Did you know that the Bible never mentions that we are to attend a "church"?
We are not even told to gather for worship in any common public facility. Don't get all worked up! We all know about the Hebrews 10:24-25
24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 24not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV)
verses about not forsaking gathering together, we'll talk about that in a minute. But first, the commonly accepted meaning of the word "church", as translated in most of the English Bibles in the world, is not the meaning of the word from which it was translated. The word "ecclesia" or "ekklesia"
means "to call out from the world and to God" (/ek, "out from and to" and 2564 /kaleo, "to call") into an "assembly" or "congregation".
is the word Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that is commonly interpreted as the word "church":
"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (ecclesia or ekklesia), and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)
The word means both more than the average person seems to think, and less than they have changed it to mean. Wikipedia defines it this way:
And, I'm certain (snicker) that you didn't notice the particular slant of this Wikipedia article toward a particular religious organization. What Jesus was speaking of in Matthew 16:18
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.
above was building a "called out" (Encyclopedia Britannica states the actual meaning as "gathering of those summoned") body of people whose faith was like that of Peter as described in the verses immediately prior to that. This can be any truly faithful person in any denomination. That faith was complete dependence on the Son of God as revealed by God the Father. That congregation is not limited to any particular group and definitely not a building.
It's "who" not "what"
My wife appropriately feels that Jesus meant a "believer community" of people who all believe the gospel and that Jesus is our Savior, which has less of a local concept and more of an "all believers" concept. A good reference to this issue can be found at the site Bible Truth:
"The purpose of this paper is to show that the early translators of the English Bible improperly translated the word "ekklesia" into the English word "church" instead of "assembly" or "congregation." This translation has helped promote the false doctrine of a universal or worldwide church, a hierarchical authority over the local congregation, and the church as being a building. The purpose of this article is to show how this translation of ekklesia as "church" has adversely affected the proper understanding of the biblical doctrine of the ekklesia will demonstrate the true meaning of the word as God inspired it and reject the influence of any particular church's false theology. I appeal to true Bible believing teachers, pastors, and authors to think seriously about the church[sic] of the term "the church" and correctly use the term "Christians." Some may counter that the term is so ingrained in our culture that it cannot be changed. Does that mean then we are to compromise God's word to appease our politically correct worldly culture?"
Not on purpose, but...
Now, this doesn't mean that all the translators of the Bible are trying to send everyone to Hell. The modern concept of the word church includes the gathering of people into a single place or state of mind, on a regular basis (not necessarily only weekly, it could be daily), for the worship of God based on the doctrines of a particular denomination. Generally, the term is taken by most people to mean Christian worship in a building. The most common Biblical reference to justify the claim that Christians must attend a church is Hebrews 10:25
25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
. However, this whole idea tends to relax church-goers into attending any church, often accepting ideas that are not Biblical, nor reality, or even close to the truth.
After some study on the issue of "church gathering", I have seen a split among those who closely follow the culture, history and language of the Hebrews as to whether this speaks of the final gathering of believers on the Day of Jesus' return or the gathering of believers in a regular asssembly. David Stern, the translator of the Complete Jewish Study Bible, spends a lot of time commenting on the passage in Hebrews 10:25. He speaks to the issue of that danger of isolating oneself from the believing community and losing touch with the encouragement and accountablilty inherent in belonging to the group. The definition of the word in question, episynagogen, refers to an "out of the ordinary" or "above and beyond" the normal assembly of believers and the reference could be a reminder to stay together, physically and spiritually, as the Day of Christ's return approaches.
But, what does it actually say?
The probability is that this verse (Hebrews 10:25
25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
) may not even speaking of a regular meeting or even regular worship, as it is commonly understood, but a common encouraging of people to be ready for the second coming of Christ (the Day). Even in their day, they thought that the return of Christ was imminent. However, as described in the words of Paul in 1 Thes 4, some had the idea that Christ had already come and gone (His life on earth) and thought that they (especially those believers who had died) had missed the boat.
Paul was trying to encourage them to keep up their hope in His impending return. Many were giving up on Jesus' promise to return as King, and that might lead to walking away from the group and maybe even the faith. If a church does not stay within the lines of the gospel, and what it really says, then it is not Jesus' church. Hebrews 10:25
25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
is encouraging them to keep up their hopes for His coming, and keep in touch with each other for encouragement as He could return ANY DAY! It is not telling them to go to church every week.
Are we sure?
Before we get too far along and leave behind Hebrews 10:25
25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
, as hinted about above, there is something about this passage that has either been ignored, dismissed as untrue, or at the very least is relatively unknown in today's "church" culture. However, just a small amount of research has shown that it is likely that we are being misled by the translators and our pastors.
The verse 25 phrase "not give up meeting with each other" is translated from a passage using a Greek word used only twice in the New Testament, and is not speaking of a weekly church meeting. The word normally used for the regular "church" meeting is "sunagoge" - from which came the word synagogue. The word used in Hebrews 10 is episynagogen, used only twice in the NT, and one of those is speaking of the "being gathered unto him" when Christ returns (2 Thessalonians 2:1
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters,
). If you are curious enough to get the facts, see the menu at the top of the middle column on this page for "Heb 10:25 Misunderstood?".
The term "Christian", when used in today's society, includes many groups that actually have anti-Christian beliefs and practices, but still meet in buildings called churches. If you think I am just making things up, take a look at the book Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. While they don't mention the Sunday problem, Easter, or Christmas, by far the worst pagan issues, they do get heavily into the source of church buildings, dress, pastors, communion, and other things. No one seems to be able to actually give a clear definition of the term "Christian". In fact, there is a tendency to believe that if you attend any church regularly, that makes you a Christian and you will therefore be saved.
Of course, there are many passages where we are told that the first apostles and disciples gathered to break bread and sing hymns while they worshipped. However, if you look closely, they were meeting in their homes to do this - not in the synagogues. Every time you hear of Jesus or the apostles going to the synagogues, the non-Christian "church" of the time, it was to teach or preach - not specifically worship. You never hear the common catch phrase that pastors use to denote "worship" sessions - "breaking bread" - used when discussing these synagogue meetings.
How did the first Christians "do church"?
Paul and his companions even went down by the river (Acts 16:13
13On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer (what many people would call church). We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.
) to a place where he expected people to gather as a place of prayer, found only women there, and immediately began to do exactly what we think we must go to a "church" to see. Oh, and there was no mention of "breaking bread", the phrase that Sunday-keepers use to declare a meeting a justification for a "new" church day replacing the Sabbath.
Take a wild guess as to what day they went down to the river. Yep, it was on the Sabbath - the seventh-day Sabbath, not Sunday. You never see this happening in the Bible on a regular basis on a numbered day of the week. With the exception of two misused passages, (Acts 2:1
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs - we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
13Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."
7On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed,"" he said. "He's alive!"
), that are not even being interpreted correctly, their worship gatherings are on the Sabbath and feast days. Yes, we are to worship God every day of the week, but we generally do not refer to this as "going to church".
How did we get off track?
In the last paragraph, I mentioned two exceptions. The first exception is the one passage that many incorrectly use to "prove" that Sunday is the "apostle-approved" new day of worship - not just for worship, but supposedly for replacing the Sabbath. However, anyone with an ounce of initiative to search will find that is not what they were doing. The passage is Acts 20:7:
7On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
A different culture
On the surface, based on the current culture here in America, this seems to be a gathering for church on Sunday, right? However, if you ask any pastor or even layman who has studied this, you will find that many (most?) of them are sure this was actually Saturday (Sabbath) evening, right after sundown, which is technically the beginning of Sunday - hence the first day of the week. The reasoning is based somewhat on the facts that Paul continued speaking until midnight, that they were not allowed to travel any significant distance on the Sabbath, and likely would not travel at night.
And a different practice
So, they waited until after the Sabbath to leave on "Sunday" morning when there were no travel restrictions. Another rarely discussed, but very significant, fact is that when the Sabbath was finished, just after sundown (the beginning of the first day of the week), the Jewish community members held a ceremony including spices, wines, and often a light meal to usher in the new week. This ceremony is called havdalah. Wikipedia defines it this way:
Havdalah (Hebrew for "separation") is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the symbolic end of Sabbath and Jewish holidays, and ushers in the new week. The ritual involves lighting a special havdalah candle with several wicks, blessing a cup of wine and smelling sweet spices. Shabbat ends on Saturday night after the appearance of three stars in the sky. Some communities delay the Havdalah in order to prolong Shabbat.
Doing what they usually do
While it can be shown that the Sabbath, and the Festivals of God, are not specifically "Jewish holidays" (some were around before the Jews even existed), this is an accurate definition of this event. The site mentioned above at Wikipedia has references to sites that will further explain the Havdalah ceremony if you have any questions. So, here they have "broken bread" on the first day of the week. Now, if Paul and his companions were there speaking to Gentiles and Jews together, that means that the Gentiles were participating in this same ceremony.
Also, since this is a traditional ceremony and is always performed starting in the first minutes after sundown on Sabbath (early on the first day of the week), and there is no reference to some mysterious cancellation of the need to observe the Sabbath (which they had just finished observing), how do people claim that Sunday is now the new day for keeping and worship?
Grabbing at the wrong straws
It is amazing that one of the purposes of this passage, seldom mentioned by those trying to change the day of rest, was to describe one of the amazing works of God - the revival of Eutychus from his death by falling out a window. People will incorrectly use this one verse to justify violating one of the ten commandments, but ignore the power of God displayed during that same talk.
Is it wrong to worship on Sunday? Of course not. But how is worshipping on Sunday a reason to reject the observance of the Sabbath? Finding a new reason to worship God and His Son (the Resurrection) is never a reason to ignore the existing commands of the God you are worshiping. Indeed, if you are in the "called out" church community (ecclesia), why would you even want to do that?
Use something Jewish in order to abandon something "Jewish"?
The second example of an exception is the Sunday "worship" gathering of Acts 2:1
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
. For some reason, this is considered proof that early Christians had already changed to Sunday and abandoned the Sabbath in the first two months after Christ's death. And all this without any formal word or mention that they had done so. But, as with many "new" Christian practices, this is an arbitrary interpretation with no consideration of the facts.
In Leviticus 23:15-16
15From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.
, God commands the Israelites to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During this festival, they are to observe the indicated Sabbaths (not necessarily only the seventh day Sabbath, since the beginning and end of many festivals are High Sabbaths). Also during this festival, there is a wave offering of the firstfruits in the evening immediately after the end of the first regular Sabbath after Passover. God commands them to start on a particular day, the day after the regular Sabbath immediately after Passover, and count off 7 weeks of days plus one day (a total of 50 days), and celebrate the Feast of Shavu'ot (Pentecost).
Guess what day this turns out to be - every time. Sunday. So, why would the modern church use this legal Israelite (think Jewish) holiday to indicate that they are no longer required to follow the commands of God and keep the Sabbath?
Not everyone believes the same
So, when you hear of churches that do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God or believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person, are these really Christian churches in the Biblical sense? If you hear of any church that allows members to freely break any of the ten commandments and other commands from God without consequence, is that church Christian?
Remember, in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
, Paul advised the Gentile Corinthian community of their obligation to God and His church for one man who violated a rule that was not even listed in the ten commandments, and then advised them to keep the Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. Would Jesus attend that church if they did not correct that situation? I mean, of course, for reasons other than to teach them the truth and the error of their beliefs.
Who will be taken?
When you hear a phrase like "Jesus will come and take the church to Heaven." or "The Rapture will take the church out of the earth and up to Heaven.", what comes to your mind as to who will be "taken"? First off, none of the passages in the Bible regarding Jesus' coming and the "taking" mention "Heaven" as a destination. This is an interpretation requiring the addition of the destination. More on this later. But aside from that, does your thought include all the people in your "Church" (Catholic, Presbyterian, Mormon, Seventh-Day Adventist, non-denominational, Wesleyan, Baptist, etc.), or just the people in your "church" (1000 Main Street)? Or do you broaden the idea to include all "true Christians" around the world, regardless of their denomination or what they believe?
Maybe you are very magnanimous and feel that the "taken" will include anyone who is a "good" person, whether or not they go to "church", or even if they do not believe in God. Or, maybe you feel that the decision will be based by God on how we live according to the way He told us to live. There are other ways people look at it, but this will give you the general idea.
Not to get too personal about it, but does everyone in your church believe the same things? Is there a fundamental list of things they must believe to belong to that church? Is that list different from the list of "those people" in the church down the street? How do those lists compare to what the Bible actually says? Does your pastor do a good job of teaching what the Bible actually says? Can you find passages that contradict the pastor's teachings, and then ask him to explain his viewpoint where it appears to contradict the Bible?
Are there no no-no's?
Just to shake things up a bit, I submit to you that every person who really reads the Bible, with no influence from others, can and will find some issues with the teachings of their church. I have done this, asked some pastors about it, and was amazed at the response from one pastor; "We know that is the wrong way to do it, but that is the way our Church does it." (And, no, I am not talking about the Catholic church in this point, but at least one well-known Protestant church.) There are some issues that are called "disputable matters", but this was about the pagan holiday we call Easter, and the pastor admitted to me that he was following something that he knew God said not to do.
Many are invited...but not everyone will enter
Do you think this is a ridiculous thought? Think about the ten virgins. They were all invited to the wedding and were waiting for the Bridegroom. In church terms, this would mean that all the members of a Church (or a church, or a group) are invited to the wedding. This is a true statement, we are all invited! Now, what happened to the virgins? We all have our ideas about what it means to run out of oil, but the end result was that half of the members of this "church" did not get to attend the wedding.
They thought they were qualified, "good enough" in their own understanding, but they were told at the door by the Bridegroom that He did not know them. Just because we are all invited does not mean that we will all get in. How do we explain this to "our" church so that the truth about what the Bridegroom expects is taught to the church, and each is not left to "his own understanding" (see Proverbs 3:5
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
, and Deuteronomy 12:8
8You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit,
, that is unless you still think the Old Testament no longer applies to the modern church)? Yes, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit, but we should also know and understand what the whole word of God instructs us to do, and not just listen to our own "warm fuzzies", so we know what the promptings mean.
Who's in charge, anyway?
In this scenario of the virgins, there was obviously some sort of discrepancy between what the five foolish virgins believed and what was real. What was that gap? How could it have been corrected? Where could the information be found that would have "saved" the five who were lost? These are not silly questions. The word of God answers all of these questions. I have seen and heard what people believe, and most of it comes from what they feel about what the pastors and "Church" say to them.
If you compare these beliefs to what the Bible actually says, you find some huge gaps. The problem occurs when you try to communicate these gaps, and the Biblical reasons for them, to people. This is a shocking thought, but not everyone is open to discuss or even consider something they may not know. Even if you just point to some possible examples, suggest they read them for themselves, and don't even try to "explain" them, the resistance wall is already up because you are "not a pastor". So, how can you, a layman, know that there even are gaps, much less what causes them?
Trying to help
The first thing people do is fall back on their feelings and deny that you know what you are talking about. The gaps still exist, and people see the reasons, but their church assures them they are on the right path, regardless of what the Bible actually says. They have been convinced that the truth is too "mystical" for the average person to know, and their pastor would have let them know otherwise. Even if they recognize the truth, their church does not give them a way to incorporate this truth into their lives. For example, many, many church attenders are certain that the God they worship would never send anyone to Hell. To me, besides contradicting what the Bible says, that idea makes Heaven a scary place.
The five foolish virgins did not know why they failed, only that they did fail, and then it was too late to go back and fix it. In fact, we know nothing about their lives, just that they failed. Most "Christians" will tell you that this condition cannot exist anywhere. They say that Jesus will save us because He loves us and we believe in Him. What happened with these virgins? How do we reconcile this idea with the actual words of Jesus in Matthew 25:12
12"I tell you the truth, I do not know you."
or Matthew 7:21
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
? Is there a discrepancy between what we think He wants and what the Bible really says that He wants?
Going to church
Going back to the first point above - the Bible never tells us that we must go to "church". Hebrews 10:25
25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
advises us not to give up on the idea of being gathered together to Christ at his coming (see Heb 10:25 Misunderstood?), but the pastors explain it as something else entirely. This misinterpretation causes shallow believers to feel that you must go to church to be in God's will, and that if you do, you will be saved. However, what about Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:11
11But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
)? That little word in there, "idolater", does not mean only those who make images and bow down to them. This means anyone who lets anything get between them and God and His will.
If you go to a church down the street because it is close to your house, and you discover that they are flagrantly disobeying God's commands (this would be idolatry, as they are putting their desires ahead of God's commands), should you continue going to that church? Well, if you feel that you must attend a church to be saved, and cannot find a Bible-based one locally, then you will have to start your own and try to build it on the instructions given in the Bible. Ever tried that in a world that feels everyone's opinion is valid, regardless of what God has commanded? I have, and it doesn't work as easily as you might think.
What do we seek?
People today seem to be looking for the peaches and cream, "no one is going to hell", "just love your neighbor", "the Old Testament no longer applies", "the law does not apply to Christians" nonsense coming out of the "new" covenant. They are confident that this means "we are completely free to do whatever we want because Jesus loves us" philosophy. It seems that anything else is just someone's opinion, regardless of what the Bible actually says.
No one is perfect, so no church will have it all. But doesn't it seem right to make sure that what they do have is in line with the Book that God gave us so that we will know His will? Remember what Jesus said to the father of a boy with a demon spirit and the father's attitude toward His comment (Mark 9:14-24):
14When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16"What are you arguing with them about?" he asked.
17A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."
19"You unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."
20So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"
"From childhood," he answered. 22"It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
23" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes."
24Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
Does anyone really think that this phrase in verse 23 from the Son of God means that anything you believe makes "Everything possible...", whether or not it is God's will? If you put it in context, maybe He is saying that if you believe in Him and the Father, the Truth, and follow it with all your heart, then "Everything is possible..." that is in the will of God. And what is the father of the boy saying if not "Lord, I believe what I know, but teach me more of You."?
So, I am not a pastor. We are all basing our lives on what we learn as we go along. When mistakes are made, and we learn from the mistakes (whether our own or those of others), we need to learn as much as possible about what caused the mistakes so as not to repeat them. This means study. Not just listening to a peaches and cream Sunday sermon about being nice, but reading the Bible and comparing the word to real life. This also means sharing what we learn. We may not have all the answers, but if what we say makes sense based on the word of God, and we are truly trying to help, shouldn't we try to share? This helps others come out of the world and into the "called out" assembly of God. After all, isn't that what "church" is supposed to be all about?
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