This is a major reformat of the original article, originally written Sep 2012, last edited Oct 2016. There is no significantly new or changed information in this new version. The old version is archived at http://www.wiebefamily.org/church_old.htm.
This word has a long history, and it is important to know that history.
The Greek word from which the English word "church" is always translated is εκκλησια (Strong's G1577, "ekklesia") which is a combination of εκ (Strong's G1537, "ek") which means "out," the -κλησ- ("-kles-") part, which is based on the irregular verb/noun/adjective "καλεω/κλησις/κλητος" (Strong's G2564/G2821/G2822, "kaleo/klesis/kletos") which means "call/calling/called." That's the verb "call" as in "I call you," the noun "calling," as in "You have a calling," or the adjective "called," as in "we are the called ones." The -ια suffix in Koine Greek works just like the English -ia suffix in English words, which generalizes it into a class designation, like in "militia" or "academia," for example. Putting these together make "out-call-ia, although that is too awkward to keep saying so, henceforth, we can just say "out-calling." εκκλησια ("ekklesia") is always used as a noun, which means "out-calling" (a group or class of people "called out" for some purpose).
That's all it means. It is a secular term with no intrinsic spiritual or religious meaning.
Long before the time of Christ, the Greeks in that region had local governing bodies for making community decisions in each locality, and each of them were referred to as an εκκλησια. This is very much the same as what we have here in New England. The town in which I live does not have a mayor. It has a board of selectmen. These men are responsible for executive decision-making in the town and represent the town's interests in official matters.
Now, here is the important point to get, and make sure that you get it: This board of selectmen is the out-calling. The out-calling does meet together to confer and make decisions, and there may be a customary meeting place in the town hall to do so, but the out-calling is not the meeting; it is the body of people who are called-out. The selectmen must meet to accomplish their purpose, since any individual of them is insufficient; they must operate as a body.
When the Christians came along, they hijacked this word, in a good way, and applied it to themselves as a group and as a body, the body of Christ. They remembered the words of Jesus in Matt 16:18, "...upon this, the rock, I will be building of me the εκκλησια, and gates of hades will not be prevailing..." and recognized that they were called out from the kingdoms of this world to the Kingdom of God by Jesus, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The Greek εκκλησια was a highly fitting analogy, so they began calling themselves the εκκλησια, the out-calling, in a general sense, as well as in each locality. Jesus had conferred upon them the authority to represent him in his stead, given that he was now in heaven and they were still on the earth. They weren't part of this world, but they certainly were a spiritual governing body.
Now, just to prove from the Bible that the word εκκλησια means "out-calling" and not necessarily anything like what we would call "church," I will cite a couple of instances in the Bible where it cannot possibly mean "church."
In Matthew 18, Jesus says that in an issue about someone sinning against you, you first go to him privately, then if he doesn't listen, take with you one or two others. If he won't listen at that point, he says to tell it to the "church," or at least that's the word most translations use.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church [εκκλησια]; and if he refuses to listen even to the church [εκκλησια], let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17, NASB'95)Here's the problem: There was no "church" at that time. There was just Jesus roaming around with his disciples from place to place. How are these listeners supposed to take a dispute to a nonexistent "church"? The word is εκκλησια, which is out-calling, and they would need to appeal to whatever out-calling was applicable to them. In their case, it would likely be a Jewish synagogue, but that word would refer to the assembly and meeting (Jewish "church," as I will soon explain); they would need to go to those out-called within that synagogue, and not just anybody or everybody in the synagogue. But, there was no "church" to escalate the problem to, in any sense that we understand "church" today.
Then, in Acts 19, there is the account of the riot in Ephesus, after Demetrius the silversmith and his fellow craftsmen got the whole city into an uproar. The word εκκλησια is used three times there, each time translated "assembly," not "church." In the first and last instance of the word, it was referring to the mob as an εκκλησια, that is, out-calling. The mob was called-out by Demetrius and his angry cohorts. In the second instance, the city clerk tells the crowd that they should not riot, but instead make their appeal to a legal εκκλησια, that is, legal out-calling, in the courts where there were proconsuls.
So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly [εκκλησια] was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? So, since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly [εκκλησια]. For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s events, since there is no real cause for it, and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.” After saying this he dismissed the assembly [εκκλησια]. (Acts 19:32-41, NASB'95)This proves from the Bible that εκκλησια doesn't automatically, or always, mean "church" in any sense that we understand the term, "church." If the Greek word εκκλησια intrinsically referred to an institution, congregation, or consecrated assembly, then why in Acts 19 is it used to refer to an unruly, renegade mob? Acts 19 contradicts such a categorization of the word εκκλησια.
Meanwhile, the Greek, including the New Testament, had words that were associated with assembly, meeting, congregation, and so on, all of which have the preposition or prefix συν (Strong's G4862, "sun"), which means "together." There is συν-αθροιζω (Strong's G4867, "sunathroizo"), which means "convene," and in Acts 19:25 Demetrius "convened together the workers of like occupation" and conferred with them about the problem that the Christians were causing them. Then, there is συν-ερχομαι (Strong's G4905, "sunerchomai"), which means "come together," and in the case of the mob in the city, it is written in Acts 19:32 about the mob that "most of them didn't even know why they had come together." Then there is the verb συν-αγω (G4863, "sunago"), which means gather together, like in Acts 13:44, where "on the sabbath almost the whole city was gathered to hear the word." Then there is the noun form of that word, συν-αγογη (Strong's G4864, "sunagoge"), which is where we get the English transliteration, "synagogue," Latin character for Greek character, sound for sound, which is actually the Bible word used to describe what we would today call a "church," although even today, it is only ever used to refer to a Jewish "church."
That last word is important, because that is the long-time Jewish counterpart of "church" today, and is still used to refer to the churches that the Jewish meet in! All Christians were Jews up until Acts chapter 10, so if they wanted to say "church" they would have used the correct word for it: συναγογη, synagogue. But they didn't! And, there is nothing intrinsically Jewish about the word συναγογη. We could legitimately call all our Christian churches "synagogues," except that language tradition has identified this word only with Jewish churches. But, if you compare what the Jews do in their "synagogues" with what today's Christians do in their "churches," it is much the same organization and routine, in a designated building, with the exception of the doctrine taught being different.
Last, let's look at the verse in the Bible colloquially rendered by people, for all practical intents and purposes, "Let us not stop going to church, as some are in the habit of doing." That is Hebrews 10:25, and that is not what Hebrews 10:25 actually says, but the way people use it, you would think it said that. However, it does not use εκκλησια. It uses a form of συναγογη, just adding the preposition or prefix επι-, which means "upon," to make επι-συναγογη. The translation is actually "Let us not stop meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing."
Now, remember the distinction: εκκλησια is who we are, the out-calling. συναγογη is synagogue, a congregation and place to meet. συναγογη should be translated "church," but isn't. εκκλησια is translated "church," but shouldn't. What happened?
What happened has to do with the Roman Catholic Church and the transliteration of the word εκκλησια into Latin, the language of the Romans. Now, if you were to translate the word εκκλησια, Latin could accommodate that. It would be translated "ex vocavit," which means "out-called." Latin also had words that would correspond to "congregation," which would be "congregatio" or "coetus" or "coitus." It had words for "assembly," which would be "coetus" or "contio" or "conventus" or "conventiculum" or "comitiatus" or "corrogatio" or "coitus" or "conrogatio." I'm sure you recognize some of these as Latin roots to corresponding English words, like "congregation," "convention," and so on.
What happened was that in the beginning era of the Roman Catholic Church in the fourth century, the Roman Catholic Church transliterated εκκλησια to create a new Latin word, ecclesia. This word is an invention by transliteration, Latin character for Greek character, sound for sound. Why did they do that?
Let's look at the history of that word. I searched the entire classics library of Tufts University in Boston, which has been digitized and is easily searchable, for all instances of "ecclesia" in Latin literature. You can do this, too: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/wordfreq?lookup=ecclesia&lang=latin&sort=max
Now, realize, as it should be obvious, that available Latin literature is immense and covers many centuries, including during the rise of the Roman Empire, which displaced the Greek Empire from which Koine Greek became the lingua franca during the conquests of Alexander the Great of Greece.
The first instance is a single instance of such a transliteration by Pliny the Younger in 110-113 AD, obviously secular, in which he was writing a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan in Latin and referred to a Greek municipal εκκλησια, which had nothing to do with Christians. Pliny the Younger was the Roman imperial governor of the province of Bithynia and Pontus (cf. NT Acts 2:9, 16:7, 18:2, 1 Pet 1:1) in Asia in 110-113 AD. This would be a Greek-speaking province, so he arbitrarily took the liberty of transliterating the Greek word into Latin, since this is the only time it is used in all his writings, which together count 66670 words.
Prior to this in history, a search for the word in all previous Latin literature comes up empty.
C. Plinius Traiano Imperatori
Ecdicus, domine, Amisenorum civitatis petebat apud me a Iulio Pisone denariorum circiter quadraginta milia donata ei publice ante viginti annos bule et ecclesia consentiente, utebaturque mandatis tuis, quibus eius modi donationes vetantur. Piso contra plurima se in rem publicam contulisse ac prope totas facultates erogasse dicebat. Addebat etiam temporis spatium postulabatque, ne id, quod pro multis et olim accepisset, cum eversione reliquae dignitatis reddere cogeretur. Quibus ex causis integram cognitionem differendam existimavi, ut te, domine, consulerem, quid sequendum putares. (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0139:book=10:letter=110&highlight=ecclesia)
To the Emperor Trajan
The solicitor to the treasury of the city of Amisis instituted a claim, Sir, before me against Julius Piso of about forty thousand denarii, presented to him by the public above twenty years ago, with the consent of the general council and [ecclesia] of the city: and he founded his demand upon certain of your edicts, by which donations of this kind are prohibited. Piso, on the other hand, asserted that he had conferred large sums of money upon the community, and, indeed, had thereby expended almost the whole of his estate. He insisted upon the length of time which had intervened since this donation, and hoped that he should not be compelled, to the ruin of the remainder of his fortunes, to refund a present which had been granted him long since, in return for many good offices he had done the city. For this reason, Sir, I thought it necessary to suspend giving any judgment in this cause till I shall receive your directions. (http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_plinyltrstrajan.htm)
Obviously, this is just another reference to a secular "out-calling," probably similar to that spoken of in Acts 19:39. One of the hot topics of his correspondence with the Roman emperor around this time was what to do about the Christians, as a legal matter. The Roman government was persecuting Christians, particularly because of their lack of allegiance to the Roman gods. Pliny himself would be responsible for executing Christians just for being Christians, so it is unthinkable that he would consider a "church," as we would call it, as having any bearing upon legal matters.
The next four occurrences are by Tertullian (160-225 AD), the first Christian author to produce works in Latin. All four references are in De Spectaculis ("Of the Games"), written around the turn of the century, where he employs the transliteration of εκκλησια only four times, all highly figuratively.
This is about 90 years after the one occurrence by Pliny the Younger!
Excerpt from chapter 25:
Avertat deus a suis tantam voluptatis exitiosae cupiditatem! Quale est enim de ecclesia dei in diaboli ecclesiam tendere, de caelo, quod aiunt, in caenum? Illas manus quas ad deum extuleris postmodum laudando histrionem fatigare? Ex ore, quo Amen in Sanctum protuleris, gladiatori testimonium reddere, εἰς αἰῶνας ἀπ αἰῶνος alii omnino dicere nisi deo et Christo? (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:2008.01.0571:chapter=25&highlight=ecclesiam%2Cecclesia)
May God avert from His own such a passion for murderous pleasure! The nature of the [ecclesia] is directed for it is said of the [ecclesiam] of the devil, from the sky, as they say, into the mire? Those hands you have uplifted to God, to tire them out clapping an actor later on? Out of the mouth, which, in the Holy Ghost, Amen, I have uttered a gladiator to pay, εἰς αἰῶνας ἀπ αἰῶνος other whatever but to God and Christ? (Google Translate)
May God avert from His own such a passion for murderous pleasure! For what sort of conduct is it to go from the [ecclesia] of God to the [ecclesiam] of the devil? from sky to stye, as the proverb has it? those hands you have uplifted to God, to tire them out clapping an actor? with those lips, with which you have uttered Amen over the Holy Thing, to cheer for a gladiator? To say for ever and ever to any other whatever but to God and Christ? (http://www.archive.org/stream/apologydespectac00tertuoft#page/290/mode/2up/search/ecclesia*)
Excerpt from chapter 27:
Non quasi aliquid illic pati possis ab hominibus (nemo te cognoscit Christianum), sed recogita, quid de te fiat in caelo. Dubitas illo enim momento, quo diabolus in ecclesia furit, omnes angelos prospicere de caelo et singulos denotare, quis blasphemiam dixerit, quis audierit, quis linguam, quis aures diabolo adversus deum ministraverit? (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Tert.+Spect.+27&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2008.01.0571 )
It is not possible for a man to suffer, as if something there (nobody recognizes you for a Christian), but think well, what it means for you in heaven. Doubt but that at the moment when the devil in [ecclesia] rages, all the angels look forth from heaven, and mark down any one of the blasphemy and that has listened, the tongue of a man, who will minister to the ears of the devil, against God? (Google Translate)
I do not suggest that you can run any risk there of suffering from men--nobody recognizes you for a Christian; but think well over it, what it means for you in heaven. Do you doubt but that at that very moment when the devil is raging in his [ecclesia], all the angels look forth from heaven, and mark down man by man, how this one has spoken blasphemy and that has listened, the one has lent his tongue, the other his ears, to the devil, against God? (http://www.archive.org/stream/apologydespectac00tertuoft#page/290/mode/2up/search/ecclesia*)
Excerpt from chapter 29:
Quae maior voluptas quam fastidium ipsius voluptatis, quam saeculi totius contemptus, quam vera libertas, quam conscientia integra, quam vita sufficiens, quam mortis timor nullus? Quod calcas deos nationum, quod daemonia expellis, quod medicinas facis, quod revelationes petis, quod deo vivis? Haec voluptates, haec spectacula Christianorum sancta perpetua gratuita; in his tibi circenses ludos interpretare, cursus saeculi intuere, tempora labentia, spatia peracta dinumera, metas consummationis exspecta, societates ecclesiarum defende, ad signum dei suscitare, ad tubam angeli erigere, ad martyrum palmas gloriare. (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:2008.01.0571:chapter=29&highlight=ecclesiarum)
What has more joy, than of God the Father and of the reconciliation of the Lord, than the revelation of truth, the recognition of error, the great sins of pardon? What greater pleasure is there than to distaste for pleasure, than the contempt of the whole world, than true liberty, than a clean conscience, than life sufficient, than the fear of death? That trampling underfoot the gods of the Gentiles, expelling demons, effecting cures, seeking revelations, which, living to God? These are the pleasures, the spectacles of Christians, holy, eternal, and free; these things have to games of the circus, the course of the world, the seasons slipping by, count the goals of the end of wait, companies of the [ecclesiarum], to the signal of God, to the angels of the trumpet, to establish, to the palms of martyrdom. (Google Translate)
What has more joy in it than reconciliation with God, the Father and Lord, than the revelation of truth, the recognition of error, and forgiveness for all the great sins of the past? What greater pleasure is there than disdain for pleasure, than contempt for the whole world, than true liberty, than a clean conscience, than life sufficient, than the absence of all fear of death? than to find yourself trampling underfoot the gods of the Gentiles, expelling demons, effecting cures, seeking revelations, living to God? These are the pleasures, the spectacles of Christians, holy, eternal, and free. Here find your games of the circus, -- watch the race of time, the seasons slipping by, count the circuits, look for the goal of the great consummation, battle for the companies of the [ecclesiarum], rouse up at the signal of God, stand erect at the angel's trump, triumph in the palms of martyrdom. (http://www.archive.org/stream/apologydespectac00tertuoft#page/290/mode/2up/search/ecclesia*)
So far, in these scant references that are all just deliberate transliterations of the Greek word εκκλησια, there is no association with a building or an earthly organization.
This is all there is prior to the writings in the late fourth century (nearly 200 years later!) of St. Jerome (50 occurrences), St. Augustine (109 occurrences), the Roman soldier/historian Ammianus Marcellinus (11 occurrences), the Roman Christian poet Prudentius (6 occurrences), and the Roman poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius (1 occurrence), all contemporaries of each other, during the rise of the Roman Catholic church. At that point, and especially with St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible (164 occurrences), which he started in 382 AD, the instances of the Latin word "ecclesia" become too frequent to number, you start seeing the association between "ecclesia" and buildings, parishes, and such, and ultimately the Roman Catholic Church as an institution becomes identified as being the "ecclesia."
Now, this would certainly suit the Roman Catholic Church. It's less-educated subjects, who did not know Greek, would ask, "What is this word, ecclesia?" If it had been translated, they might have known that it referred to the out-calling, everyone who was a member of the body of Christ. However, now the Roman Catholic Church could say, we are the ecclesia," which would refer to the Roman Catholic Church as an ecclesiastical institution with its clergy, but certainly not the laity, meaning the people who only considered themselves Roman Catholic by submission to the church and merely attended mass. Now the Roman Catholic Church would be able to say, "We are the ecclesia, and you aren't."
If you look up the word "ecclesia" in a Latin dictionary, it just means "church."
The Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, ascribed the new "Latin" word "ecclesia" to itself by virtue of their tradition, so people now associated "ecclesia" with the "Roman Catholic Church."
Latin would continue to be used by the Roman Catholic Church long after nobody spoke Latin any more. The clergy would read it, but the laity would not.
The usual etymology given for the English word "church" is from the adjective form of Greek noun κυριος. The noun, κυριος, means "lord," and we don't have an adjective for that in English, which would express in one word something that is similarly descriptive of something, like "pertaining to the Lord," but it is κυριακος (Strong's G2960, "kuriakos") in the Greek, found in 1 Corinthians 11:20, where it is inflected in the accusative case, κυριακον, "Lord's supper", and Revelation 1:10, where it is inflected in the dative case, κυριακη, "Lord's day." That evolved into Germanic "kirika," which evolved into Old English "cirice," which evolved into Middle English "chirche," which evolved into Elizabethan English "churche" with the "e" still on the end of the word, which evolved into modern English "church," dropping the final "e."
If we go by the Rev 1:10 reference to κυριακη in "Lord's" day, or κυριακον in 1 Corinthians 11:20 "Lord's" supper, then the focus is on something that pertains to or of the "Lord" rather than who you are "in the Lord" ("in Christ"). The focus of "a day" or "an activity" or "a building" or something "devoted" is where that error starts. This is human nature, of course, but continues to this day!
The first translation of the whole Bible into English was done by John Wycliffe in 1395. He translated ecclesia as "chirche." John Wycliffe had no knowledge of Greek, however. He only knew Latin. He was translating from St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation.
Then, the next significant translation of the Bible into English was done by William Tyndale in 1525. He did know Greek and was working from the original Greek manuscripts, so he translated it "congregacion," which is closer to the original intent, as the "out-called" do congregate, but that is still one of the things they "do," not who they "are," the "out-calling." It was the first English Bible to be printed using the printing press.
Then, there was the 1535 Coverdale Bible, authorized by King Henry VIII in 1539. King Henry VIII, who originally married Catherine of Aragon, split with the Roman Catholic Church over his extramarital affair and subsequent re-marriage to Anne Boleyn, since the Roman Catholic Church would not endorse it, and formed the Church of England, setting himself up as the head of it. That translation used "congregacion" as well. This would certainly suit him, since he was going to break with the "church" (meaning, the Roman Catholic Church).
In 1568, a whole 30 years later, the Church of England reverted back to "church" in the Bishop's Bible. The Church of England was now "The Church", at least for everyone in England, what we now refer to as the Anglican Catholic Church.
In 1604, King James explicitly directed that the translation committee base their new translation on the Bishop's Bible unless compelled otherwise by the original Greek text. Additionally, he explicitly directed that the word "church...not congregation" be used, to make sure that the translators would not revert back to "congregation."
Rule #1 was as follows:
"The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit."Rule #3 was as follows:
"The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c."The above statement is ironic, because the word "ecclesiastical" is a transliteration from the Greek word εκκλησια ("ekklesia") which means "out-calling" in the Greek, but "ecclesiastical" in the English meant quite another thing back then (as it does today). I guess King James missed the irony of his statement.
Keep in mind that the Church of England in the 1600's was in many ways as oppressive of an institution as the Roman Catholic Church before it. King James was the original author of the doctrine of the "divine right of kings." The "puritan" and "pilgrim" non-conformists, although just a nuisance to King James at the time, were persecuted under King Charles I, who succeeded him, and also King Charles II. John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," for example, was written while John Bunyan, a self-styled lay preacher and common man, was in prison for preaching "in other manner than that sanctioned by His Majesty's Church," which was the Church of England under King Charles II. Pilgrims fled religious persecution by the Church of England under its "Bishops" at various times during the 1600's, many coming to "New England" here in America.
Throughout the 1600s, the Puritans and Pilgrims would build their own "churches" and form their own institutions, including here in America, and end up being as legalistic about them as the Church of England was (requiring "church" attendance Sunday morning, etc.) Roger Williams, for example, fled religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to what is now Providence, Rhode Island, in 1636, narrowly escaping arrest.
The oldest English translation in widespread use today is the King James Version (KJV), which is actually the 1769 "Oxford" edition/revision by Benjamin Blayney and Francis Sawyer Parris, which is based on the original 1611 King James Bible (which is almost never used today, and very few people even have a copy).
Although there were some 24,000 changes and corrections to the 1611 King James Bible between 1611 and 1769 to get to where the KJV is now, the word "church" (as well as "bishop," "pastor," "deacon," etc.) obviously remained unchanged. The widespread acceptance and use of the current 1769 edition of the KJV since then has been so extensive that any translators of the more modern English versions could not help but be influenced by it, besides the fact that those translators were also clergymen and/or scholars with allegiances to their own seminaries, "churches," and other religious institutions. So, the English word "church" has continued to persist, even in translations that were designed to eliminate the archaic English and revisit the original meaning of the text in the original manuscripts.
The bottom line is that until the translators get the revelation that they "are" the "out-calling," as opposed to them just being "called out" by religious institutions, it is unlikely that their mindset will change.
Now in the 21st Century, we have another roughly 75 English translations. Still, the traditional word "church" is used and people popularly think of "church" as a building or this or that institution of men, which is also consistent with the normal English language definition of the word.
In conclusion, a critical language error could have been avoided if the word was translated from the Koine Greek, not transliterated. If it were translated, then the Latin would be rendered ex vocavit (out called). However, this would not suit the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, since it could hide behind the transliteration, and avoid having any arbitrary believer or group of believers considering themselves "out-called." The same issue applied to the Church of England in the 1500's and the 1600's, which considered itself, as an "ecclesiastical" institution, that which the original word εκκλησια in the scriptures pointed to, in contrast to the puritans, pilgrims, and other protestants being renegade for not submitting to "the Church" and its "ecclesiastical authority."
Of course, they did not. They labeled the reformers as heretics and condemned them. Why? Because their institution was more important to them than truth and scripture, and they expected these lesser, "protest-ant" clergymen to recant and conform to the top-down authority and tradition of the institution, which they considered "out-called" of God.
When these men were rejected by the Roman Catholic Church, they and their followers set out to establish various institutions and denominations of their own that followed their "reformed" ideas of how that institution (the Roman Catholic Church) should have instead operated.
But, they never really wiped the slate clean. They never questioned the institutional mindset itself. So, many things remained. The reformed, protestant clergy-laity system still put clergy superior to and lording over the laity. The concept of "church" still meant a physical building that you would go to, minimally once a week, as a substitute for Roman Catholic mass. The "church service" was normally still a stage performance with an audience, a production with prescribed program elements by the clergy, a drama for which the players auditioned for, were trained, rehearsed, and then the production was performed in the prescribed manner. The clergy was active, the laity passive. The laity served the clergy with money, attendance, and devotion. The clergy, to various degrees, some more, some less, still lorded over the laity and controlled them.
Now, obviously, the "reformers" replaced the "priest" with a "pastor," "Holy Eucharist" with "communion," "catechism" with "Sunday school," infant baptism with "baby dedication," "confirmation" with "believer's baptism," and so on. But the formalities of religious tradition and protocol, as in, "this is the way it has always been done," persisted.
In modern Western culture, hundreds of years later, "churches" can mostly be classified as either "Catholic" or "Protestant," but the "Protestant" ones are mostly just "reformed" versions of the "Roman Catholic Church" that materialized in the 4th century, not the 1st century. Even the vast majority of "non-denominational" or independent fellowships follow the traditions established over 1600 years ago, beginning in Rome. The mindset is that if you are going to "have" a "church" or "start" a "church" you will need to procure a building, incorporate the "church," announce and advertize the "church," hire/designate/appoint a pastor, have Sunday morning "mass" substitute, where you have a stage and an audience, prescribed hymns or praise songs that were pre-designated and rehearsed, a prepared sermon, money collection for the church, "catechism" substitute (Sunday school) for the children, and so on. After all, if you don't have some reasonable resemblance of these institutional things, how can you call it a "church"?
Also, the mindset of the Roman Catholic Church, that scripture could not be properly understood apart from the preaching of the professional, seminary-trained clergy, prevails today, even though it is obviously to a much lesser degree in the Protestant "churches" and denominations than in the Roman Catholic Church, and obviously far less today in the Roman Catholic Church than during the era of the Protestant Reformation, when the Roman Catholic laity was prohibited from reading the Bible at all.
Even today, professing Christians are more likely to be "fed" by preachers and books explaining the Word of God, than by the Word of God. Many professing Christians have not even read the Bible even once all the way through, but have read many Christian books all the way through, and have spent far more time listening to preaching about the Bible by the clergy than the roughly 75 hours that it would take to read the Bible all the way through for themselves, or even just the New Testament, which is only about 15 hours of that, for an average reader.
So, the attitude largely prevails that you need to "go to a church" somewhere in order to "be fed" by a professional clergyman who has institutional training that he got by going to seminary and being officially ordained by that institution or denomination. Otherwise, the question is asked, "where are you going to get fed?" 1 John 2:27 "the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you" is lost on people.
Today, people are still addicted to "going to church," instead of being who they are in Christ (the "out-calling" of God), to the extent that it has become a form of bondage. Just as the Roman Catholic misses out on getting his weekly sins forgiven through confessing them to the Roman Catholic priest on Sunday morning and sacrificing Jesus anew weekly in "Holy Eucharist," it seems that the "reformed" "protestants" think they are missing out on something (still in some big way) if they don't attend the Sunday morning protestant reformed alternative to Roman Catholic Sunday morning mass. That's what makes Hebrews 10:25 morph into, essentially, "...let us not stop 'going to church'..."
Today, people are in "a church" or "looking for a new church" or telling people to "go" "to church" or asking "where" they "go" "to church" or comparing "this church" with "that church" or inviting people to "their church," or visiting their friend's "church," and when all is said and done, none of that kind of talk is in the Bible!
Again, if you get rid of all this "stuff," consider yourself a called-out person who is part of the "out-calling," you will naturally meet with others who are "out-called" for the same called-out purpose. Then "church" gets simple. Really simple. The idea of "going to church" becomes an oxymoron, and irrelevant. "Sunday" becomes moot in principle, because you are always "out-called," not sometimes, let alone one morning a week. The "out-called" are all on a mission to proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God that they are "called out" into. And where do they do that? Everywhere, as long as they live in this world!
Again, don't misunderstand. You can have buildings. You can form organizations and institutions. And even though neither Acts 20:7 nor 1 Cor 16:2 specify or give a prescription for it, or even suggest that you should, you can even regularly meet on Sunday morning if you want to, and that is okay! These things are not anti-bible in of themselves. It's just that you can't call these things εκκλησια in any scriptural sense, nor can you call εκκλησια a prescription of things to do or titles to assign or times to meet or a place to meet at. Those things aren't the εκκλησια. Those things may serve the εκκλησια. We are the εκκλησια.
Now, who "goes to church"? Going by the biblical definition, such a phrase is an oxymoron. You cannot "go" "to" the "out-calling." You "are" the "out-calling." You can only "be" the "out-calling," and the "out-calling" will meet together because they have in common that they were "called out" from the world into the Kingdom of God, and they have a supernatural, common bond in Christ, for which they have good reason to meet. This brings in an interesting logical language dilemma. Since the εκκλησια is fundamentally the out-calling, and we as believers are the outcalling, and we cannot "go" "to" the "out-calling," then the only people who can "go" "to" the "out-calling" are the unbelievers -- only an unbeliever can "go to 'church,'" by the biblical definition of the term from which "church" is translated!
This means that a "church" meeting (the meeting of the "out-calling") doesn't fundamentally include unbelievers. Unbelievers may happen into a meeting of the "out-calling" (like in 1 Cor 14:23-25), but the gathering of the "out-calling" isn't intended for them. Heb 10:19-25 confirms this. Heb 10:25 says "let us not give up meeting together" and Heb 10:19-24 describes who the "us" is. No unbeliever can ever fit the description of Heb 10:19-24, to which Heb 10:25 refers as "us."
This last point speaks against evangelistic, "seeker-sensitive" "church services." The lost of the world are reached through evangelism, not "church." You do not "invite" the lost to your "church," you evangelize them by preaching the gospel to them yourself wherever they happen to be outside of your "church," and then discipling them. You, the "out-called" do that. Not the "church service," and not the "pastor." In fact, the word "pastor" is just the word for "shepherd" in Greek, only ever translated "pastor" in Eph 4:11. Shepherds shepherd sheep. Unbelievers aren't sheep, they are goats. You can have evangelistic crusades, and you can even have them in a building that people today call "a church," if you want to. There's nothing wrong with that. But, you can't call that the εκκλησια, the out-calling. You are the εκκλησια, the out-calling.
Once the lost become believers, then they become part of the εκκλησια. Then they will want to meet with you in your meetings of the "out-calling," because now they are "out-called" too.
Then, if it suits you and others, if you still want to form a church, that is okay, and if you want to follow the traditions, meet on Sunday morning, and do all the other customary stuff, that is okay, too, because we are free to do what we want to fulfill the purposes of the Kingdom of God. Let's be clear: Even though you now know that "church" is not in the Bible, it is also the case that the Bible does not say that you cannot do it, either.
Regardless, the exhortation in Hebrews 10:25 to not stop meeting together still applies, whatever form that takes.
The important point is to understand who you are in Christ, one called out from the kingdoms of this world into the Kingdom of God by Jesus.
This article proclaims freedom from any "bondage" of "going to church." This does not mean that you must immediately stop "going to church" or disassociate yourself from whatever "church" you are associated with. It means you should question why you think you must "go to church" when the Bible doesn't say "go to church." It just means that you should re-evaluate the reasons for doing the things that you have been doing that are based on the traditions of men and the definitions of men.
Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)
There is another mindset that comes into play to one degree or another, and that is the old covenant mindset.
In the Old Covenant, there was a "house of the Lord" which was the "tabernacle" of Moses' day or the temple of Jerusalem of Solomon's day forward.
This is often mistakenly equated with a modern "church" building and modern "church" institution.
For example, many seasoned, "churched" people are familiar with the preached verse "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house..." (Mal 3:10), used in fund raising appeals from the pulpit to solicit money for the institutional church and/or building.
Things like this apply old covenant thinking to the new covenant reality, for which the old covenant was only a type and foreshadow. Malachi concludes his exhortations with "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel." (Mal 4:4)
So, the modern "church" building becomes the old covenant "temple," the modern "church" pastor becomes the old covenant priest, the "church" ceremonies become the old covenant ceremonies, and so on.
In the case of example of the Malachi "tithe into the storehouse" exhortation, note that Malachi also has exhortations about blemished animal sacrifices (Mal 1:6-14). Anyone that obeys the "tithe" instruction of Malachi must also obey the "animal sacrifice" instruction. Yet, we do not see churchgoers bringing animal sacrifices into their churches on Sunday morning!
One of the last statements that Stephen made in Acts 7, before he was stoned to death was
44 "Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God's favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built the house for him.
48 "However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says:
49 "'Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?'[Isa 66:1,2]
This was the end of a long-winded speech in answer to the accusation "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." (Acts 6:13-14)
By contrast, it is written in 1 Peter 2:
4 As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame."[Isa 28:16]
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,"[Psalm 118:22]
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall."[Isa 8:14]
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
As verse 9 above concludes, we are the "out-called," called by Jesus "out of darkness into his wonderful light." We don't "go to church." We "are" "the church."
"obey your leaders and submit to their authority"
The word almost always (mis-)translated "obey" in Hebrews 13:17 is πειθεσθε (present tense, imperative mood, middle voice, second person, plural number, inflection of Strong's G3982, πειθω, "peitho") which actually means to be convinced by, persuaded by, or have confidence in.
Ironically, it is the same Koine Greek word used both in that verse (Hebrews 13:17 - "Be ye being persuaded by your leaders") and in the next verse (Hebrews 13:18 - "...for we are persuaded that we...")
The 55 instances of πειθω (be persuaded, convinced, have confidence in), in their contexts, are never equated to submission or obedience to authority. You can look up all 55 references and see:
Matt 27:20,43, 28:14, Mark 10:24, Luke 11:22, 16:31, 18:9, 20:6, Acts 5:36,37,40, 12:20, 13:43, 14:19, 17:4, Acts 18:4, 19:8,26, 21:14, 23:21, 26:26,28, 27:11, 28:23,24, Rom 2:8,19, 8:38, 14:14, 15:14, 2 Cor 1:9, 2:3, 5:11, 10:7, Gal 1:10, 3:1, 5:7,10, Phil 1:6,14,21,25 2:24, 3:3,4, 2 Thess, 3:4, 2 Tim 1:5,12, James 3:3, Heb 2:13, 6:9, 11:13, 13:17,18, 1 John 3:19
A second word in Hebrews 13:17 often mistranslated "submit" is υπεικετε (similar inflection, except active voice, of Strong's G5226, υπεικω) which is a combination of υπ (Strong's G5259, "[h]up"/[h]upo = "under") and εικ_ (Strong's G1500, G1502, G1503, G1504, "eik_" which means simulate or image in likeness, to be like, or resemble, from which we get the English word "icon" (specifically, εικων, Strong's G1504 Greek "eikon").
Even in 21st century usage, if you look at an "icon" on your computer, it is a small image resembling a bigger thing.
The word υπεικω only occurs once in the New Testament, and is a hard word to translate. That's why I broke it down into the two morphemes ("under" and "image/simulate"). The word can mean, in the various classical literature, to retire, withdraw, depart, yield, give way, concede, or defer, and some of those make no sense at all in the context of Heb 11:17. But the sense is that you defer to the leader's leading, so that you are led by him and are conformed to what he is making you into, which is to be like him as he is like Jesus.
Two other similar examples in scripture are:
"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Cor 11:1)
"...for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me." (1 Cor 4:15-16)
Both of those actually use the same three words: μιμηται μου γινεσθε ("mimetai mou ginesthe" = "imitators of-me be-becoming")
A third word thrown into Hebrews 13:17 that is often in the translation but is not even there in the original Greek text to begin with is "authority." The Greek word for "authority" is εξουσια ("exousia"). There is no word like that in Hebrews 13:17.
So now, instead of
"obey your leaders and submit to their authority"
"be persuaded by your leaders and emulate them"
Quite a difference!
This fits the context, because just a little way back in verse 7, the scripture says
"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" ("imitate" in verse 7 is μιμεισθε, "mimeisthe," from which we get the English word "mimic").
So, verse 7 tells us to mimic the leaders' faith, and verse 17 tells us to be persuaded by them and use them as a model.
The context of Hebrews 13:17 has the writer exhorting the readership to heed the word of God originally spoken to them by their leaders (verse 7) and not be carried away by strange teachings (verse 9). They were rebuked earlier in Heb 5:11-6:3 (milk vs. solid food, elementary teachings vs. maturity) for needing to be told all these things (i.e. the content of the book of Hebrews) all over again, whereas they should have been teachers by now (Heb 5:12). Hebrews 13:17 tells them to "be being persuaded" by those original leaders and base their faith on that spiritual foundation, for they (the leaders) are being "vigilant" over them "for their souls (the souls of the ones being led)."
If you take that to its logical result, then you will end up being leaders speaking the word of God to others, and those others will be "persuaded" by you and use you as a model, because you were persuaded by and modeled your leaders. That's discipleship.
If you read all of the book of Hebrews, the only theme is sound doctrine concerning who Jesus is, what he did as a fulfillment of the old covenant type, and how we should persevere in faith. There is no mention in the book of Hebrews of how to administrate an institutional "church," nor is there any talk about clergy vs. laity roles, let alone any notion of laity "obeying" clergy.
By contrast, there are words which do mean "obey," which are not used in Hebrews 13. For example, the noun υπακοη (Strong's G5218, "[h]upakoe" = "obedience"), and the verb form υπακουω (Strong's G5219, "[h]upakouo" = "obey") is such a word, used in "children obey your parents" (Eph 6:1, Col 3:20), "slaves obey your masters" (Eph 6:5, Col 3:22), the winds and waves obeying Jesus (Matt 8:27, Mark 4:41, Luke 8:25), demons obeying Jesus (Mark 1:27), and so on. The writer of Hebrews 13:17 could have used this word, or something like it, but didn't.
Again, leaders are there to serve the εκκλησια = "out-calling." The εκκλησια = "out-calling" is not there to serve them. Their role is that of servants, not lords.
To balance all this out, we should still "submit for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men" (1 Peter 2:13). If you are part of an institution of men, then you should either submit to the institutional authority or leave the institution; you should not rebel against it from within.
The mistake made is when one tries to equate the institutional "church" with the εκκλησια of scripture. The leaders of the institutions have institutional authority over their institutions, not institutional authority over the "out-called" of the body of Christ, the true εκκλησια that the scriptures speak of, which Jesus has authority over.
I grant this work to the public domain.