When I first started considering this idea, I did a bit of research. There are a number of articles online around deconstructing faith, books written, plenty of material to go at. But this just didn’t resonate with me. My faith is stronger than ever. My faith is not the problem.
I believe in a God who is, above all things, Love. That They have an everlasting expression we will always be a mystery, that They had an earthly expression to give us someone to relate to, and that They have a present expression around and within each and every one of us, as awake to us as we are to them. God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Me.
I am invited to be part of a relationship with God, to resonate with Them; sometimes this comes with dissonance and tension, sometimes beautiful and perfect harmony, but always available and always offering growth through the process. When I accept that invitation I have a responsibility to relate to God in all Their expressions as best I can, through prayer, study, discernment, worship and fellowship, doing all those things with regard to the direction of Jesus as recorded by the Gospel of Matthew, 22:36-40:
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
So, onto Church. Collins Dictionary defines Church as ‘a building in which Christians worship’ and also ‘one of the groups of people within the Christian religion … that have their own beliefs, clergy and forms of worship.’ (Full definition here). Other definitions include a gathering, an employer, the whole body of Christ, an activity. Yet further debate is currently ongoing around defining Church in an online context: for an excellent exposition of the arguments for and against see Phil Moore’s recent blog post.
It is recorded that Jesus renames his disciple Simon with the words ‘And I will tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’ (Matthew 16:18, NIV). The word church in this context is translated as such from the Greek word Ekklēsia This would have been a translation of the Aramaic word Jesus actually spoke, of which we have no record (for further discussion of the impact of this on our Bible see Barton, 2019). This Ekklēsia refers to the main political assembly of the Athenian democratic system, at which all male citizens qualifying for citizenship, ie having undertaken 2 years in the Army, could attend and debate within, and literally means ‘gathering of those summoned’ (Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2nd May 2020). Nyland, who has produced an updated translation of the New Testament from the Greek as an independent scholar, NOT a theologian or bible translator (which is important as it speaks to agendas, but maybe that’s another post!) translates Ekklēsia in the context of Matthew 16:18 as ‘assembly’ (Nyland, 2004). Therefore I would suggest Jesus’ intention was to establish a space to gather in fellowship and journey together, making decisions through debate and serving following His example. The example of the early church laid out in Acts appears to bear this out.
Looking to modern day Church, I see buildings, yes, and wonderful people trying to live together in fellowship and mutual support, absolutely. I have been blessed and touched countless times by both of these. But I don’t see leaders submitting to their congregants, or opening debates with all those who qualify and making decisions together. I don’t see every decision being made in service to those Jesus lead us to serve, otherwise, quite frankly, the wealth of Churches across the country would solve the poverty problem instantly. I don’t see the Love of God and our neighbours being of utmost importance of all decisions and interactions, above law and prophecy – it’s not like Jesus healed people on the Sabbath or anything! (He did, see Mark 3:1-5)
So I conclude with the understanding of Jesus’ intended ‘Assembly’ as a loving group of committed Christ followers living in community under the umbrella of love as an ideal, and the concept of Church that we have now as a muddled, western construct borne out of the Roman Empire, Patriarchy and political control – more on that later I’m sure! And this, dear reader, is what I wish to deconstruct.
Peace be with you.
Barton, J. (2019) A History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths. London: Allen Lane
Collins English Dictionary(2020). ‘church’. Available at https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/church (Accessed 2nd May 2020)
Eds. of Encyclopedia Brittanica (2018) Eccliesia. Available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ecclesia-ancient-Greek-assembly (Accessed 2nd May 2020)
Moore, P (2020) John Wesley and Online Church. Available at https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/is_online_church_really_church1 (Accessed 2nd May 2020)
Nyland, A (2004) The Source New Testament: With Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning. Australia: Smith and Sterling