It’s a conspiracy theory a thousand years in the making. When you think of a ‘church,’ you probably think of an address, a building, a worship service. But that was never Jesus’ intention. If you’re familiar with the Bible, then you know the climactic story when Jesus launched the ‘church.’ He was with his disciples and asked them who they thought he was. Here was Peter’s incredible response:
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 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. Matthew 16:16-18
There it is. Black and white (or red letters if you’ve got that kind of Bible). Jesus inaugurated the ‘church.’ The only problem is, the word ‘church’ shouldn’t be in the Bible. The original Greek word is ekklesia, which literally means “assembly” or “gathering.” It was an abrupt departure from the Old Testament model where religion was centered on a place (the temple). Jesus said that his assembly, his gathering, would be centered not on a place of worship, but on a person.
So why don’t our English Bibles have the word “assembly” or “gathering”? Where does the word “church” come from? “Church” derives not from a biblical Greek word, but from the medieval German word “kirche,” which literally means “house of the Lord.” What’s the significance? Jesus came to abolish the old temple model where religion was centered around a place. But by the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had reintroduced the temple model with religion centering around holy places and towering cathedrals. ‘Church’ was literally a place you went to.
When William Tyndale (who was the first to translate the Bible into the English language in 1526) came to this Greek word ekklesia, he had the audacity to translate it “congregation,” honoring the truth that Jesus came to institute something centered not around a location, but around a group of people called to a specific purpose. For this audacity, William Tyndale was burned at the stake but the ‘Church’.
Unfortunately, the concept of ‘church’ had already been ingrained in popular culture and further translations (most notably the King James Version created by a king who controlled the houses of worship in England) reverted to the word ‘church’. And hence came the popular idea that the church is a location, a place you go to. But simply put, that was never the intent. Jesus did not come to institute a religion centered around a location. He came to institute a movement, an assembly, a gathering of people centered around Him. Buildings, cathedrals, steeples, sanctuaries, church buildings, are all inconsequential.
The church has never been the building. It’s always been the people. Don’t fall for the conspiracy.