that is not such a culturally loaded word. It helps if I talk about the “redeemed community” or the “community of the King’ or the saints gathered etc. If we stop talking about “the church” and find some more acccurately descriptive phrase we will perhaps find that we are able to communicate mnore effectively. After all…communication is not what you say it’s what is heard. henI talk about the “church” to most people those walls immediatly go up or they have that picture in theor heads and I have to spend all my time trying to get them to understand that I am nottalking about an institution, a sacred place of worship, an organization or a “group gathered for the purpose of…”

    I must admit I was helped earky ion by Howard “The Problem of
    Wineskins” and ‘The community of the KIng”. Let’s first define our terms before we attempt to commuhnicate with those who may misunderstand what it is we are talking aobut.

  14. Bill Bremer says

    The church is in the kingdom. When we envision the church from God’s view, we are seated in Christ in heavenly places. I recommend reading the following scripture to bring balance to this discussion. Coloss 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
    Eph 2 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus:
    Heb 12:22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than [that of] Abel.
    Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

  15. says

    Dan Kimball asked me what I think the church is over on Facebook.

    Since it’s hard for me to follow discussions on Facebook … not to mention that they cut off any lengthy comments … I’m answering here.

    The long answer is in my book “Reimagining Church” which discusses not only what the church is, but its practices and its leadership from a NT perspective.

    Here’s my short answer:

    “Our English word church is translated from the Greek word ekklesia. When we hear the word church, one of the following images usually pops into our heads: a building with a steeple on it; a Sunday morning service; a denomination; a pastor; a pulpit; pews; a worship team (or choir); and a sermon. Or we think of all the Christians in the entire world. Like ‘nice’ and ‘pagan,’ the word ekklesia has morphed since the first century. Back then, it did not mean “called out ones” as is sometimes taught. Consistently, the word meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in the community were “called forth” from their private lives to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for their city. Consequently, the word also carries the flavor of every-member participation in decision-making. According to the New Testament, the church of Jesus Christ is not a place where one buries the dead and marries the living. It’s a community of people who gather together and who possess a shared life in Christ. As such, the ekklesia is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it.” (“From Eternity to Here”, pp. 280-281).

    In “Why I Love the Church” (http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/why-i-love-the-church-in-praise-of-gods-eternal-purpose/) I discuss the MASSIVE confusion on the meaning of the word “church” today and why it’s so difficult to talk about it.

  16. Kellie says

    Well stated Frank !! and I agree with both Rick and you… The church has been so diluted that the true life and culture of the Kingdom have been lost .. I recenlty met a physician in California who is a muslim, and when a pastor friend of mine, who was his patient asked him about “his religion” the physician corrected him and said “its not my religion , it’s my culture.” I thought about that statement for sometime.. The physician went on to explain what he meant about his “culture” and the lifestyle
    that goes with that culture..

    The modern church, atleast in America, has sadly become a sub-culture of American culture. The Church is poluted and greatly diluted.

    I am looking for something authentic.. My heart is to live life with those of like prescious faith.. I am looking for kingdom relationships, a shared life, and to be the expression of God in the earth with other like minded brothers and sisters .

  17. Brian Harrison says

    Many subjects are hidden in the word. For instance, God is never mentioned in the book of Esther but His presence is everyone assumed and profoundly manifested in the end. In some respects it could be said that marriage is not mentioned much in the Bible except when Jesus says something about divorce and Ephesians 5. But in actuality it was one of the grand themes of the entire scriptures as it relates to God and His people. The superficial will always miss the point.

    You have shown well, Frank, that the church is part of the grand theme of the scriptures even if it isn’t explicit on the surface.

  18. Rick says

    I think the problem is the church looks more like a club than it does the church. People want to throw out the concept because we’ve warped it so much.
    I agree, you can’t separate the Kingdom and the Church. I also like what you are saying about the church’s importance.
    The problem I see is when will we stop looking at the Kingdom of God as something that’s going to come (it’s already here) and when will we stop seeing the church as something we “Go to” rather than something we “Are?”

    • says

      Rick, I agree that the part of the problem is what most people think of when they hear the word “church.” The concept has been lost.

      In the NT, it’s primarily a shared life community that assembles regularly under the headship of Jesus and makes Him visible.

      That concept and — its practice — is not known by most Christians.

      The church also shouldn’t be confused with “the work” which was the traveling, moving, going-out association of apostolic workers.

      I actually think that a “club” as in a college club is much closer to the NT concept. Because in a college club, the members are (often) living a shared life together. Many college clubs (in their home meetings at least not in the big huge events they have) are experiencing organic church life, though they don’t realize it.

      The modern concept and practice of church, I think, is much closer to a “show” that people attend and watch once or twice a week. This is foreign to the NT idea and reality.

      • cindy says

        I so agree with both Rick and Frank: the Kingdom IS here, and we ARE the Church! We in our local home church, and in my own family, follow a number of the apostolic ministers, and I’ve never heard a one of them “pit” the Church against the Kingdom. Never. So I’m a bit confused; maybe you all are clued in to some ministries that do that, of which I’m not aware. The ones I know, are teaching the Church as the Bride, the family, etc… and the Kingdom as God’s rule over all things. And they’re trying to get Jesus’ Bride out of the castle once in a while, to engage in Kingdom activity. -as opposed to the typical trying to be such an awesome church, that everyone in town wants to go there (yikes). One of them brilliantly explained how King James had his translators use a variation of the Scottish word for church “kirk” (meaning what we know of local church body), in place of ekklesia wherever they could (meaning a legislative, ruling body). He wanted to remain the head of the church of England. Thereby, inviting centuries of identity crisis for Christians, and relegating us to settle for ‘bomb shelter Christianity hiding in the four walls waiting for the Rapture’. It’s not ‘either or’, but ‘both and’. We ARE the Church, and we need to expand our view of ourselves as co-heirs w/ the Lord in our lives and spheres of influence. The Western Church has incrementally lost her voice,stopping at being the Bride and family of God, and falling short of our assignment to rule and reign with Him.

        • says

          It’s very common in the USA. The line “Jesus only mentioned the church 2x and the Kingdom over 100x” is repeated ad nauseam by many leaders, even though it’s a misguided statement.

  19. says

    This honestly shows how little of seminary I’ve gone through. I didn’t even know that this was an argument (that the Kingdom is more important or that the church simply isn’t important). I’m so glad you’ve tackled this issue head on and I look forward to any more writing you might do on the subject.

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