Monday, 12 September 2016

Ekklesia and all it's problems.

I phoned up my dad yesterday and he started telling me about a conversation he had with his friend. It was around the word "church". He told me that the word "church" had never been used in the Bible, and Jesus never said it. (I did think, "Well, duh, Jesus spoke Greek.") The point my dad was getting at was about the problems of our understanding of the word "church". It's not a new argument and you can find a bit about it on the interweb.

The general idea goes like this. The word church is used as our translation of the Greek word, ekklesia. This word in the Greek means a public assembly or gathering. It could be a gathering due to a public function or it could be a crowd that gathered for some other reason, perhaps like a riot. So it was simply a group of people, of an indeterminate quantity meeting in an indeterminate fashion for an indeterminate reason. The problem that people have with the word church, or translation of the Greek idea, is the connotations of institutionalism or an architectural landmark. It's less about the people and more about the systems or the bricks and mortar.

Herein, I agree. The word church is flawed because of what meanings we have given it.

Now, it sounded like the dispute turned into something about how the problem lay in an inerrant and inaccurate translation. As the word 'church' was not a direct derivative of the word ekklesia this has contributed to this problem. Read this article here, which details this in a lot of, well, detail.

Now, I'm going to say the problem is not with semantics. As a bloke who had to study literary theory, I had to read up on deconstructionism. This is the idea that there was no connection between the object or idea and the word we gave it. For example, we assigned the letters c-a-t (to be said /kæt/) to the feline mammals that scratch sofas across the breadth of Britain. There is no link between those letters and sound combinations and animal other than the meaning we gave to it. There is no real link between the letters c-h-u-r-c-h (and the sounds /tʃɜrtʃ/) and the idea. Therefore, simply changing the arbitrary letters and sounds for another set (such as a-s-s-e-m-b-l-y, said /əˈsɛm'bli/) will not make much difference.

In French, the word for church is église. This word takes it roots, via Latin, from ekklesia. I don't think they have a better idea of it being about the people and not the institution, despite the stronger link. Otherwise, they probably would not protect the division between the church and state so fiercely. The word, or label, we give an idea is not the problem; or at least, changing the word is probably not going to get us that far.

What we need to do is change the idea. How we do that? Ay, there's the rub. How do we change the idea attached to the word church to mean more than old buildings with pointy spires? How do we make it more than the ten-thirty Sunday service? But the other big question is what should it mean instead? How do we get rid of cultural and personal baggage and give the word it's proper meaning? These are big questions, and indeed hundreds of books have been written about this.

I don't have the answers but perhaps someone out there does!

Help me out! What are your thoughts?

  1. What does the word "church" mean to you?
  2. What should the word church mean?
  3. If you could create a dictionary definition for the word, what would it be?
  4. Why is there a discrepancy between what the idea of church should be and what it is commonly held to be?
  5. How do we change the ideas surrounding the word church?
Wow. Some massive questions there! Let me hear your views.

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