How exactly did Jesus define the church?
It’s a worthwhile question. We’ve been doing this thing called “church” for around two millenia and it’s worth looking at how Jesus referred to the church.
The word itsef is ἐκκλησία (eck-clay-sia) which is the greek word referring to a gathering or assembly that is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the group of believers who followed the way of Jesus. The term actually gained the more complete defintion as a special term referring to “church” as we see it because of the New Testament. It was a pretty secular term in its time.
And Jesus only used the term twice. In the recorded gospels, where Jesus teaching is recorded, Jesus only uses the term on two occasions to describe his followers. GRANTED, he describes and discusses the people actively following him and what they should do without using the word “church” as well, but I’m just curious as to how the word comes up in Jesus teaching.
“17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” – Matthew 16:17-20
“15 If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:15-20
That’s it. Jesus uses the term “church” twice and once in the context of Peter declaring his Lordship and the second in the context of dealing with disagreements between his followers.
Jesus talks about what the people following him should do all over the rest of the gospel’s. He has many commands and talks about how those who love him and claim to follow him should do what he says, but he stays away from using a term that classified them.
I love the simplicity of this style.
The rest of the New Testament is rife with the use of the term and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t stay away from that concept, but it is nice that Jesus’ focus and intentional language (which I can’t help but feel that he is using) kept things simple and a little vague.
Christian jargon has the tendency to be incredibly off putting to people outside of “the know” and I’m constantly trying to refocus and check my language so that I use wording that is clearer to those who get lost.
I just always reflect back on every conversation I’ve had involving sports and just how lost and uncomfortable I feel. The names and terminology never inspired me to want to learn more or be involved in the world of sports and I hate the idea of my love of Jesus and his people having a similar effect on people.
We wrestled through defining what the church is this week in one of my classes. What is the church to you? What makes it different? What is it about? More hard questions, but very cool to think about.