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Home : Articles : The Origin of the Word "church"
: Part 2: Man's Niche to Build


The Origin of the Word "church"
By Andy Zoppelt

Part 2: Man's Niche to Build

“You mistakenly think we conceal what we worship since we have no temples or altars... How can anyone build a temple to Him, when the whole world can't contain Him? Even I, a mere human, travel far and wide. So how can anyone shut up the majesty of so great a Person within one small building? Isn't it better for Him to be dedicated in our minds and consecrated in our innermost hearts - rather than in a building?” ( Minicus Felix, Octavius, 2nd Century A.D.).

"'We have no temples or altars.' This statement, referring to Christians, comes from the pen of the apologist Minicus Felix, c 200, and all evidence supports its accuracy. Throughout at least the first two centuries there were no church buildings as such" (-The Early Christian Church - J.G. Davies).

"When the church was very young, it had no buildings. Let us begin with that striking fact. That the church had no buildings is the most noticeable of the points of difference between the church of the early days and the church of today. In the minds of most people today, "church" means first a building, probably something else second; but seldom does "the church" stand for anything other than a building. Yet here is the fact with which we start: the early church possessed no buildings and carried on its work for a great many years without erecting any." (When the church was very young -Ernest Loosley).

Lightfoot says that there were no church buildings as such before the third century. Since Lightfoot made that statement, however, archaeologists found a most interesting place in Rome. Roman houses - unless they were the great mansions - were relatively small. What archaeologists found was a place with the facade of two houses still untouched, but with the internal walls torn out to make a larger room. And from everything that was found there, the archaeologists believe that this was a church building. This structure is dated at the end of the second century. But whether one accepts Lightfoot's starting point in the third century, or whether one dates it at the end of the second century, it really makes no difference. There is no biblical norm as to where, and where not, the church should meet. The central fact is that the early concept of the church had no connection with a church building.

Constantine (280-337), the Roman Emperor and his mother, Empress Helena, built many pagan temples. After his conversion in 313, he continued his custom of building, but this time it was “Christian" temples. They simple went from worshiping the pagan gods to the memorializing the dead saints. Many pagan buildings were later converted to churches. This was really the official beginning of recognizing buildings as churches.

We want something we can see and someone to represent us… something physical. Whether we are building a building to reach the sky as the tower of Babel or an edifice to hold our pastor’s meetings on Sunday… we want our own building.

I would like to respond to one thing I am often challenged with. Some say, “ doesn’t the bible say they met in the temple and from house to house?” Yes, but their meeting in the temple was nothing like what we are doing in our church buildings. First, they met in the outer court, a very large open area. It would like meeting in a park and not inside a church building. Second, they didn’t own the temple and pay a staff for the up keep. Third, the meetings in the temple served as a tool to reach the Jewish people, much like the same reason Jesus went to the temple. Fourth, they didn’t have a pastor who was over the temple like we do our churches. Fifth, the temple was not a building that divided the body of Christ. Fifth, they didn’t name the temple like we give our churches names. Sixth, they didn’t conduct all of their operations out of the temple. Seventh, the temple didn’t belong to them… it was a public facility. Often we hear of places like China where thousand of people will gather together in open fields or in open public places, this would be much like the early believers meeting in the temple (outer court area).

Then I hear, “ didn’t Paul meet in the synagogues and in the school of tyrannus? (Acts 19:8-10 )

Most of the above reasons for meeting in the temple apply here also. But let’s point out a few: First, Paul met in the synagogue “reasoning and persuading” them concerning the kingdom of God (evangelistic). It was when it became contentious that Paul moved the meeting to the school of Tyrannus where he continued for two years. The school of Tyrannus was a “public building” and not a “church” building. The early believers would use public facilities as long as they were permitted. Eventually the facility served their purpose and they would move on. The use of a public facility is much like our conventions. We use the public facility as a temporary facility for a specific purpose and move on.

This was not something that the believers spent millions of dollars on and divided themselves by naming their buildings. This kind of reasoning is only dodging the bullet in hopes of justifying our use of creating divisions around “our” pastors or church leaders.

If done today, it would be like thousands of home assemblies gathering in parks or public facility to worship or to listen to a special message from one of the leaders. Such would draw attention to the public and often would draw the public into the meetings as an evangelistic tool. Our public meeting would show our unity and not our divisions.

When Peter saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration, his first inclination was to build three tabernacles.

In Acts 7:48, Stephen angered the Pharisees by saying that God "dwells not in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48). Such a statement and change would abolish everyone from the gatekeeper to the high priest who served the old system of the temple. What Stephen’s statement said back then would be an offense to our spending of billions of dollars of God’s money on the millions of buildings. What he said then is just as offensive as it was to those Pharisees, God does not dwell in "Churches" or any other building; our focus is not to be distracted on the material but on the temple of the Holy Spirit. That departure of emphasis has permitted the enemy to come in our midst and pick us off one at a time. Though our buildings might be able to withstand a hurricane, its members so loosely joined can’t.

Part 3: The Kingdom and the Gifts >

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