The True Meaning of the Church by Ralph Neighbour

An excellent article by Ralph Neighbour about the true nature of the church
coaches_ralphNThe True Meaning of the Church

by Ralph Neighbour

When the average Christian hears the word “church” the immediate mental image is either a building or a large room in a religious structure with a platform and a preacher. Example: people say, “Are you going to church today?” This is a typical illegitimate use of the word. The question refers either to the building or the public gathering conducted there.

“Church” is not a Bible word. It comes from the German Kirk, defining a religious edifice. It is a bastard term birthed in the fourth century to define religious structures. Adolf Schlatter (1852–1938), Evangelical theologian and professor at Greifswald, Berlin and Tübingen, refused to use the term in any of his books, substituting “Community” for the word.

Jesus introduced the word ecclesia in Matthew 16 and then in chapter 18, used it for the second and last time. In the first reference, He described its mission: kicking down the gates of hell. In the second reference, he instructs how an ecclesia would deal with disputes between its members. Two members should settle issues together or invite a trusted third person into the negotiation. If that were to fail, it was to be presented to the ecclesia as the Supreme Court for a decision. The term ecclesia must refer to a community small enough for close fellowship to exist between all members.

That is why Christ’s body should be viewed “Cell” by “Cell.” Each is a basic Christian community where the intimacy Jesus described is present.

I had not earlier in my ministry grasped the size of “church” Jesus had in mind! How large could the gathering be Jesus used in Matthew to refer to ecclesia? It was obviously small enough for each member to be intimately connected with two persons in conflict.

I began to see that the 12 disciples were actually the prototype size for Jesus’ ecclesia. Twelve is approximately the number of people who can relate intimately to one another.
“Cell” defines the “Basic Christian Community,” the ecclesia, not the word “church.”

Jesus taught the ecclesia to “love (agape) one another.” 52 more times in the New Testament, we are called to consider how to connect to “one another.” The expression of dismembered body parts, sitting in rows, is described by the word “church.” The authentic “one another” life is found in the “cell.” The first word is cold, impersonal. The second word denotes what Paul called for in Philippians 2: “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

The biblical description of life together in the ecclesia demands an intimate family of God, not an impersonal assembly of God. The destruction done to the authentic ecclesia by the use of the word “church” to describe it is massive! Let us join Schlatter and refuse to use it!



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