Happy Birthday President Taft!
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, today is the birthday of our 27 President, William Howard Taft. If he were still alive, he’d be a spritely 157 years old.
Not only that, but it’s the birthday of:
- Tommy Lee Jones (66)
- Oliver Stone (66)
- Dan Marino (51)
- Prince Harry (28)
- Agatha Christy (whose books I enjoy and who helped inspire my sermon, “And Then There Were None,” would have been 123)1
Of course, the history of a day isn’t limited to birthdays, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac also notes (in part) that on this day:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. And sorry, the audio has some interference, but is probably still listenable. ]
- In 1776, the British occupied New York
- In 1789, the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs was renamed the Department of State
- In 1913 “A milch goat show started at the Rochester Industrial Exposition in New York state” 🙂
- In 1963, a “bomb killed four girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church that was popular for civil rights meetings”2
And although that last bit of history is something for our nation to be greatly ashamed of, there is one more occurrence that happened today that I think that has led to even greater tragedy. Per Infoplease.com, today, back in 1835, “Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle reached the Galapagos Islands.”3
How the devil has used Charles Darwin’s conclusions to deceive so many in the modern age…
National Back to Church Sunday
As interesting as all…well most…of those facts are, it was something posted on the Pleasant View Church of Christ Facebook group by the church’s pastor, Glenn Newton, that is the inspiration for this sermon. In trying to encourage as many people as possible to show up today he noted that Sunday, September 15, 2013 is “National Back to Church Sunday.”
Please return to the catholic Church
And in the spirit of National Back to Church Sunday,4 I am asking everyone hearing my voice to…
Please return to the catholic Church!
In case you didn’t hear me the first time…
Please return to the catholic Church!
Okay…okay…before anyone jumps up, accuses me of being a Romanist, and then barrels out of here.
Or before the deacons and elders come up, cuff me, and escort me out those doors in the bank of the sanctuary…
Please hold on for the punch line 🙂
What is “Church”?
Now…if you think of it…before someone can head “back to church” on National Back to Church Sunday…they have to know what “church” is.
Milton Berle didn’t define that word, but I do like how he described it:
One thing about church—you’re never too bad to come in and you’re never too good to stay out.5
Since I’ve gone ahead and quoted him once, Uncle Miltie also joked:
A newcomer to town is looking for a church to start attending. He drops in at the Fourth Street Church just in time to hear the minister say, “We have left undone the many things we should have done, and we have done many of the things we shouldn’t have done.”
The newcomer smiles and says to himself, “I found my group.”6
Although both of those are implicitly good descriptions of the church, where do we go to define biblical terms?
That’s right, the Bible! 🙂
Now, if you use Logos Bible software to search for the word church in the English Standard Version you’ll get 109 hits in 106 verses. Since we try to shoot for 20ish minute sermons and I’ve already eaten-up quite a bit of it, we’ll choose a small selection of those results to inform what exactly, today, folks should be returning to.
Does anyone know what the first occurrence of the word “church” is in Scripture? Let’s turn together to Matthew 16:13-18 to take a look at it:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I am in danger of being called a Romanist again, because, of all things, the Roman Catholic church uses those words to argue that they are the true church thanks to apostolic succession—starting with Peter.
Don’t worry. First, I’m not going to make that argument. Second, they are wrong. 🙂
However, you can see one of the most common uses of the word church in a Christian context in those verses. In that case, what is it referring to?
Is it referring to a group of people or a building in Jerusalem or in Rome?
Is it referring to a denomination?
Instead, it is referring to everyone who would ultimately join the body of Christ. Everyone who would, like Peter, make the same acknowledgement that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the living God.”
Now, of those 109 hits in 106 verses…only three of them (in two verses) exist in the Gospels. The second cases is also in Matthew. It’s in a section where Jesus outlines how to handle a situation where you are wronged by a brother or a sister. Matthew 18:17 states:
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
In those verses you can see the second type of use of the word church in a Christian context.
Is it referring to the entire body of believers?
Perhaps, but probably more localized then that.
Is it referring to a denomination?
Is it referring to a local church?
Probably yes…although let’s turn to Acts 20:17 to get a definitive use of the word church as referring to a local congregation:
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
There in Acts we can specifically see the word church used to refer to the local church in Ephesus. And, although I didn’t actually count them, that appears to be the most common way the word church is used in a Christian context. As such, it is totally legitimate…and biblical…for us to be named the Arvada Church of Christ.
So, now we have to major ways to use the word church:
- To refer to a local congregation
- To refer to the entire body of Christ
Is that all? Any other different uses of the word “church” you can think of?
I found two more…although not near as common as the first two. 1 Corinthians 16:19 shows one that is narrower than even the local congregation and Acts 9:31 shows a use that is greater than a local congregation, but less than all believers. Let’s start with 1 Corinthians:
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:19).
Is “church” there referring to…
The whole body of Christ?
A local body of Christ?
Well, sort of. But in this case I personally treat it as something smaller…a group of people who meet and worship the Lord in a person’s house. Now, if some of you prefer to lump that in with “local congregation”…I’m not going to arm wrestle you over it :-), but since I’m the guy gettin’ to preach today…we’ll go with it for now. 🙂
How about Acts 9:31? What use of the word “church” does it add? Let’s turn there to find out…
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Is that referring to…
The whole body of Christ?
A local body of Christ?
It is instead referring the church in an area…bigger than a local congregation…but smaller than the body of all believers. And, if you think of it, sometimes when the Bible seems to be referring to a local congregation, it could be referring to multiple ones. For instance, if I wrote an article “to the church in Denver”…I might intend it for all the churches in Denver and outlying areas.
In either case, we end up with four biblical uses of the word “church” in a Christian context:
- Referring to a regular gathering in a person’s home
- Referring to a local congregation
- Referring to believers in an area
- Referring to the entire body of Christ
By the way, did you notice that there was one question I asked about the use of the word “church” that never got the answer yes.
I asked if it was referring to a denomination.
The word church in the Bible never refers to a denomination. That is not a biblical use, that is a manmade one.
But, that’s a bit boring…
Although I hope my presentation has been interesting enough to keep your attention, I could see some of you…especially the younger ones…saying that a sermon defining such a simple word is a bit boring.
However, the reality is that we aren’t talking about a sterile scientific term here that just divides a group of people that meet in room with a cross at the front from a group of people that meet anywhere else. Instead, it is a couple of words that are added to “church” ten times (at least in the English Standard Version) that makes it exciting instead of boring.
Can you guess what those two words are?
Let’s turn back to Acts near where we read the beginning of the narrative of Paul’s tearful goodbye to the church of Ephesus. Paul had some awesome advice…well…a wise command…for that church’s elders (one our elders need listen to too):
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
No…when we use the word church to refer to our wonderful family here…or to more Christians…or to fewer…
It is not a sterile, boring English word to narrow things down. Instead, it is a powerful, energetic word that connects us to the Giver of life…the Most High.
We are members of the church of God!
And…per the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament:
Ἐκκλησία, wherever it appears by itself as an ecclesiological term, is to be understood as an abbreviation of the original term ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ. That is, the more precise designation with the genitivus auctoris “of God” is to be assumed. (In this sense G vg in 1 Cor 14:4; Phil 3:6 have appropriately added “of God.”)7
Perhaps we need to remind our selves of that whenever we use the term church:
- We don’t attend church…we attend the church of God!
- We aren’t members of a church…we are members of the church of God!
- You aren’t sitting in church…you are sitting in the church of God!
And since Jesus is God…it is still biblical to call ourselves the “Arvada Church of Christ.” That, and Paul writes:
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you (Romans 16:16).
What an awesome thing it is to be able to say we are members of the “church of God” and the “church of Christ”!
Okay, I suppose I have depended on your patience long enough and should explain why I asked everyone who hears my voice…whether sitting before me…live on the internet…or listening to the recording later…to…
Please return to the catholic church!
Perhaps many of you have recited…and agree…with the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell
The third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
I believe in the Holy Ghost
I believe a holy catholic church; the communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins
The resurrection of the body
And the life everlasting. Amen.8
Those who created the National Back to Church Sunday are probably using the word “church” in the context of a local congregation. The Roman Catholic Church would (likely) gladly expand that to their denomination.
But we’ve learned “church” in the Bible never is referring to a denomination.
In the Apostles’ Creed “church” has a word in front of it…what was it?
The word “catholic.”
In that context it does not mean the Roman Catholic Church…instead it means the universal church…
The entire body of Christ.
If you have fallen away…
If you have fallen away, please return to the “holy catholic church; the communion of saints.”
I don’t care which local church that is, as long as is a collection of true believers.
Now, if you have never been a part…or truly been a part…of the holy catholic church…
What are you waiting for?
As Uncle Miltie humorously noted…”you’re never too bad to come in and you’re never too good to stay out”…and like that newcomer at Fourth Street Church…you’ve found your group.
But, more importantly, it’s not just a church.
It is the church of God…the church of Christ.
Repent. Be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 2:38).
Become a member of the holy catholic church…the church of God!
As is often the case, the time constraints of a sermon mean I have to leave out most of my research. Since I may be leading a Bible study right after this sermon, here is some material that is also related to the Christian use of the word “church.”
“Because I said so.” “Really?!”
“Because I said so.” “Really?”” is a sermon I preached that, in many respects, is even more applicable to “National Return to Church Sunday.” However, I’ve made it a rule not to reuse sermons. 🙂
It gave the top ten reasons to attend church:
10. Because I said so
9. Because church potluck food has no calories
7. The day is drawing near
6. It’s good for your back
5. We need you…you “complete” us
4. Because it decreases the chance you’ll have to go to the emergency room
3. If you go it alone, you will fail
2. It is fire insurance
1. Because, ultimately, all you have is Jesus and He is here
Want explanations? Please see:
The Nicene Creed also mentions the holy catholic church:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.9
Discussion of the Greek word for “church”
The Greek lemma for the word used most often as church in the Bible shows up 114 times in 111 verses.
What is a lemma?
In morphology and lexicography, a lemma (plural lemmas or lemmata) is the canonical form, dictionary form, or citation form of a set of words (headword). In English, for example, run, runs, ran and running are forms of the same lexeme, with run as the lemma. Lexeme, in this context, refers to the set of all the forms that have the same meaning, and lemma refers to the particular form that is chosen by convention to represent the lexeme.10
Now, understanding that…some interesting info about the Greek word (in its various forms):
1577. ἐκκλησία ekklēsia; from 1537 and 2564; an assembly, a (religious) congregation:—assembly(3), church(74), churches(35), congregation(2).11
1577. ἐκκλησία ekklēsía; gen. ekklēsías, fem. noun from ékklētos (n.f.), called out, which is from ekkaléō (n.f.), to call out. It was a common term for a congregation of the ekklētoí (n.f.), the called people, or those called out or assembled in the public affairs of a free state, the body of free citizens called together by a herald (kḗrux ) which constituted the ekklēsía. In the NT, the word is applied to the congregation of the people of Israel (Acts 7:38).12
ἐκκλησία, ας, ἡ ekklesia national assembly; congregation, congregational assembly, church; (the) Church13
1. The 114 occurrences of ἐκκλησία in the NT are unevenly distributed. There are only 3 occurrences in the Gospels, all in Matthew (16:18; 18:17 bis). The word appears most frequently in Paul’s letters (46 occurrences, 22 of which are in 1 Corinthians), in the deutero-Pauline letters (16 occurrences), and in Acts (23 occurrences). It appears twice in Hebrews. Among the Catholic Epistles, it is found only in 3 John (3 occurrences) and James (once). Of the 20 occurrences in Revelation, 19 are in formalized phrases in the letters to the seven churches (chs. 1—3).14
2. The noun ἐκκλησία is derived etymologically from ἐκ and καλέω; accordingly it was used to designate “(the totality of) those who are called out.” However, this original meaning nowhere plays a recognizable role in our material. It is always displaced by terminological shifts which the concept has undergone during a long history. In classical Greek as well as in Hellenistic literature, it became a technical expression for the assembly of the people, consisting of free men entitled to vote (CIG I, 739, no. 1567). This political usage is present also in Acts 19:39, which refers to “the regular assembly” of the inhabitants of Ephesus. In a wider sense the word can be used for any public assembly; thus in Acts 19:32 it is used of an “assembly” “in confusion,” which had come together in the theater at the urging of the silversmiths of Ephesus (cf. also v. 40).
In the overwhelming majority of the NT passages, ἐκκλησία is used as a fixed Christian term and is to be translated with congregation or congregational assembly or c(C)hurch. Distinguishing among passages that use ἐκκλησία with these different meanings is possible only within limits. The distinction between congregation/ church (the body of Christians at a specific place; Germ. Gemeinde) and Church (the supra-congregational association of God’s people or the totality of all Christians; Germ. Kirche) is foreign to the NT. Closely related is the fact that early Christianity did not conceive of ἐκκλησία primarily as an organizational, but rather as a theological entity. The ecclesia universalis is neither a secondary union made up of individual autonomous churches, nor is the local congregation only an organizational sub-unit of the total Church. Rather, both the local assembly of Christians and the trans-local community of believers are equally legitimate forms of the ἐκκλησία created by God.15
1577 ἐκκλησία [ekklesia /ek·klay·see·ah/] n f. From a compound of 1537 and a derivative of 2564; TDNT 3:501; TDNTA 394; GK 1711; 118 occurrences; AV translates as “church” 115 times, and “assembly” three times. 1 a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly. 1A an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating. 1B the assembly of the Israelites. 1C any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously. 1D in a Christian sense. 1D1 an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting. 1D2 a company of Christian, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order’s sake. 1D3 those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body. 1D4 the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth. 1D5 the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven.16
Why can’t the Roman Catholic Church use Matthew 16 to claim they are the only church?
From the English Standard Version Study Bible:
16:18 you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. This is one of the most controversial and debated passages in all of Scripture. Roman Catholics have appealed to this passage to defend the idea that Peter was the first pope. The key question concerns Peter’s relationship to “this rock.” In Greek, “Peter” is Petros (“stone”), which is related to petra (“rock”). The other NT name of Peter, Cephas (cf. John 1:42; 1 Cor. 1:12), is the Aramaic equivalent: kepha’ means “rock,” and translates in Greek as Kēphas. “This rock” has been variously interpreted as referring to (1) Peter himself; (2) Peter’s confession; or (3) Christ and his teachings. For several reasons, the first option is the strongest. Jesus’ entire pronouncement is directed toward Peter, and the connecting word “and” (Gk. kai) most naturally identifies the rock with Peter himself. But even if “this rock” refers to Peter, the question remains as to what that means. Protestants generally have thought that it refers to Peter in his role of confessing Jesus as the Messiah, and that the other disciples would share in that role as they made a similar confession (see Eph. 2:20, where the church is built on all the apostles; cf. Rev. 21:14). Jesus’ statement did not mean that Peter would have greater authority than the other apostles (indeed, Paul corrects him publicly in Gal. 2:11—14), nor did it mean that he would be infallible in his teaching (Jesus rebukes him in Matt. 16:23), nor did it imply anything about a special office for Peter or successors to such an office. Certainly in the first half of Acts Peter appears as the spokesman and leader of the Jerusalem church, but he is still “sent” by other apostles to Samaria (Acts 8:14), and he has to give an account of his actions to the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:1—18). Peter is presented as having only one voice at the Jerusalem council, and James has the decisive final word (Acts 15:7—21). And, though Peter certainly has a central role in the establishment of the church, he disappears from the Acts narrative after Acts 16. “Church” (Gk. ekklēsia) is used only here and in Matt. 18:17 in the Gospels. Jesus points ahead to the time when his disciples, his family of faith (12:48—50), will be called “my church.” Jesus will build his church, and though it is founded on the apostles and the prophets, “Christ Jesus himself [is] the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Some scholars object that Jesus could not have foreseen the later emergence of the “church” at this time, but the use of Greek ekklēsia to refer to God’s “called out” people has substantial background in the Septuagint (e.g., Deut. 9:10; 31:30; 1 Sam. 17:47; 1 Kings 8:14). Jesus is predicting that he will build a community of believers who follow him. This “called out” community would soon become known as “the church,” a separate community of believers, as described in the book of Acts.17
All the verses that matched the lemma for “church” in Greek
As a final Bible study approach…look up every time the word “church” is used in the Bible and consider the scope. Is it speaking of the local congregation? Something else? What else does it tell you about the church of God?
1Calendar for September 15th, 2013. (n.d.). The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Retrieved September 14, 2013, from http://www.almanac.com/calendar/date/2013-09-15
3This Day in History: September 15. (n.d.). Infoplease. Retrieved September 14, 2013, from http://www.infoplease.com/dayinhistory/September-15
4Please see http://backtochurch.com
5Berle, M. (1989). Milton Berle’s Private Joke File (p. 146). New York: Three Rivers Press.
6Berle, M. (1993). More of the Best of Milton Berle’s Private Joke File (p. 130). Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books.
7Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990—). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
8Historic Creeds and Confessions. (1997) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
11Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.
12Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
10Lemma (morphology). (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved September 14, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemma_(morphology)
13Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990—). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
16Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
17Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1855). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.