We have to take a brief trip back through history to uncover where we adopted the word “church” over the word “Ekklesia.”
The point of this section is to provide a fly-by of historical events that led us away from Christ’s original intent, causing us to misunderstand and misappropriate our assignment, which had an impact on both our functional identity and our mission.
This is not meant to be a thorough post on Church history but a capsulation of events leading up to the widespread removal of “Ekklesia” and the rise in popularity of the word “church.”
By shedding light on this, I hope to achieve a “wake-up call” to the body of Christ and an intentional realignment with our Lord’s original assignment, with the purpose of getting back on track with a fuller understanding and revelation of what the Lord wants to do on Earth.
Christianity Legalized by the Roman Empire
The original Ekklesia, beginning in the Book of Acts, expanded and influenced cities and nations until about 325 AD. Though it was oppressed and persecuted, the Ekklesia Christ had established could not be stopped.
The Ekklesia was so influential in reaching cities and regions that in 325 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine (whom, it has been said, became a Christian), legalized Christianity. During this time, the Nicene Creed was written, and great cathedrals began to be built.
Christianity Officially Becomes State Religion of the Roman Empire
In 380 AD, Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great made Christianity the state/national religion of the entire Roman Empire. What appeared to be the pinnacle of revival became the unraveling of the Ekklesia. The state church squeezed the Ekklesia into its mold, gaining control of its leadership for its own personal gain.
For the next 1,000 years, formalized religion slowly takes over the Ekklesia like yeast in the dough. The leadership of the church becomes corrupt, taking on a form of godliness by denying its power.
Now, only the “professional” clergy, the wealthy and educated who understand Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, have access to the Bible. This Roman Catholic (universal) church becomes well established and engrained into the culture of the empire.
God, in the meantime, keeps groups of people pure from the polluted religious system. These were rogue members of the Ekklesia, carrying the voice of the undefiled gospel.
The Growth of the Word “Church”
I found this summery of the growth of the word “church” from the “True Discipleship” website authored by Richard Hollermen.
“The English language was first spoken on this planet as a Germanic dialect, known as Old English or Anglo-Saxon, which began to be spoken in northern England some years after the Anglo-Saxon conquest of that island starting in 449 AD. The earliest written Old English, however, did not appear until approximately 800 AD. If we allow 50 years for the conquest to have its effect on England’s native dwellers, that means sometime around 500 AD, the people in northern England started referring to a building erected for worship as a cirice, later, chirche, and finally, a church.
It is extremely difficult to understand how this word which was not spoken anywhere on earth until 400 years after the New Testament was written and cannot be shown by a single citation to have been a word known to first-century people—how this word could be the definition of a first-century word.”
The Tyndale Translation of the New Testament and Its Threat to the State Church
Through the centuries, the state church maintains its power through bloody crusades against resistance groups for the sake of “doctrinal purity.”
A climax is reached in 1525 AD when William Tyndale translates the New Testament from Greek to English for all common people to read. The translation is known as the “Tyndale Translation.”
Now, in his translation of Matthew 16:18, Tyndale rightly translates the Greek word ekklesia” as “congregation,” as opposed to the word “church,” which had been used for centuries prior.
Actually, you can use either word, “congregation” or “assembly” as a proper rendering for the word “Ekklesia.” Nonetheless, this one word, translated properly by Tyndale, marked the beginning of his death.
Rome claims that Peter started the “Church”; thus, the Church is to be led by popes and bishops and not placed in the hands of any “congregation or assembly.”
Tyndale’s accurate translation of this one word puts the entire papal system in jeopardy.
Because Tyndale’s translation would become public, the correct translation of Matt. 16:18 would be read by the masses and would present a real threat to the power structure of the religious institution.
Though threatened by the leaders of the Roman Catholic church, Tyndale would not rescind the word “congregation.” As a result, he was betrayed by Sir Thomas More and sentenced to death. William Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536.
The Rise of the Church of England (Anglican Church)
Seeking to take advantage of the growing Protestant movement and looking for a way to separate from the Roman Catholics, King Henry VIII endorses the Great Bible (produced in 1535 AD). The Great Bible is, in essence, a rebranded version of the Tyndale Bible, produced to sidestep the papal system since the Roman Catholic church did not grant permission for King Henry VIII to divorce his wife and marry another woman.
King Henry VIII persuades the English Parliament to separate from the Roman Catholic Church. The 1534 Act of Supremacy makes Henry VIII head of the English Church and officially nullifies the Pope’s authority in the country.
The Geneva and Bishops’ Bible Produced
The church at Geneva, Switzerland, produces the Protestant “Geneva Bible” in 1560 AD.
Under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, the Bishops’ Bible is produced in 1568 AD.
The King James Version of the Bible and the Final Blow to the Ekklesia
In 1604 AD, a new translation project is started, i.e. “The King James Authorized Version of the Bible” by the now newly named, state-run, Anglican Church under the rule of King James. The King James Authorized Version of the Bible is produced for the English state-run nationalized church to compete with the Protestant Geneva Bible.
King James deploys 47 translators for the project and issues 15 rules for translation. Within the 15 rules of translation, article 3 says, “The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word “church” not to be translated to congregation.”
By translating Ekklesia as “church” instead of “congregation” or “assembly,” King James and the Anglican state church accomplishes their goal of maintaining power by defining Christ’s body as “the Lord’s house” instead of “legislative ruling assembly.”
The King James Authorized Version is published in 1611 and quickly grows in popularity, overtaking the Protestant, Geneva Bible, and with it, the misappropriation of the word Ekklesia as “church” instead of “congregation/assembly.”
The King James Version has been, and still is, THE most popular and number-one-selling translation of the Bible for over 500 years!
We’ve been building the “church” as it’s been translated.
For 500 years, we’ve been building the “church” as it’s been translated, defined, and understood, but not building the Ekklesia that Jesus commissioned. Given that “church” and “Ekklesia” carry two different meanings, they bring us different results.
In the next post, I will provide the meaning of Christ’s Ekklesia and the context in which our Lord used this word.
A Final Word
It’s important to note that I’m not trying to single out the Roman Catholic church, nor am I saying that the way we have been doing “church” is somehow ungodly. This is the furthest thing from my heart.
Our study of church history reveals that all of us have made vital mistakes along the way. But we must realize that mankind’s unregenerate hearts are darkened—the thirst for position, power, and control are real and can veer us off course.
It’s crucial that we uncover Christ’s original mandate so we align with His heart and mission. We will be looking at this in the next post in the series.