About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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The reason why I no longer like the word "church" is not because of those who claim "they go to church", even though that claim isn't Scripturally possible.  It's because today's concept of church isn't Biblical.  In fact much of today's church is more of a reflection of its members than it is of Jesus, even though He is the head of the church. (Ephesians 5:23)  So, if we read the word "church" in our English Bibles with today's popular misconception, we completely miss New Testament teaching about church.  We then pass on this misunderstanding to those around us, as we've done for quite some time now.


The word "church" that's found in our English Bibles is translated from the Greek word "ecclesia".  "Ecclesia" in first century Roman culture, when the New Testament was written, wasn't a religious word as our word "church" is today.  "Ecclesia" meant any group of people who were joined together for a specific purpose.  For example, in Acts 19:32 and 41 "ecclesia" is portrayed as a "riotous mob", and no, the mob wasn't a church in this instance.     


A "Christian ecclesia" is simply a group of people who belong to the Lord Jesus for the purpose of representing Him to the world.  In fact Jesus said that He'd put together "His own ecclesia" in Matthew 16:18.


With this in mind, I'd like to quote a few Bible verses and substitute the word "church" with the words "those who belong to Jesus", or something similar.  If we could make this substitution in our thinking, in our vocabulary, and even in our Bible translations, we'd better understand church.


Matthew 16:18 in the NIV reads, "... I (Jesus) will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it".  My version reads, "… I (Jesus) will knit together 'people who belong to me' and the gates of Hades will not overcome them".  Notice that I replaced the impersonal word "it" that's in the NIV with the more personal word "them".  Church should be more about "them" than it is about "it", don't you think? 


Jesus said that the gates of Hades would not overtake "those who He has knit together as His own people".  He did not say that our attempts at building churches would be protected from Hades.  This is why many so-called "churches" are falling by the wayside today. 


Galatians 1:1 and 2 in the NIV reads, "Paul … to the churches in Galatia".  My version reads, "Paul … to 'the bodies of people who belong to Jesus' in the province of Galatia".  Paul is writing to real live people, not to a number of organizational structures that are recognizable by their distinctive structures. 


Revelation 3:14 in the NIV reads, "to the angel of the church at Laodicea".  My version reads, "to the angel 'of those who belong to Jesus' in Laodicea".  I live in a city called Belleville.  If this verse was directed towards Belleville instead of Laodicea, the text wouldn't read "to the 'churches' in Belleville ", even though there are many so-called "churches" in Belleville.  The English text would read, "to the church (singular) in Belleville.  My version would read, "to the people who belong to Jesus in Belleville".  There's one group of people who belong to Jesus in Belleville, and let me say this; not all those who fall under the umbrella of church in Belleville belong to Jesus. 


Many will say I'm splitting ecclesiastical hairs at this point, but I don't think I am.  Saying "to those who belong to Jesus in Belleville " implies something altogether different than saying "to churches in Belleville". 


Replacing the word "church" with the words "those who belong to Jesus" puts the emphases on real live and active human beings who belong to Jesus.  Our faulty concept of church puts the emphasis on corporate organizational structures and all that goes along with them.  We can no longer afford to maintain this faulty understanding that hinders us from properly representing Jesus to the world.    


1 Corinthians 16:19 in the NIV reads, "the churches in the province of Asia send you greetings.  Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord and so does the church that meets in their house".   My version reads, "'those bodies of people who belong to Jesus in the province of Asia send you greetings.  Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord and so do 'those who belong to Jesus' who gather in their home'".  


Just in case you think I'm tampering with the Word of God, I remind you that I derive my version of the above verses from the meaning of the word "ecclesia" as it was used by both Jesus and Paul.  I don't derive my version from an English word that has lost its meaning, or, maybe never had a Biblical meaning in the first place.


My point is simple.  Chur…, or, "that word we'll now attempt to stop using", is simply people who belong to Jesus and are actively representing Him in everyday life.  If you don't belong to Jesus, it doesn't mater what chur…; "O, there's that word again", you say you go to. 


By saying these things, I'm not ignoring functional structure which includes leadership within those who belong to Jesus.  I'm simply putting these things in their  proper Biblical place.  Jesus doesn't categorize His people into a myriad of doctrinal and organizational structures.  He isn't a corporate CEO.  If He was, we should turn our offering plates into stock options and offer them on the New York Stock Exchange.  Can you imagine the average "church goer" seeing the value of his shares in the "First Church of the Chosen" fall from $32.21 a share to $25.43 a share.  It would probably cause him to invest in the church down the street. 


Jesus also doesn't differentiate between those who sit in pews from those who sit on platforms and stand behind pulpits.  Actually, the words "sit", "pew", "platform", and "pulpit", have little to do with New Testament thinking.  Jesus sees one body of people belonging to Him with the sole purpose of representing Him to a lost world.  Each person belonging to Jesus has his own particular part to play in representing Jesus.  No one person is more important than the other.  That should put the pulpit and platform in proper perspective.


If I belong to Jesus, I belong to every other person who belongs to Jesus as well, despite our differences. That being said, Jesus has placed individuals in close proximity to a few others who belong to Him.  From these relationships, ministry to others should emerge.  Emerging ministries, by the mere definition of the word "ministry", means they are not self-serving, as many ministries are.  Ministry is serving others in the attempt to bring them into relationship with Jesus.  What we want to call "church" is all about people who belong to Jesus, selflessly serving those who don't belong to Jesus.     

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