When I was a little kid—okay, maybe a few years before I was born—the word “gay” meant happy. Many words since then have undergone metamorphosis, some even taking opposite meanings from what they once were:
- Bad. Bad used to mean bad, then it meant good, now it can go either way depending on context.
- Artificial. This originally meant ‘full of artistic or technical skill.’
- Awful. At one time, this meant “full of awe” in a wonderful, delightful way.
- Manufacture. From the Latin word meaning “to make by hand,” this originally signified things that were created by craftsmen.
Is it any wonder that many words in our Bibles are used in a way that does not convey the original meaning? For the next few entries, we’ll explore a few of these. Today’s word is “church.”
The word “church” dates back before the 12th century A.D. and according to Merriam-Webster is defined as: “a building for public and especially Christian worship.” As far as the word or concept of “church” in the Scriptures as we know and practice it today, it’s not found anywhere. The Greek word translated as “church” is “ekklesia” which literally translates as, “out (ek)-called (klesia).”
This word is a carry over of the theme in the OT for the ones called out of Egypt for deliverance from slavery. I believe it is a symbolic portrayal of all people who are called out to belief in a Savior in this mortal lifetime, being delivered from slavery to sin and death under the curse of Adam. To me, it is apparent that not all people have been offered a way out of “Egypt” at this point in time.
It is noteworthy that Israel did not make the first move to get out of Egypt. Every single Israelite was delivered out of Egypt by powerful acts and judgments of God. In fact, four times in Exodus 13 the following words are repeated: “…for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt.” Israel was completely helpless to save themselves and I believe they represent the helplessness and eventual fate of all mankind. Like Israel, every person who has ever lived is consumed by complete slavery to sin and death with no hope of escape. It is truly a death sentence for all. But God revealed through Moses that He would send a Savior to rescue us with strong acts, through no will or might of our own.
“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (death), and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God…” (Ex. 6:6–7).
Modern believers since the days of Jesus and the apostles are a continuation of the out-called. Andy Zoppelt, a participant in the Home Church movement and producer of TheRealChurch.com says:
“The changing of one word can literally change the world. Our word “Church” is one of those words that has impacted the world and has subverted the purpose for which it was intended. Because the translators used the word “church,” meaning a building, instead of a more accurate word reflecting a functioning body, it has affected our whole approach to the meaning of the body of Christ. We have been given a word from the translators that has nothing to do with the original Greek word ekklesia. …The [early] Catholic Church and the Church of England both used the word “church” and its meaning as a building to hold the people in subjection to their control. Without a building they would have lost their power over the people. Even today, without a building the clergy system would fall. This system of clergy/laity and the use of a building is what we have come to know as the “institutional” church system. This system was totally foreign to the vocabulary and the life of the disciples of Jesus, who built and depended on Church.”
Just for fun, try substituting “the out-called” for church in the NT and see how it reads.
The “called out” back then and the called out now have always been meant to provide a light for the nations. They (and we) have opened the door, as Paul points out, for the salvation of the world.
“For if [the Jews] rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? …For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” (Rom. 11:15, 25–27).