Why You Are NOT "the Church"
September 17, 2020 • Jamey Escamilla
“We need to stop making a big deal out of going to church. It’s just a building. We ARE the church!”
I hear this saying all the time among Christians.
And I’m just kind of tired of hearing it. I’m going to tell you why in this article.
On the surface, it sounds like a very powerful and true statement.
But I think that’s kind of a weakness of our modern day, American church.
We just kind of say things because they sound true and good, but we don’t study them to make sure that they’re biblically correct.
Sometimes I think that we’re valuing the truth less and less.
But we have to believe things because they’re true, not because they’re cool to believe in.
The most important reason for Christians to study and make sure that what we’re saying is biblically correct is this:
What we say and teach has to be true.
Lately, it just seems like we avoid the truth because we don’t want anybody to be hurt.
I do think that it’s important to try our best not to offend or hurt people with what we say.
And it almost seems like some Christians intentionally try to offend people with what they say
But our first question should always be:
Is it true?
Some things we say as Christians are harmful, because they represent Christianity in a wrong light.
And I think that saying, “I am the church” is one of those things.
Why do people say this?
One reason we use this slogan is because it’s just kind of a way we like to distinguish ourselves from other religions.
Many religions believe in the importance of a temple or some sacred building, so much so that this building is more holy than the ground on the outside of it.
So when people say, “I am the church”, they’re saying this:
“Having a God that lives inside of us distinguishes our religion and makes it better.”
Another reason people say this is to have an excuse not to visit the church building.
“God is everywhere, He lives in me, and I am the church, so I don’t have to wake up on Sunday morning and drag my feet to church.”
But this is just that – an excuse.
Also, that might go against what Paul said to do in Hebrews 10:25 about not forsaking the gathering together of the saints.
If you don’t go to an organized church building on Sundays, fine. I don’t agree with that, but fine.
But are you gathering with other believers?
But I think the main reason why some use this slogan so much is to prove a point:
“We can experience God anywhere, not just in the church building, and we need to stop making “going to church” our first priority as Christians.”
I agree with that.
But I don’t agree with the slogan – “I’m the church!”
Because in reality, I am not the church, and you are not the church.
Here are the reasons why, and why it’s not good to say this.
We don’t understand what a “church” is
Have you ever thought of that?
What is a church, and where the heck did this word come from?
The Greek word in our Bibles for “church” is ekklesia, and it just means “assembly”, or “gathering”.
The word, in and of itself, doesn’t carry a meaning of “a group specifically of Christians”, or “a place where Christians meet”.
It just means “assembly”. That’s it.
Jesus said, “On this rock, I will build my ekklesia. My church”.
In the book of Acts, the apostles were building the ekklesia. The church.”
Also in the book of Acts, an angry group of rioters who worshiped a pagan goddess known as Artemis formed an ekklesia. A church.
It’s true. Beginning in Acts 19:23, it says that people in Ephesus got mad because the apostle Paul was telling everyone that pagan gods were not gods at all… there was only Jesus.
The people became furious, because they felt that Artemis and her temple there in Ephesus would be discredited.
But really, the riot began with people who feared that their pocket books would be affected from Paul’s teachings.
If they can’t make the shrines anymore and sell them to the citizens because people are being told that Artemis is nothing, they’re going to lose money.
Anyways, after the angry mob gathered together, it says in Acts 19:32:
The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.
That Greek world for “assembly”? Ekklesia.
So as you can, an ekklesia is just a gathering… of anyone.
So why doesn’t the Bible say “church” here in this scripture like it says almost everywhere else that ekklesia is used?
Because our English word “church” doesn’t fit the narrative of this false, pagan “assembly” in Acts 19.
Let me break off into a bit of interesting, fun history here.
Today, the English word “church” is a good translation to use here, but this word does have a bit of a dark history.
It comes from an old German word, kirche, which basically means, “belonging to God”.
Putting this old German word into English, it becomes “church”.
In the past when the English and Catholic Church were forming, they borrowed this old German word and called themselves “The Church of England” and the “Catholic Church”.
“Our group is what belongs to God.”
Now, there was a man named William Tyndale who began interpreting the Bible from Latin to English. At that time, only priests and clergy could read it.
He was frustrated that normal people couldn’t read the Bible. One of his famous quotes:
“I will cause a boy who drives a plow to know more Scriptures than the Pope.”
He asked the Bishop of London if he could translate the scriptures to English, and he was denied.
At this time, the Catholic Church was your only access to God. By keeping the Bible in Latin, they were able to control the common people by keeping them from knowing the scriptures.
Think about it. This way, they could tell you that the Bible says anything, and you would have to accept it as true, because you couldn’t read it.
Nevertheless, Tyndale translated the Bible into English anyways, and copies were smuggled into England.
One of the main reasons the Catholic Church hated his translations was because he used the word “congregation” for ekklesia.
The Catholic Church felt that this word that described a gathering of Christians should be translated as “church”.
Not because they thought it was more accurate, but because they thought that if the word “church” was not used, it would discredit them and cause their authority to come into question.
They wanted ekklesia to be “church” so it would seem more like their church was founded and had its roots in scripture.
Eventually, Tyndale was captured and tried for heresy. He was strangled, and then his body was burned. His last words were:
“Lord! Open the king of England’s eyes!”
I always found this story crazy. He believed so much that correct interpretations are important, that he chose to die for them.
Some of Tyndale’s translations were kept in the English Bible. One of those was the word “repent”. The Catholic Church had this word as “do penance”. But Tyndale got it right.
But sadly, his translation of “congregation” from the word ekklesia didn’t make it in the English Bible.
Even when the King James Bible came out, one of the rules that King James gave the translators was:
“The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation”
Fast forward back to today.
In my opinion, in the time we’re living in, it’s OK to use “church” in certain places where ekklesia is used.
I say this because over the centuries and with the reformation, our view of the universal “church” and how we’ve come to see things has changed.
It’s now safe to use “church” here, because when we think of the “church” today, it’s just come to mean “the body of believers”.
Our understanding and usage of words change through time, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of the word “church”.
But I think we can learn three things from the story of Tyndale and his translation of ekklesia:
Correct translations are important
We still need to be aware of the original Greek word ekklesia, and what it really means
If you think about it, there’s still a wrong way that we are using this word “church” today
How are we using the word “church” wrong?
Again, people are saying, “I am the church.”
But remember, the Greek word just means “a gathering, or assembly.”
By yourself, you can never be “an assembly”.
Because you ain’t but one person.
We can never become a “church” until another believer shows up.
So when you’re sitting in a restaurant with another Christian, that’s a church.
When you’re at your local building where you gather to worship with other believers, that’s a church.
A gathering of believers.
But when you go fishing on a boat by yourself, a “church” is NOT on that boat.
It takes two to tango.
That’s an old saying, but it’s still true.
So we need to establish first that we, by ourselves, are not a church. Mathematically, you need at least two to be a church. As Jesus said:
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
The other way we’re using this word wrong is because we might not understand what a church does.
What is the purpose of a church? And can one person, by himself, accomplish it?
The purpose of gathering with other believers is to be built up spiritually and soulfully.
I’ve always thought that church is more like a Home Depot where you go to get the supplies you need to build yourself up.
In the days of the disciples, they would have church to teach each other, encourage each other, and supply for each other.
They learned from one another and bore each other’s burdens.
Sometimes, you can’t bear your own burdens, or even supply for yourself spiritually or material-wise. That’s what the church is for.
And learning by yourself? Meh.
I’m beginning to see that it could be dangerous to lock ourselves away with ONLY the Bible, trying to get revelation from only the LORD.”
Hear me out on this.
When you just read your Bible and "learn from the Spirit", you're blocking everybody else out.
But the Bible says that the early church learned from each other, continued in the disciples doctrine, and preferred one another.
Sometimes when people say, “God showed me this”, what they’re really saying is, “This is the conclusion I came to.”
But scripture is of no private interpretation.
When you learn, you should feed off others as well.
Read books, not just the Bible. Listen to fellow believers, not just yourself or the Holy Spirit.
This is the way the disciples did it, because they realized that God could be speaking through others, as well.
I once read a cool book called Steal Like an Artist.
It says that no idea is an original idea. We know what we know and do what we do because of the ones who came before us.
That’s how the kingdom operates.
That’s how the church operates.
So why then do we think we are a church by ourselves?
It’s mainly based off this scripture:
1 Corinthians 6:19
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…
That’s the truth of the New Covenant. God is no longer living in a temple, some building, or stays up in heaven. He now lives in us, as Paul brought out:
2 Corinthians 6:16
For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM…”
All this is true, and it’s the best news ever.
To a Jew living in the times of Jesus, this was unheard of, and in some cases, blasphemy.
“You’re telling me that God now lives in us? He doesn’t live in our big, holy temple anymore?”
But notice that Paul said that our bodies are a “temple”, not a “church”.
This is the big mistake that we’re making with this slogan.
Some people unknowingly liken the Old Testament temple with a New Testament church building.
And so others say, “That building is not the church. I’m the church!”
Neither one of these views are right.
According to these scriptures, we are “temples”, not one-man churches.
In the Old Testament, a temple was the place where God lived.
But Paul says, “Now, you are a temple, because God lives in you!”
Our battle is actually not trying to understand the church, but the temple.
The “church” has always been around, even in the Old Testament.
The body of believers, the Jews, were a church. They were the assembly.
Now, the assembly is made of both Jews and Gentiles. That’s us.
It’s almost as if the church (the gathering) has been renovated, improved, and given a new direction. But the temple has been demolished and made into something entirely new – us.
So individually, each one of us is a temple.
But together, we’re the church.
I also understand that some people do say, “We are the church!” That’s a correct statement, in and of itself.
But what most people mean when they say this is, “I am the church, even outside of the church building.”
This is not right.
“What’s the big deal? If how we say this slogan is good, what does it matter what we mean?"
Believe me, it matters.
I think I’m a bit of a semantics nerd, and I’m sure that makes some people mad.
But the reason why it’s important for you to say what you mean and mean what you say is because you should want people to interpret you correctly.
Using the correct phrases and words is a part of that.
Here are the quick reasons of why it’s a big deal to not use this slogan.
1. It’s wrong
Again, as Christians, we should always strive to be biblically correct.
And the fact that this slogan is not biblically correct should be enough for all of us to not use it anymore.
2. It might lead to other untrue thought patterns
Someone being told, “YOU are the church”, could walk away thinking, “Well, if I am the church, then I don’t need anybody else. It’s just me and God.”
“God lives in me, so the building is not important.”
There are even people out there who have made it their ministry to deconstruct the church as an organization, and they themselves do not attend church services.
But what’s funny is some of them still gather with people online, in houses, and still do live services on Facebook Live on Sundays at 10:00 AM.
They just don’t go to a building. Because the building and the organization sucks.
It’s almost as if deep down, they still believe that we need organization and each other.
3. It could hinder people from gathering
That brings me to this point.
Gathering with believers is still very important.
It’s commanded in the Bible.
You need that corporate fellowship, and just because you’re now the temple, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need the assembly.
Again, what is the purpose of the church?
There’s an anointing in togetherness. Yes, you’re powerful on your own.
But what if dozens of powerful people come together?
You should think of your gatherings with believers as sacred and powerful.
Heck, I even believe that we should think of the buildings that we gather in with respect and take care of them.
Yes, the ground outside of these church buildings is holy too, but if the building is going to be where we gather, then we should take care of it and distinguish it.
So here’s the deal
Be careful when you use the slogan, “We are the church.”
Stop saying, “I am the church.”
Start looking at yourself as a temple where God’s presence actually lives.
Think about that for a moment.
God lives in YOU.
I don’t know about you, but that just wrecks my life, in a good way.
Know that you still need the other believers and make an effort to gather with them. Listen to them.
Your world will change when you recognize God in you, and in others.