‘Church’ in the New Testament

Group of people

We are all familiar with several contemporary meanings of the word “church” – a building, a Sunday event, a group of people or a denomination. But what did it mean in the New Testament?

The Greek word “ekklesia” is often translated “church”, but what did it mean?

You probably know this ….

New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington, has been reviewing a book by Paul Trebilco, and his latest post discusses the original meaning of ekklesia.

It is well known that “ekklesia” means “assembly” or “meeting”, but what sort of meeting?

According to Witherington, an ekklesia can be a local meeting, probably in a home, or the coming together of several home churches in one larger assembly. It may even be used of the whole set of house churches in one city, even if they don’t meet together in one group.

So it doesn’t mean a building, and probably not a denomination, but it does mean a group of believers.

But maybe not this ….

The word Greek “ekklesia” had been in use for several centuries in Greece to designate democratic assemblies, where dialogue took place. Witherington says that Paul and his readers would have recognised this.

So this appears to be yet another reminder that church “services” where most of the communication is one way are not the norm in the New Testament, and, if we want to follow the New Testament, should not be the norm today.

An ekklesia will generally involve discussion, sharing, open to everyone present, according to gifts. How we make that work is another thing.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “‘Church’ in the New Testament

  1. arkenaten says:

    Stick around…..religion will eventually be such a casualty.
    To paraphrase someone you enjoy’ its a hard rain’s gonna fall, but fall it will. Count on it.

    Like

  2. ignorantianescia says:

    These predictions have been made for over two centuries, but to date there is scant evidence it rings true. Globally, Islam and Christianity grow rapidly, while scepticism is in decline.

    Like

  3. arkenaten says:

    http://religionvirus.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=5

    “Children are born atheists and must be indoctrinated early and thoroughly in order for their faith to stick. Atheism is a huge threat to that process. If a culture allows atheists in their midst, the children will be exposed to powerful and persuasive ideas (logic, science, rational thinking). These atheistic ideas challenge the faith-based dogma that the children have to learn. Children are much more likely to have weak faith or no faith if they are exposed to atheism. (See Teach the Children for more on this topic.)

    Thus, hostility to atheism is a “good” trait for religions to have. A religion that persecutes atheists will be more successful than one that doesn’t. As generations and centuries go by, it’s almost inevitable that religion will become more and more hostile to atheism.

    Atheists aren’t really such a sorry, unhappy lot. It’s religion’s fault, and now we know why: it’s good for religion to be hostile to atheism. Religions with a live-and-let-live attitude died out a long time ago. They’re extinct, and we’re left with the survivors, the “fittest” religions … the ones that don’t like atheists.”

    Something for you to think about.

    Like

  4. ignorantianescia says:

    I prefer actual figures from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research to blogs, though. The growth is mostly the result from conversions from countries where state atheism had been imposed.

    “Children are born atheists and must be indoctrinated early and thoroughly in order for their faith to stick.”

    This is hogwash. Actual researchers like Scott Atran and Justin Barrett have shown that innate attribution processes naturally predispose children towards personal explanations and by extent religious points-of-view.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2008/nov/25/religion-children-god-belief

    If that line is proven to be incorrect, the rest of the quote is rendered invalid. But a more empirical example: do you think I’m hostile to atheists?

    Like

  5. arkenaten says:

    “I prefer actual figures from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research to blogs, though. The growth is mostly the result from conversions from countries where state atheism had been imposed.”

    Of course you would, and there are articles that explain why Missionaries are given such stats.
    Yet you appear to have missed the point regarding the trend of future generations.
    But that’s okay.

    “Developmental psychologists have provided evidence that children are naturally tuned to believe in gods of one sort or another.”
    And from the above you are able to deduce this:
    “…and by extent religious points-of-view.”

    The study shows no such thing and you have drawn a blatently erroneous conclusion that demonstrates (at the least) an apolgetic motivation.
    What a child believes/perceives as a ‘god’ (without ANY exposure) is a million miles away from our undertanding brought about by nearly two thousand years of inculcation.
    The comments on Barret’s post are more enlightening than his emotive article. especially the 6th one by Zagradotryad

    Like

  6. arkenaten says:

    I will add that Barrett is a Christian, thus irrespective of his academic credentials one is forced to question the motivation behind any such research.
    Although the article does not reach the conclusion you have drawn above the sponsors of the study and Baret’s own religious belief are bound to influence his interpretations, and maybe his book expounds on this?

    In short, his research while interesting, wouldn’t likely attract much serious interest amongst non-religous scientists- and for good reason, too.

    Like

  7. ignorantianescia says:

    “The study shows no such thing and you have drawn a blatently erroneous conclusion that demonstrates (at the least) an apolgetic motivation.”

    I think you might read something into my comment that isn’t there. When I linked personal explanations and religious points-of-view, I exactly had supernatural agents in mind. I didn’t think of a complete theology.

    “In short, his research while interesting, wouldn’t likely attract much serious interest amongst non-religous scientists- and for good reason, too.”

    You’d be surprised! It was coined by Boyer and picked up by Atran. Both are actually atheists. Pascal Boyer is an atheist psychologist of religion and Scott Atran is an atheist anthropologist. It’s Grayling who’s being the crank motivated by his own (irrelegious) beliefs in the exchange.

    Like

  8. arkenaten says:

    Yes,I noted his remarks pertaining to Boyer and Atran. I will reserve judgment as I have not read their thesis. Have you?
    Meanwhile, these are only two academics. As the term consensus loves to be bandied around willy Nilly I would wonder what it is regarding this issue.
    I still have to question his motivation, being a Christian, and the organisation that sponsored the research.

    I read Grayling’s rebuttal,comment and to use the term ‘crank’ is unwarranted and somewhat disingeneous.

    So you are suggesting that because of children’s propensity to accept/ believe in a supernatural reason for certain things they are thus predisposed to be inculcated with religion?

    Like

  9. ignorantianescia says:

    Yes,I noted his remarks pertaining to Boyer and Atran. I will reserve judgment as I have not read their thesis. Have you?

    No, though I have read an introductory book on the subject that did mention their work briefly. But I’m not saying this is a consensus.

    I read Grayling’s rebuttal,comment and to use the term ‘crank’ is unwarranted and somewhat disingeneous.

    Considering he was making disingenious remarks about a researcher, discrediting him and venturing his own arm-chair theories, I thought it was appropriate, but I’m open to persuasion here.

    So you are suggesting that because of children’s propensity to accept/ believe in a supernatural reason for certain things they are thus predisposed to be inculcated with religion?

    It depends how religion is defined. But let’s first get clear what I think the predisposition is to. I think they are predisposed towards personal explanations for feature for which adults would use mechanistic explanations and are resultingly predisposed to belief in supernatural agents. Now back to definitions. It was Tylor who defined religion as “belief in spiritual beings”. Well, if we’d use that definition, then I’d have to answer yes, but I think a definition of religion is a much more complex subject. There are religions with an atheistic worldview, for example. So what I think children’s predisposition to believe in supernatural agents gives religion an opening, but unless the child is socialised in practice or belief – or develop their own, it might not lead to religion.

    Like

  10. unkleE says:

    I will add that Barrett is a Christian, thus irrespective of his academic credentials one is forced to question the motivation behind any such research. …. In short, his research while interesting, wouldn’t likely attract much serious interest amongst non-religous scientists- and for good reason, too.

    Akenaten, you dismiss Barrett’s research because he is a christian, without offering any evidence that it is wrong or not respected, then you quote Craig James, an unbeliever, and expect us to accept what he says. How does that work???

    But it’s easy isn’t it? Just disparage the messenger, give no evidence against the message, and you can refute anything, anytime. End of story. End of discussion. And reflecting on our many discussions, I recall you using this approach several times previously.

    But of course it’s a fallacy, either ad hominem or poisoning the well. And a fallacy means any argument that uses it loses its force.

    I considered writing a simple response to your statements, as follows: “I will add that James is not a Christian, thus irrespective of his academic credentials one is forced to question the motivation behind any of his work.” and say no more. But I decided against lampooning your fallacies in this way because you might think I meant it. So I have decided on an immediate and long term response.

    1. Let’s examine this case. Barrett is reporting on a study which he co-directed at the Centre for Anthropology and Mind and The Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. The overall project involved 57 academics in 20 countries around the world, and spanned disciplines including anthropology, psychology, and philosophy. In discussing his work, Barrett references a number of other academics (Deborah Kelemen, Margaret Evans, Paul Bloom, Jesse Bering, and Emma Cohen).

    So my questions to you are these:

    1. Do you think Barrett has presented the data in a biased way?
    2. Can you give any evidence of this?
    3. If you think this, what do you think has happened?
    (a) All the other researchers and universities, and Oxford University too, are all biased towards christianity?
    (b) Barrett is not speaking for the whole team, and they have been silent about this?
    (c) Some other hypothesis?

    I would like you to clearly state, please, what your exact position is. It seems to me that, not for the first time, you have made offensively libellous comments about respected academics and institutions, without offering a scrap of evidence for your claims. But I might be wrong about that, and I want to be clear before I accuse you of that.

    2. I have had enough of hearing you evade difficulties by such cynical and offensive tactics, so I have decided on the following approach. In future, if you use such smear tactics without offering any evidence, I will simply say that you have stooped to the ad hominem fallacy, and please present a proper argument before I respond. If you refuse to do so, I will simply remove the offensive comment. I do not intend allowing my blog to contain repeated unsubstantiated charges.

    I hope you understand I am very serious about this. Best wishes.

    Like

  11. arkenaten says:

    @IG
    His remarks questioned the impartality of the research based on a) Barrett’s own Christianity and b) The standpoint of the sponsor.
    Two valid observatoions, under the circumstances.

    No, it doesn’t require defining what a religion is. You are not that pedantic. The point is simple,
    If a child is open to believing in Santa Claus and this belief is continued throughout the childs formative years then the child will come to accept this belief as real/fact especially if those the child trusts concur.
    The same applies to religion, be it Chistianity Islam or whatever.

    Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man”

    Says it all really, doesnt it?

    Like

  12. arkenaten says:

    Ýes I question any research of a theological or deist nature conducted by a Christian or anyone with a direct interest/faith in such matters.

    1. Do you think Barrett has presented the data in a biased way?
    I have not read the report so can only comment on the posts he wrote which tacitly implies that because of some sort of dna encoding that we acknowledge a creator god /gods.
    2. Can you give any evidence of this?
    Read the posts
    3. If you think this, what do you think has happened?
    Have no idea
    (a) All the other researchers and universities, and Oxford University too, are all biased towards christianity?
    Did I say this? NO
    (b) Barrett is not speaking for the whole team, and they have been silent about this?
    Is he not speaking for the whole team? I wouldn’t know.

    (c) Some other hypothesis?
    Have no idea.

    Like

  13. arkenaten says:

    Let me put the same question to you that was posed “by Grayling to Barrett.
    “….what outcome of this research would rationally make you give up holding supernaturalistic beliefs?

    Like

  14. ignorantianescia says:

    His remarks questioned the impartality of the research based on a) Barrett’s own Christianity and b) The standpoint of the sponsor.
    Two valid observatoions, under the circumstances.

    Actually, Grayling went further than that, he also proposed an alternative mechanism that stood in contradiction with several of the empirical findings. As this mechanism allows an evolutionary explanation for the development of religion, I don’t see why an atheist would find these conclusions so objectionable. Furthermore, as Barrett has indicated, several atheists stood at the beginning of this explanation.

    No, it doesn’t require defining what a religion is. You are not that pedantic.

    Well, logically, if religion is simply belief in supernatural agents, then children’s disposition to purposeful and personal interpretations of mechanistic events simply predispose them to religion. But if religion is something different, and I think it is, then the relation could become more complex.

    Like

  15. arkenaten says:

    Bearing in mind his personal background and the nature of the Templeton Foundation one has to wonder why one would even conduct such a study?
    And furthermore, past a certain age children normally shrug off any belief in Santa , Fairies etc. But unlike these childhood fantasies religion and all its insidious elements are foistered on kids as truth which in certain cases amounts too little more than child abuse.
    Again, I have not read the report, merely the post. Maybe it was just the way Barrett presented his case that came across as odious.

    The basis of religion is belief in supernatural agents, Every dictionary definition but one includes a supernatural element.
    Unless you wish to stretch the point to include something like” “He pursued his hobby of collecting seven-legged spiders with almnost religious zeal.”

    Like

  16. ignorantianescia says:

    Again, I have not read the report, merely the post. Maybe it was just the way Barrett presented his case that came across as odious.

    I’m not sure what was potentially odious, he gave a fairly normal description of the work of several researchers.

    The basis of religion is belief in supernatural agents, Every dictionary definition but one includes a supernatural element.

    Maybe they do, but dictionaries are not normative, only descriptive (and some are prescriptive). Dictionary definitions won’t help where scholars of religion are not agreed. But do you think things like the Religion of Humanity or the Cult of Reason were not religions?

    Like

Please leave a comment - anonymous is OK, but please identify yourself with a username. An email address is needed if you want notification of new comments. Please be courteous and constructive - see the Comment policy (link in the footer).

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s