Language is the chief medium by which we communicate ideas, opinions, and emotions. The foundation of honest communication is a trust that the words that are being used are clear and concise. For us to achieve this, we will need to explore the origin and the meaning of key terms used in the Bible that have been redefined over time.
Etymology is “The study of the origin and history of a word or words. Etymon means ‘origin of a word’ in Latin, and comes from the Greek word etymon, meaning ‘literal meaning of a word according to its origin.’ Greek etymon in turn comes from etymos, which means ‘true.’”
Therefore, as we examine the modes of deception in the Age of Deceit, REDEFINTION of key terms in the Bible stands as a prime weapon in this age-old war on truth.
Deception by Redefinition
The deceptive act of redefinition is literally the dislocation of a word from its origin in order to give another meaning to that word and thereby the message of the passage where it is being used. This practice is most prevalent when dealing with established writings where, although the text has been freely available for wide public viewing, key terms are “redefined” to obscure and then overlay the original with an entirely new meaning.
Herein is the fertile field of auditory art where concrete concepts become conjecture, clarity turns to confusion, and absolutes devolve into assumptions. It seems that every day we witness the redefinition of foundational terms that in the past helped us to express our long-understood truths. Faced with the tide of historic precedence, these redactors, in a sense, adopt the motto of, “If you cannot erase it then simply redefine it.” In effect, we are seeing the disintegration of truth through the recasting of the key terms that express it, thus dismantling the chance for clear communication.
To make of list of all words that have been mangled in just the past ten to twenty years would fill many pages and would take hours to explain. However, there is one term used in the Bible that I would like to address as a part of this exploration.
What is the Church?
At first glance, most would agree that the term “church” is generally defined as “a building for public and especially Christian worship.” In the grand scheme of things, it brings to mind those massive ecclesiastical superstructures of Europe which have stood as sentinels for over a millennium. These imposing religious citadels generally tower over the surrounding villages and farmland. Some have suggested that they were constructed in this grand manner to serve as a beacon of hope and truth which would be easily seen by religious seekers in the local community.
Thus, pragmatically, the current meaning of the word “church” is a building. Based on this popular understanding, people “go to church,” they can “change churches,” they can “suffer a church split,” and they can even be “excommunicated from church.”
From the onset of the New-Testament era, there has been the tendency to establish ecclesiastical order through the division of labor within the fellowship of believers. Jesus addressed this congregational segregation by calling these leaders “Nicolaitans.” This term comes from three Greek root words: Nikos means “Victory,” Lai means “People,” and Tes represents the word “The.” Taken together, the word defines someone who is a conqueror or victor over people. Herein we can see the beginning of the separation of the Clergy from the Laity. Jesus made it clear that He hates the:
- “deeds of the Nicolaitans” Revelation 2:6
- “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” Revelation 2:15
History shows us that, for the first three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the followers of Christ did not have permanent facilities nor a requirement for ecclesiastical fraternities. From the account of the Acts of the Apostles that
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Act 2:46-47 KJV
From Paul’s salutations, it would appear that the “church” was meeting primarily in homes.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise [greet] the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
Rom 16:3-5 KJV
19 The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
1Cor 16:19 KJV
15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.
Col 4:15 KJV
2 And to [our] beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
Phm 1:2 KJV
It was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine that Christianity was decriminalized and was thereafter allowed the freedom to hold open assemblies and own property. It is also at this time that the State Church of the Roman Empire was launched. Here is where we see the establishment, organization, and growth of the professional priests and the subjugation of the laity. The subsequent separation of the common people from the source documents of the Bible left the believing followers isolated and ignorant as they became completely dependent on the religious elite to guide them into what they were told was God’s truth.
Organization as the Church?
There is a second definition for the term “church” which refers to an institution or human organization. This broader usage normally incorporates many local “churches” into a centralized entity that offers affiliation, accreditation, and accountability. Much could be said in comparing the benefits and differences of the dizzying number of denominations, but it is clear from history that denominationalism is ultimately divisive.
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia of 2001, there are approximately 33,000 different Christian groups (denominations) in the world since AD 30. There are at least 1,200 different Christian denominations in the United States alone. Some groups classify Christianity into eight meta-groups, namely Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Assyrian Churches, Protestantism, Restorationism, Anglican Communicants, Pentecostal, and others. Basically, the Church has been splintering into denominational fragments for more than 1,600 years.
The term “denomination” comes from the Latin root “de” (meaning “completely”) and “nominare” (meaning “to name.”) In other words, to establish a denomination means to “completely take a name” as a means of identifying yourself apart from all others. Simply put, this is a tactic taken from the business franchise owners. They protect their “name as a brand” so they can exercise control over it.
I believe that it is safe to say that denominations are simply human institutions, and while different denominations do often represent differences in certain doctrines, beliefs, or practices, the vast majority of Christian denominations are united in a common faith in Christ.
However, Jesus made it quite clear by stating,
“24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Mar 3:24-25 KJV
That said, the downside of denominationalism is the apparent schism it creates within the church founded by Jesus Christ. The world then looks on and asks, “Why can’t the churches work together?” This question seems justified when you consider the teaching of Jesus when He said,
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Jhn 13:34-35 KJV
Etymology of the Term “Church”
The first use of the term “church” is referenced in Matthew chapter 16, verse 18 where Jesus tells Peter, “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
In this passage, the English word translated “church” comes from the Greek word “ekklēsia” which is a compound of the Greek term “ek” (meaning “out of”) and a derivative of the Greek word “kaleō” (meaning “to call” or “to invite”). Therefore, the term “church” that Jesus used means “the called-out ones.” The followers of Jesus were literally called out of the world of darkness and death into a world of light and life.
At no time during the ministry of Jesus Christ did He instruct His followers to “build Him a church.” In fact, after the amazing revelation of Christ’s transfiguration we are told,
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”
Mat 17:4 KJV
It is important to note that no tabernacles were requested by Jesus nor later built by Peter. In typical fashion, perhaps Peter wanted to solidify something that was purely spiritual. Making a monument out of a marvelous experience can be dangerous as it can lead to a kind of idolatry where the place becomes more important than the people it was intended to bless.
The apostle Paul exhorted the Christians in Corinth, Greece by stating,
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
1Cor 1:10-13 KJV
Paul continued this teaching by stating,
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
1Cor 3:3-9 KJV
Therefore, it is clear to me that we should not attempt to build God a church. Instead, we should allow God to build us into a unified Body of Christ.
Business, Building or Body?
The apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome says,
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another.
Rom 12:3-5 KJV
27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
1Cor 12:27 KJV
When you comprehend the correct understanding of the Biblical text concerning the CHURCH, you get the right plan and perspective from its Builder, Jesus Christ. Please do not misunderstand my intention concerning this focus on the original definition of the term we have been exploring. I mean no disrespect to the various forms of fellowship or styles of worship that can be found within the Body of Christ today. My main concern is the overemphasis of differences based on denominational creeds and practices that affect the ability of the Church to function as a unified Body of Believers whose objective should be to “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Another way of looking at this problem is to appreciate that if you get the “foundation” correct, then the “building” can be constructed true to its original design. The apostle Paul gave this same instruction to the Church in Corinth.
“10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”
1Cor 3:10 KJV
Again, it is Paul who gives us the big picture of what Jesus is doing with His Body of Believers on the earth.
“11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Eph 4:11-16 KJV
The apostle Peter identifies the followers of Jesus,
“5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
1Pet 2:5 KJV
He continues by stating,
“9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
1Pet 2:9-10 KJV
If you have personally responded to the call of Jesus Christ in your life through repentance from your dead works of self-righteousness and have placed your faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, then the Holy Spirit alone will confirm that you are one of “the called-out ones.” Then you ARE a member of the only one true Church that was started and will be completed by Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord and your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life which is the only membership record that really matters.