The English word "church" should not be in the New Testament (NT) Scriptures at all! That is why it is put in quotation marks in the title. That English word is not a translation of the Greek word "ekklesia" Modern use of the word "church" almost always has reference to (1) a religious institution or organization, or (2) to a material building called a "church." That was not the meaning of the common Greek word "ekklesia" in the time the Scriptures were written.
In the day of Christ and His apostles, the word "ekklesia" was an everyday word that simply meant "assembly," "congregation,' or "gathering" of people. Any gathering of people, whether religious, political, or even criminal in purpose, was called an "ekklesia." The word itself gives no indication of the kind or the purpose of the assembly (ekklesia). In Acts 19:32, 41, ekklesia is translated "assembly" and refers to an unlawful gathering, a mob. In the same context it has reference to a "lawful assembly" in Acts 19:39. The word ekklesia appears more than 100 times in the Greek NT Scriptures, but only in these three instances in Acts 19 is the word actually translated! Isn't that incredible? Why? If the Greek word "ekklesia" really means the same thing as the English word "church," why did not the translators render it "church" in these three cases?
There is a reason why the word "church" is substituted for a translation of ekklesia, but it is without any justification whatever. To put it simply, the word "church" appears in the King James Version (KJV) because King James ordered it there. He demanded that the word ekklesia not be translated by the word "congregation" or "assembly!" Thus the translators were forbidden to render the true meaning of the word, except in the three above instances and were required by the King to substitute the word "church." In fact, Rule 3 of the "Rules to be observed in the Translation of the Bible" specifically says: "The old Ecclesiastical words [were] to be kept, viz. the word church not to be translated congregation, etc." The translators obeyed the King and that version is rightly called the King James Version! The English word "church" does not belong in the Scriptures!
Hopefully you can now understand the reason for the heading of this article: The myth of the "church" of the Bible. The Lord does not have a Church! In the February 1987 Examiner Dusty Owens dealt extensively with this subject under the heading: "CHURCH: From God or Man?" Read and study it.
In all instances where the word "ekklesia" appeared, if it was in a religious connection or had to do with the Lord's people, the word "church" was substituted. Hence, in Acts 19 the three times the word appears it has no reference to the Lord's disciples and the word "assembly" is given as a true translation. This egregious error of substituting the word "church" rather than providing a proper translation has been a source of untold problems giving apparent justification for the institutional church as we know it today, from the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church, Church of God, Church of England, and such like on down to the Church of Christ and the Christian Church. These are all religious institutions/organizations or churches, something foreign to the divine record. The "Assemblies of God" is a far more scriptural name than any of the above.
Now you can see how the religious institution called a "church" seems to be justified in the Scriptures. Certainly you can read about the church and churches in the Scriptures. But in reality there is no such thing as "the church" in God's word. Jesus did not build a church institution! He did not purchase a church organization with His blood. He is not the Head over all things to a church.
Jesus does indeed build His assembly, His people, upon the rock (Matt. 16:18) He certainly did purchase the assembly - the redeemed - with His blood (Acts 20:28). He is definitely the Head over all things to His congregation of people (Eph. 1:18, 23). There is as much in the Scriptures about a Roman Catholic Church (institution) as there is about a Church of Christ (institution) or even an Independent Christian Church (institution), local or universal! Absolutely nothing is said about any church organization!
Millions belong to a church organization of one brand or another; and they love their church. They support their church. They want to be faithful to their church. They resent anyone who speaks against their church. To most of them "one church is as good as another," but each one likes his church best. They are right about it - one church is as good as any other church; one church is as acceptable to the Lord as any other. None of the churches originated from Him and not a one of them comes as a result of obeying the Lord!
The idea of the institutional church is well established in the mind of most church people. Nearly everyone believes the church is from the Lord. It would greatly shock most church members to hear anyone even raise a question about there being no church in the Scriptures. Any opposition to the church would be repudiated outright before and without any serious consideration of the matter. Church people are very secure in their belief in and acceptance of the church. Just look at all the churches in the world. Look at the multiplied millions who belong to a church and there is a great variety of them. They trust and hope in their church. It is vital in their lives even if many of them have a very casual relationship with the church of their choice.
Now comes someone trying to tell us that there is no church in the Bible! He is a fanatic, a heretic worthy of being burned at the stake. The reaction to the "no church in the Scripture" idea is always strong, usually violent. But the truth still remains even if church adherents refuse to honestly and seriously consider the matter. There is no church in the Scripture. The church institution concept was born in the apostasy that led to the oldest and greatest ecclesiastical organization of all, the Roman Catholic Church. It is the "mother" of all institutional churches.
Remember: The word Church appears in your Bible only because of the decree of King James of England. That is a fact that cannot be successfully disputed. After all, he was the head of the Church of England.
But someone says, "If what you say is true, then why do all the later translations have the word 'church' in them? Why didn't the other translators correct the error?" That is a fair question. Let me give some reasons why that word has been retained in most translations since them. Perhaps if you stopped to think about it seriously you could come up with a few motivating reasons on your own.
Though not all translations use the word "church" the primacy of the KJV has cemented that word into religious thought. The KJV has had greater circulation among English speaking people than any other version before or since. It is called the "common version" and it found its way to the people throughout the world, made possible by the invention of the printing press. It was the translation officially "Appointed to be read in Churches." It did not take long before it was established as the translation for English speaking people, even though there was considerable opposition to it. It had some very worthy critics who saw it as flawed and slanted, which it really was and still is.
The style is one of its greatest appeals. Written in the stately and beautiful Elizabethan language, it is perhaps the easiest of all translations to commit to memory. It came to be regarded as the one and only true translation, even venerated as sacred. To speak critically of "the blessed KJV" is close to the sin against the Holy Ghost in the view of some.
There are some Church of Christ preachers who revere it as the only reliable translation. All over the country there are churches, under the pressure of the Pulpit Minister, w, here the eldership has made a "law" forbidding the use of any other translation in the pulpit or classes except "the old King James Version." Some will allow the use of the American Standard Version if desired.
Considering the above, can't you see why most later translations retained the word "church?" When the influence, popularity, and hold of the KJV is considered, when millions cling to it as if it were delivered from heaven, when the masses oppose any newt translations, and when one looks at the religious world with all the churches, who would dare publish a Bible and leave out the word church? Who would buy a translation if the word church was not in it? Would you? "Church" is a dear and beloved word and Church people are not going to give it up, nor their beloved Church. How dare anyone publish a Bible without Church in it? For sure it will be a publication failure.
So, for obvious reasons, the majority of the new versions have retained the precious word church. Most have also transliterated the Greek word for baptism and have not translated it by immersion as it should be. The same is true of the word deacon which is not translated. Only three times does the word "deacon" appear, all in I Timothy 3 where many erroneously conclude that Paul is speaking of church officials. Every other instance the original Greek word is translated as "minister" or "servant." It was transliterated, that is, the Greek word was given an English spelling, to manufacture some semblance of proof for a church office called "Deacon."
Would you buy a Bible that did not have the word "church" in it? No good, faithful member of any church would have a Bible in his home that did not have the word "church" in it. It would border on blasphemy to leave church out of the Bible, desecrating that holy institution, the church!
Most Examiner readers have never seen a translation that does not use the word "church" The few translations that have done this have not sold well. But a few publishers have issued translations that do not use the word "church" It is good to have at least one for comparative study. It will lead you to some new insights.
One is "Young's Literal Translation of the Holy Bible," by Robert Young, author of the popular "Analytical Concordance to the Bible." He uses "assembly" as the translation of "ekklesia," and the word "church" is not found in it. It is published by Baker Book House. He dared to give us a translation of the word "ekklesia" rather than substituting the word "church." He destroys "the myth of the church" - there is no such thing in the NT Scriptures!
Another one is "The Simple English Bible - New Testament;' published by International Bible Publishing Company in New York. The word "congregation" is used to translate "ekklesia." There is no "church" in this N.T. (I think one or two of our own brethren were involved with this translation.) There are others like these.
In 1826 Alexander Campbell provided for a translation of the New Covenant Scriptures. He recognized the errors and inadequacies of the KJV and a new translation was needed to correct such. In the Preface of the Living Oracles he offered several vital reasons justifying the need for a new, more accurate translation. Campbell argued that the "constant mutation in a living language" makes this new work necessary; that language changes and the changes in English "which have taken place since the reign of James l, do now render a new translation necessary." He offered several valid reasons for his position.
Also, Campbell correctly charged:
"..that the common version 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."
Campbell recognized the greatest obstacle to a better translation was the devotion or near-worship of the old KJV; the same type of thinking some devotees have to that translation even to this day. Note how Campbell put it:
"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."
That same spirit that Campbell identified then is alive today, finding its voice in a hard-core group of Church of Christ ministers who adamantly hold to the "blessed old King James" as the most accurate translation ever made. They urge that it be the required version for use in the pulpits and in the Sunday School classes in all "sound, faithful churches:' As I have mentioned, there are many churches controlled by a dictator-type eldership where that authoritarian body has forbade the use of any other version except for the KJV or perhaps the ASV if one desires it. No pulpit minister will be hired who does not comply with this law and no teacher is allowed a class who does not bow the knee to this human decree.
Note carefully Campbell's statement that "some are so wedded to the common version, that the very defects in it have become sacred..." How wise his observation; how true it is today. For example, perhaps the greatest "defect" in the KJV is the unjustified substitution of the English word "church" rather than giving a true translation of the word "ekklesia." Church of Christ people like all other church people are "wedded" to this great defect in the translation. Perhaps no other group of pulpit ministers anywhere are more dedicated to the church than our clergy unless it is the Roman Catholic clergy. Our preachers are church preachers. They are hired by a church to preach for and to that church; and they are paid by that church. Most of them would reject any version of Scriptures that does not have the dearly beloved, all-important "church" in it. This is one of the main reasons you can't find many copies of Campbell's translation, The Living Oracles, since it does not have church in it! It effectively removes the church from God's Word, where it never had any right to be at all.
Can you imagine the world without the church? Perish the thought! Condemn as the vilest of heretics anyone who would proclaim that there is no such thing as our beloved Church of Christ institution! This denominational church institution is no better than any of the other denominational church institutions! Today's well-entrenched Church of Christ church and the Independent Christian Church stand as the main reason the proclamation of undenominational/non-denominational service to the Lord has died from our hearts and preaching. How can members and promoters of these institutional churches consistently oppose denominationalism and proclaim a non-denominational message? They can't and by and large have stopped making any pretense at such. How can those who belong to a denomination condemn that practice in others? Gone is the day of our forceful plea - "Let us be Christians only, only Christians." That is not enough. The preaching is that people must be a "member" of one of our Church of Christ Churches to please God and go to heaven! The disciples of Christ are required today to "join or place membership" in some organization or institution called "the local Church of Christ."
Also to be seriously considered are our essential and elaborate, beloved church buildings. Up to $10 million is now being paid for a headquarters building for each Church of Christ church.
In modern practice, each Church of Christ must have a professional, hired employee called a "Pulpit Minister." All the other churches have a pulpit minister (pastor) and a church building. Someone has to run and control the business affairs of the corporate institution named the Church of Christ, so the Board of Elders has been fashioned for this authoritarian role. The Presbyterians and others have their Board of Elders or Presbyters, so the Church of Christ Church is in good company. The Baptist Churches are said to be in error since their churches are controlled and operated by the Pastor and a Board of Deacons.
The Church of Christ has arrived at last. Its adherents can make it without Christ (He is not enough!) but they can't make it without their Church of Christ church!
In bringing about a new translation of the Scriptures, Campbell selected three able scholars to do the work. They produced an excellent translation that was published by Campbell. It is worthy of serious note that Campbell did not call it by the erroneous title - New Testament, but called it "Living Oracles" a more appropriate title for that collection of documents. Campbell understood that the 27 letters and historical records that we call the "New Testament'' is not the new testament (covenant) referred to in Scripture. For that matter, the 39 books and historical records that we call the "Old Testament" (covenant) is not the old testament/covenant. Such erroneous labeling has been the source of great religious error through the ages.
The 27 letters or histories relate to the new, covenant to be sure; but they are no part of it at all. The new covenant that God has made with us is not found on parchment or paper. It is written on our hearts, as an agreement between the Father and each individual who claims through faith in Jesus Christ the salvation provided in Christ (II Cot. 3:3; Heb. 8:6-13). Our people need desperately to learn this vital truth and understand what it means. The old covenant was the 10 commandments given by God at Sinai.
Have you ever seen a copy of The Living Oracles translation? It is my guess that 75% of Church of Christ members and Christian Church members have never heard of it, much less read any of it. What a shame.
The word "church" does not appear in The Living Oracles! Imagine that! Isn't that terrible? If Campbell were alive today he would be banned from teaching at any Church of Christ or Independent Christian Church. Campbell did not believe in the church. There is no church in his translation. He took it out! If he were alive today, can you imagine what our pulpit Ministers and Elders would do to him? He would denounce authoritarian elderships with the same severity and lash of "The Living Oracles" that he did the clergy of his day. Sectarianism and denominationalism were wrong then and they are wrong now.
The scholars who did the translating, along with Campbell, knew that the English word "church" does not translate the Greek word "ekklesia." This is a fact that is universally acknowledged by language authorities and scholars. The word "church" is totally misleading. Inherent in the word "church," as it is commonly used, therefore lies all the apparent justification for the institutional Church of today, by whatever name it is called, with all its trappings.
Put this down as fact: In the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by His apostles there was no such thing as a church, a religious institution. There was no "universal church" nor a "local church" There was no religious institution or organization. The early saints did not build, establish, join or hold membership in a church of any kind.
Dear brother or sister, if you are a member of a church, meaning a religious organization or institution, then you have joined something that Jesus did not build, something of which He is neither the Head nor the Saviour. Jesus did not die for a church. He died for lost people. He died for you and me, individuals, not some corporate structure. There is, therefore, no Church, no religious organization of Christ in God's plan.
We are not required to find the right Church organization and get into that institution in order to be saved or do the will of God in any way. Salvation is not in some church; salvation is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The world without the church! Perish the thought! This is the feeling of church people.
Christians without a church? Yes, that is the way it was in the beginning. There is no church in the Scriptures. There should be no church today.
Dear brother and sister, shocking though this truth may be to many of you, it is clear and certain. There is no church in the Bible! It is a vicious myth! Understand it and act upon this truth - now! - CAH.