The Church Is Not In God's Plan

James E. Finley

he May, 1989 issue of THE EXAMINER contained an article entitled "Somebody Has to Run it". Some readers have questioned the meaning of one of the concluding statements in that article There I made the statement that "the church is not in God's plan". That is very difficult for people to accept and some have asked: "If the church is not in God's plan, why do we read about it in the Bible?" Since some have asked about that, it seems probable that others are wondering and this article wilt be an effort to answer that question.

Yes, I said that the church is not in God's plan and never has been. That sounds like heresy to many people and I understand that feeling because there was a time when such a statement would have caused the same reaction in me. Please keep an open mind as I try to explain the basis for that statement.

Our most common English translations of the Bible translate the Greek word ekklesia as "church". Many examples of this could be cited but probably the most familiar is Matthew 16:18 where the King James Version has the Lord saying "upon this rock I will build My church". Our Savior, however, did not promise to build a "Church". He spoke in either Greek or Aramaic and we must depend on translations to determine what He actually said. Since our earliest manuscripts are in Greek, that is what we must work from as the "original". Our Savior said, upon this rock I'll build my "ekklesia". Our problem is that we must transfer that thought from a foreign language to our language or we will miss the point. What does the word ekklesia mean?

"Church" is an English word. WEBSTERS NEW WORLD DICTIONARY OF THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE defines it as follows:

1. a building set apart or consecrated for public worship, esp. one for Christian worship 2. public worship; religious service 3. a) all Christians considered as a single body b) a particular sect or denomination of Christians 4. the ecclesiastical government of a particular religious group, or its power, as opposed It) secular government 5. thc profession of the clergy; clerical profession 6. a group of worshipers; congregation

"Church" is a religious word. It is inherently religious in meaning. We speak of going to church, of building a church, of going into the church, of running the church, of starting a church, of the authority of the church, of the organization of the church, and the list could go on. The point is that we really use the word as it is defined in the dictionary, which is proper, but it only proves that the English word church agrees with the meaning given in the English dictionary.

As previously stated, most English translations of the Bible substitute the word "church" rather than translate the Greek word ekklesia. YOUNG'S ANALYTICAL CONCORDANCE says that the word ekklesia appears in the New Testament 115 times. It is translated (KJV) "church" 112 of those times and "assembly" 3 times. It is those three times that we want to examine now. All three instances are in Acts 19. Verse 32 says that "the assembly (ekklesia) was confused and most of them did know why they had come together". In verse 39 a city official is quoted as saying "But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly (ekklesia)". Verse 41 tells us that the same official "dismissed the assembly (ekklesia)". This account deals with a disturbance at Ephesus. The first appearance of ekklesia refers to a riotous mob which the city official indicates is not lawful. The second use is in reference to a lawful gathering that could be called in the future and the third use refers to the riotous mob after it had calmed down.

At this point each reader is urged to pause and read Acts 19:23-41 from your own Bible but substitute church for the word assembly (ekklesia) in the three instances mentioned above. Did you try it? It doesn't make sense does it? If church is a proper translation then it would, at least, have to make sense in these three instances also.

The truth of the matter is that church and ekklesia do not mean the same thing. They are not synonyms! Church is a religious word and ekklesia was a common "secular" word that meant assembly, group, crowd, community or some other synonym.

There are some translations available that do not use the word church. The SIMPLE ENGLISH BIBLE is a notable example. Another, by Hugo McCord, was published not long ago. Brother McCord is a wellknown Greek scholar who taught Bible languages for many years at Colleges identified with the Church of Christ. In the appendix to his translation, he explains why he did not use the word church to translate ekklesia:

To make this translation as accurate as possible, the word "church" is eliminated. The word "church" historically refers to a physical building, a meeting house, which the Lord's people in the first century did not build, and for which there is no New Testament word (emphasis mine, JEF). William Tyndale knew that the word "church" is an inaccurate translation of the New Testament word ekklesia, which simply means "called out." So Tyndale, in the first English translation of the New Testament from Greek in 1525, eliminated "church" in favor of "congregation." King James I, having a vested interest in the word "church", since he was the head of the Church of England, did not like the change, and so he ordered the fifty-four translators of the King James version to use the word "church." Alexander Campbell knew what Tyndale knew about the inaccuracy of that word, and in THE LIVING ORACLES (1826) he, like Tyndale, used the word "congregation."

Please notice the italicized words in the second sentence of the above quote. His point is that there is no Greek word in the New Testament that is the equivalent of the English word Church! UNGER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY says: "The word ekklesia is employed of any assembly, and the word in the Greek language implies no more." VINE'S DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS gives as the total definition for church: "See assembly." He too knew that ekklesia only means assembly and not church which means a building or religious organization.

Do you see now that "church" is not in God's plan? The Christ promised to build an assembly, group, family or community that would be uniquely His. He did not promise to build an organization or organizations. He came to seek and save the lost not to build a religious institution. He gave His life for you and for me, not for a man-made organization. None of the inspired writings mention a church, therefore, it cannot be from God. Please, don't try to blame this mess we call "the church" on the Son of God.

The CYCLOPEDIA OF BIBLICAL, THEOLOGICAL, AND ECCLESIASTICAL LITERATURE by John McClintock and James Strong contains this quote from HISTORY OF DOCTRINES by Hagenbach:

The apostles and their immediate successors were too much engrossed with the work of spreading the Gospel to pause to prescribe the nature of an institution which was sure to grow into shape as the necessities of the case required. The apostles themselves were too earnestly employed in fulfilling the command of Christ to disciple all nations, and those directly following them partook too largely of their spirit, and understood too fully their mind, to be turned aside by the necessity of explaining what they knew to be a fact. Hence, no exact definitions of the Church are found previous to the time of Cyprian."

Even those "oldtimers" knew that the Bible says nothing about a "church". It is certainly not clear how they knew that the apostles "knew it to be a fact" if they (the apostles) didn't say anything about it. The interesting part is that the apostles did not "say anything about the nature of an institution". In addition, it seems that we should not be very concerned about something that was not defined "previous to the time of Cyprian" who lived from approximately 200 to 258 A.D.

Therefore, I repeat: The church is not in God's plan. It is a serious mistranslation that has succeeded in confusing the Lord's people. I am sure that the devil heartily approves of such a concept that has brought so much confusion, bitterness, and enmity among men. We look to God's word for instructions on how to operate a church. There are no such instructions, but we are so sure that God wants us to have a church that we force ideas into scriptures that were never intended. It is no wonder that we can't agree!

On a more positive note, it seems that something should be said about the true nature of the ekklesia. Remember, the word simply means assembly. It has no religious connotations and in my opinion it does not mean "the called out". Ekklesia is derived from two words with that literal meaning but that is not it's proper definition. It means assembly. There is a connotation or nuance about the word that does, however, indicate a called people. Notice that in Acts 19 the silversmiths were "called out" by Demetrius and, of course, we are called by the Savior. So we are talking about a called, invited, summoned, or beckoned assembly.

The ekklesia of Christ describes the most beautiful relationship known to man. The word was chosen by the Savior and man certainly cannot express it better. When Jesus said "I will build my ekklesia", he was not talking about an institution or institutions. What He promised to build was His assembly, His group, His gathering, or His people. It is a collective term that applies to all those who decide to make Christ first and serve Him with their life.

In Acts 15 at what we call the Jerusalem Council, James said: "Simon has declared how God at first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name (V. 14)." This is the meaning of ekklesia. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." That is the meaning of ekklesia! Notice all of the descriptive terms used in this passage, each one emphasizing a different facet of this ekklesia. How can we fail to understand?

We have been told may times that the church is a "blood bought institution''. This implies that our Savior shed His blood on the cruel cross to buy an institution: something other than people. THAT CANNOT BE CORRECT! Jesus came to this earth to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Was He talking about a lost institution? No, He came to save man who was and is lost in sin. "For the son of man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them" (Luke 9:56). Doesn't that tell us something about the ekklesia? The ekklesia refers to those who are saved, that is, people. We are a blood bought PEOPLE! In the same manner we might consider the redeemed which is another term that is interchangeable with the ekklesia. It is not a synonym but a term referring to the same group. Redeem means to buy back. What was bought back? You and l! People! Institutions don't sin and institutions are not accountable to God. People are lost in sin and people are accountable to God.

Who are the ekklesia? Those people who realized they were in sin and were helpless to do anything to save themselves; who heard the story of Jesus and His redeeming blood and have responded with love and obedience born of that love; who put Him first in their life; who, because of their mutual love for Christ, have a love and concern for one another to the point that it is an identifying characteristic that "ye may know them"; who follow the lead of and imitate the life of the older and more experienced of their number, as they lead with love and an exemplary life. Simply, they are God's people, the followers of Christ. He is their High Priest and nothing or no one stands between them and their Savior. They do not serve institutions, organizations, or authoritative men, but they serve their God and their fellow man through love. The beauty and simplicity of that relationship is beyond our ability to describe. Why would anyone want to clutter that picture with institutions or organizations?