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May 2012

The C-word

No, this post is not about what you may be thinking.  The word I had in mind was...CHURCH.  This word, which has been in the English language for a very long time, has also had times of unpopularity among people who consider themselves followers of Christ. I've been involved lately in a discussion on Facebook about what the Greek word εκκλεσια (ekklesia) meant in its New Testament context: was it another word for "synagogue," or did it refer specifically to a group of people?  And where did this English word "church" come from?

Well, it turns out that εκκλεσια has a rather complex history.  In the Septuagint, it was often used interchangeably with συναγογη (synagoge) to translate the Hebrew word qahal, which is often translated "assembly."  In the New Testament, εκκλεσια seems to be used mainly to describe the group of people who recognized Jesus as Messiah, whereas συναγογη seems to describe the place where Jews gathered for prayer and Scripture study.  And how about the word "church"?  It was derived from a Greek phrase κυριακον δομα (kyriakon doma), which meant "the Lord's house."  So we're back to a word that describes the building instead of the people.  Where it gets confusing is that the English word "church" is used in the vast majority of English translations to translate εκκλεσια.  You can see how the whole thing got a bit confusing.

During the Protestant Reformation, reaction against the institutional Church (with a capital C) caused many of the reformers to use words that emphasized the congregational aspect of εκκλεσια.  Luther's Bible uses "Gemeinde" (congregation), rather than "Kirche" (church).  And the original printing of the Geneva Bible, favored by the Puritans, used "congregation" instead of "church," as Tyndale had done before that.

Which brings me to today.  Here in Nashville, it's been said that you can't throw a rock without hitting a church.  Indeed, we have lots of churches in Nashville.  Most of them have the word "church" somewhere in their names: Charlotte Pike Church of Christ, St. Ann's Catholic Church, St. John's United Methodist Church, Christ Church Cathedral, etc.  But I have noticed several congregations that have signs that read something like: Abundant Harvest Worship Center, or Bethel World Outreach Center, or Oak Hill Assembly.  My favorite is the sign outside of Westminster Presbyterian Church that reads: "Westminster Presbyterian Church Gathers Here."  That is a neat way of emphasizing that the church itself is not the building, but the people who meet there.  There is certainly a lot of baggage attached to the word "church," and it's no wonder that some churches (or congregations, or assemblies) are attempting to shed some of that baggage.

Should we drop the word "church," especially in our Bible translations?  Or should we do a better job of teaching people what the word actually means?  Can we reclaim the word, so it isn't considered a negative word?  Possibly a worthy goal.

Posted via email from CORYBANTER: babble and banter, bypassing banality

Book Review- Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus

[I received a free copy of this book in ebook format from the blogger program at]

I thought Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus (by Moishe Rosen's daughter, Ruth Rosen) sounded like it would be an interesting story, despite its ponderous title.  Boy, was I wrong.  It was dull, excruciatingly dull.  And although the author seems to be trying throughout the book to impress us with Moishe's accomplishments, my overall impression of Moishe Rosen was that he must have been a pompous ass.  Over and over, we read of how Moishe ignored people's feelings or ideas, in his zeal for doing and saying things his way.  We even read how Moishe, in an attempt to make a point, smacked one of his female assistants full in the face, supposedly to demonstrate her "trust" for him.  
I don't know if I thought Moishe's journey from his mostly secular Jewish upbringing to Christian faith would be inspiring or fascinating, but it mostly made me sad.  Not because he was such a good Jew or anything (he had been an agnostic, more or less), but because, in typical missionary style, once he decided all Jews must accept Jesus, he insisted on trying to convert his whole family, and just couldn't understand why they would not jump right on board!  That attitude is simply part and parcel of Moishe's lifelong inability to empathize with anyone.  Ruth Rosen even points out his lack of empathy towards the end of the book, and oddly points it out as one of Moishe's strengths.  Apparently, she (like her father) believes that missionaries have no need to empathize with those whom they are trying to convert.  "Get the job done, and get 'em on our side," seems to be the Moishe Rosen (and Jews for Jesus) motto.
Honestly, before I read this boring book, I used to think Jews for Jesus was a worthwhile ministry.  Having read the book, I don't think they're really doing anything very laudable.  I don't believe they make a very good case for why a Jew should abandon his or her heritage.  I imagine many Christians will read this book and find it an amazing story.  I struggled to finish it, and found it a waste of time.  One star.

Posted via email from CORYBANTER II: babble and banter, bypassing banality