What does 'church' really mean?

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On reading the various posts on this forum it occured to me that there is a need for a closer examination of the meaning of the word 'church'. I hope the following is beneficial to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Constantine started it all back in the early part of the third century. Up till then believers in Jesus Christ had experienced very tough times. They were hounded, murdered and tortured by Jewish Constantine started it all back in the early part of the third century. Up till then believers in Jesus Christ had experienced very tough times. They were hounded, murdered and tortured by Jewish leaders in league with the authorities in the Roman Empire. Believers were forced into scattering and gathering in secret places, not unlike the conditions true believers experienced under communist governments last century.

After the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (323-337 AD) the state built special temples for the use of Christians. The uniting of state and church resulted in a church system we can still recognise today. Most believers are said to have resisted the wooing and intimidating demands of the Roman authorities, preferring to meet freely under the moving of God/s Spirit. But the main line church system was now initially and firmly established on earth. You submitted to it and it became the only intermediary vehicle through which people were to find God and serve God.

This powerful church system brought believers under its control and it's religious culture. It became known as the Roman Catholic Church, no one could become a true Christian without belonging (and I do mean belonging) to it. Eventually, rebels sought to break free from the controlling influence of the church system and the Protestant church movement was established, (the word Protestant is derived from the word protestor). Unfortunately, knowing no other way, the Protestant reformers unwittingly established a church system similar to that introduced by the Romans.

Many of these early pioneers were tortured and martyred for their stand against the established church system, and it is because these men and women had the courage to stand on the strength of their convictions that we have an English translation of the Bible today. For until this time the Bible was printed in Greek or Latin, a language only the priestly scholars could read. However, when these Protestant translators came across the word ekklesia in the Greek manuscripts they translated it into English as church or kirke, such was the subtle conditioning of the Roman structure upon them. This mistranslation carried with it a wrong concept of ekklesia resulting in the Protestant movement being swallowed by a system similar by a system similar to that which they were trying to escape. As a result of this mistranslation we have an erroneous church system which is still accepted and practised by the majority of Christendom today.

The word church in the majority of English Bibles is translated from the original Greek word ekklesia. Ekklesia is a composite of two Greek words: "Ek" which means out of, consisting of, and "Klesis" which means a calling, to call. So ekklesia literally means 'the called out ones', which in the New Testament refers to a body of people who our Heavenly Father has called out of the synagogues (for Jews), pagan temples (for Gentiles), and the world (for all). It is interesting to note that the only time Tyndale used the word 'church' in his translation of the New Testament was in reference to a pagan temple in Acts 19:37. Tyndale more correctly and uniformly translated ekklesia as congregation, meaning an assembly of people. However, even this word has since become associated exclusively with church.

-- Dr Michael Shaw (mshaw@binaryfaith.com), February 11, 2001


On rereading the above please I noticed the double entry in paragraph two; it happened after I had typed out my message in Msword and copied it over to this page. I see also I have lost my bold text. Please excuse this oversight,

-- Dr Michael Shaw (mshaw@binaryfaith.com), February 11, 2001.

Dear Sir,
You are welcome to this forum, which we've dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Apostle Saint James, for reasons of solidarity and inspiration. I don't believe any of the regular contributors are Catholic clergy; though one or two appeared to me as having been instructed very well in the faith.

I tell you this because you might not be expecting much scholarly resistance, particularly having introduced yourself in an elevated tone, moderate on the surface. We'll see.

One very fine contributor said about two days back, he wanted a philosophical discussion of his subject, rather than in Catholic Church ''legalese''. Nothing could be wiser and fairer, since we should at least consider many viewers of these postings are not canon lawyers or great scholars. Perhaps you are, but we can approach your ''test question'' philosophically anyway.

Nothing in the matter of the term ''Church'' which you are disposed to disqualify in some way from legitimacy as Christ's original version-- gives me license to think your other statements can be unbiased. You claim out of nowhere that since a fugitive society of believers (hereafter I'll say *church*) had little choice but to fulfill the Emperor Constantine's desires, a state Church came into power and subjugated the existing Christian community by ''wooing and demands of Roman authority''. That is false.

You indicate that these Christians had much rather preferred to ''move freely under the moving of God's Spirit''. You can't prove this statement, by a single documentary source. The early Church had by then compiled an impressive amount of literature and the acts of the saints were replete with accounts of the strong faith of this community. So strong in fact, that no amount of ''wooing or demands'' of the Imperial Caesars had amounted to much; except martyrdom for thousands. But you think to convince someone that the graces (directly from the power of the Holy Spirit) lavished upon it were insufficient for its survival as the Church Christ wanted on earth? In the meanwhile the same Eclessia flooded the European and Mid Eastern world (at least) with a multitude of glorious Catholic saints. But your version is the an Eclessiastic ''intermediary vehicle'' holding Christians hostage while they awaited in silence the coming of ''reformers''???

Please, Doctor! Is this what they teach the professors in your divinity schools? ''Of these *reformers* many were tortured and martyred for their *stand* against the established church system?''

Let's not forget, Doctor the succession of martyrs that gave up their lives on Tyburn and in the Tower of London. Or Edmund Campion, just one of many scores of Catholic priests hounded and pursued and finally killed by the protestant church of England. Did Sir (Saint) Thomas More suffer death at a chopping block for his ''stand'' against the Church of Rome? And it was the same in eastern Europe. Many more thousands of Catholics were burned at the stake in Germany and its neighbor states than heretics in Spain. You may look in some English history books for your records on Tyndale and other great translators of the Holy Bible. Why don't you try reading ''A Man For All Seasons'' when you find some spare time? Have you discovered the glorious history of our own American Bible-belt? A lot of pointed white hats abound in there, with the KJV under the cloaks.

It's called ''Man's Inhumanity to Man.'' Not Church Inhumanity to Christians, Sir.

Thanks for your visit, Doctor. If nobody else cares to discuss the meanings of ''Church'' or your other opinions, start a new thread. That's my suggestion. We'll gladly discuss doctrine with you. History is too dull, and too easy to distort at the distance of 2,000 years. It's all water under the bridge, you know.

-- eugene c. chavez (chavezec@pacbell.net), February 11, 2001.


In case, Eugene, Dr. Shaw still thinks that his historical rundown holds water after he has read your excellent reply, I would suggest that he check a non-Catholic source, the Encyclopedia Britannica, to learn that the Catholic Church can trace its existence back to Jesus -- not to Constantine. Perhaps he could consult the Protestant translation of the early Church Fathers, wherein St. Ignatius of Antioch speaks of the "Catholic Church" prior to his martyrdom around 110 A.D.?

Perhaps Dr. Shaw can also read up about the dozens of vernacular translations of the Bible prepared by Catholics -- including the Old English translations of St. Bede (died 735) -- long before Tyndale and the 16th-century Rebellions. Various German Catholic Bible translations existed before Martin Luther was even a nursling. (The Bible was long in Greek and then in Latin because those were the vernacular languages of the early centuries -- not because they were known only by the educated class.)

No one need be troubled by the translation of "ekklesia" as "church." Yes, "ekklesia" refers to those "called out" -- called out of the secular, pagan world to be the "people of the Lord God." And the word "church" is ultimately derived from the Greek "kyriakos" -- "the Lord's." At Mass, we pray, "Kyrie (Lord), have mercy." It is all interrelated. The objections just raised are a purely anti-Catholic and anti-denominational ruse that is used to support the unworkable, unbiblical premise of "congregationalism" -- tiny, independent, "non-denominational," local "assemblies." The existence of these may be the main reason that there are over 20,000 differently-believing, non-Catholic Christian bodies.

I hope and pray that the good Dr. Shaw is a doctor of medicine, not of theology or a related science.

St. James, pray for us. Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
God bless you.

-- J. F. Gecik (jgecik@desc.dla.mil), February 11, 2001.

hi eugene,

Br. Rich S.F.O. (REPSFO@Prodigy.net), is a quasi-regular contributer...he counts as clergy in my book...

I'm sure he's a busy man, but I often find myself wishing he'd pop in a bit more often.


-- anthony (fides_spes_et_caritas@hotmail.com), February 11, 2001.


Hello, Anthony.
Meaning no disrespect to you nor to Rich, but the word, "clergy," is reserved to ordained men -- deacons, priests, and bishops.

I'm sure that Rich will correct anything that I may get wrong in the following:
Unless his status has changed from a bit over a year ago, Rich is a layman living in the world -- something like you and me, but with a special "twist." He's not a member of a Religious Institute in a monastery/abbey/friary, in the way that a consecrated "sister" or "brother" or "monk" is. The letters after his name, SFO, stand for Secular Franciscan Order. Prior to 1978, this special group of people were called "Third Order Franciscans," distinguishing them from the "first order" (friars) and "second order" (nuns). I have a little familiarity with them, because my mother and father were Third Order Franciscans.

Pope Paul VI approved a new rule and a new name for these "Seculars." The following is taken from a 1993 article in a Franciscan publication called "The Cord."
"In the Apostolic Letter, 'Seraphicus Patriarca,' dated 24 June 1978, Pope Paul VI wrote: 'We approve and confirm with our apostolic authority and sanction the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, ... By this Letter and our apostolic authority, we abrogate the previous Rule of what was formerly called the Franciscan Third Order. Finally, we decree that this letter remain in effect now and in the future, regardless of anything contrary.' ...

"The Pauline [i.e., Paul VI] Rule is addressed to the 'Secular Franciscan Order, whose members it describes as 'secular Franciscans,' who spend 'a time of initiation,' and 'a period of formation of at least one year,' before making 'profession.' They 'join in liturgical prayer.'

"The Rule speaks of the 'spiritual assistance' given by religious. Under this Rule, the terms from religious life are translated into terms appropriate for secular people. The candidates are formed by the officers in charge of formation (the 'formators'). The SFO has regional fraternities directed by regional Ministers and their councils. Practices follow language. The members retain their baptismal names and address one another as they would address other lay people. They wear 'a distinctive Franciscan sign,' such as a badge, on their ordinary clothes. A husband and wife can belong to the same fraternity and it would be normal for them to sit next to each other at meetings."

God bless you.

-- J. F. Gecik (jgecik@desc.dla.mil), February 11, 2001.

Thanks, I knew SFO meant he is tied to the Franciscans, but I didn't know about the type you mentioned. I thought he was a friar.


-- anthony (fides_spes_et_caritas@hotmail.com), February 11, 2001.

Dear Bro Rich--

Tell 'em-- It could be worse, I could be a in a ''mendicant'' order! Ha ha! God bless all Franciscans !

-- eugene c. chavez (chavezec@pacbell.net), February 11, 2001.

-- (_@_._), February 11, 2001.

Dear Brother Rich,
I hope our mutual friend Ed Lauzon isn't upset by this digression; But; I had ocassion to see in New Advent the story of one of the 3rd Order Franciscans' greatest exemplars, Saint Ferdinand III-- known by hispanics as San Fernando Rey. The San Fernando Valley is his namesake in Los Angeles (a dubious enough honor Lol!)

San Fernando was a Spanish King, and a wonderful saint. If you haven't yet read his story, do so. It will thrill you.

There are some personal notes about him I could tell you. But this is not the place. Ciao!

-- eugene c. chavez (chavezec@pacbell.net), February 12, 2001.

Go to the library. Look up the history of the reformation. Read the protestant leaders' writings as I have. If you still think their arguments hold water, then I pity you, for you are guilty of exactly what you accuse us of.


-- anthony (fides_spes_et_caritas@hotmail.com), February 13, 2001.


"that there are over 20,000 differently-believing, non-Catholic Christian bodies." Don't you mean there are 20,000 differently- believing, non-Catholic bodies? I would hardly think that any Tom Dick and Harry sect can be called Christian.

-- Frank (leica@hotmail.com), February 13, 2001.

Frank, --That's a remarkable thing to say, because it's the same thing ''Rome'' has said since the ''Reformation''. It's not enough to call your Church a Christian Church; because it may depart entirely from the apostolic teachings that identify the True Church of Jesus Christ. The four marks of the Church's authenticity: It must be 1.)One; 2.)Holy 3.) Catholic Universal, and 4.)Apostolic-- The True Church has all four--for the world to see. Some folks think it must be Roman. But that's not relevant as an identifying mark.

-- eugene c. chavez (chavezec@pacbell.net), February 13, 2001.

Frank, you said,

"that there are over 20,000 differently-believing, non-Catholic Christian bodies." Don't you mean there are 20,000 differently- believing, non-Catholic bodies? I would hardly think that any Tom Dick and Harry sect can be called Christian.

If you assert this to a group of non-Catholic "Christians", I'll bet you find they disagree with you. After all, who are YOU to tell them their interpretation of the Bible is wrong? No one, not you or anyone else has the *authority* to say what is the correct interpretation of Christianity in their eyes. I would be suprised if there were as FEW as 20,000 different interpretations of Christianity out there.

Along these lines, if what you are really saying is that it is *wrong* to have so many different interpretations of Christ's words, because they can't all be correct, what you really need to ask yourself is why did these people LEAVE the Catholic church when we got our information and practices from Christ himself (and so it's correct)?


-- Someone (ChimingIn@twocents.cam), February 14, 2001.

I'll be paraphrasing on this as I dont have my Bible with me here at work.

Jesus said some to the effect of- If 3 or more of you gather in my name then it is a church...

That is a church... Friends getting together in the name of Jesus for worship and discussion... nothing fancy or political...

-- Kelly (scrappy@yahoo.com), May 18, 2004.

Hi Kelly,

You said: Jesus said some to the effect of- If 3 or more of you gather in my name then it is a church...

Let's look at the passage where this (inaccurately paraphrased) sentence came from.

Mt. 18 (KJV)

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

In this passage, the only mention of "church" does not occur in the phrase where you thought it did. Verse 20 simply says that Jesus is in their midst, not that they make up a church.

Kelly said: That is a church... Friends getting together in the name of Jesus for worship and discussion... nothing fancy or political...

If that is the sole definition of "church," what are the implications for v.17? If your brother sins, and he doesn't listen to the "church" (or in your definition, "friends getting together in the name of Jesus for worship and discussion"), then "let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Ok, so only to this little group of people is he a "heathen"?

According to what you said here, this sinner could go find a few friends -- 3 or more people -- and get together for worship and discussion, thus forming a new "church." He can completely disregard that old church since it's easy enough for him to start a new one. At his new one, since he's in charge, all he has to do is say that his own sin is allowed (let's say for example if he is a practicing homosexual). Does that therefore justify his sin and make his new gathering a "church"? There are churches that claim this that are comprised of practicing homosexuals.

God bless you, Kelly. I will pray for God to guide both you and me to the Truth.

-- Emily ("jesusfollower7@yahoo.com), May 18, 2004.

P.S. Kelly, a great place to get the Bible on the internet can be found here: http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible/

-- Emily ("jesusfollower7@yahoo.com), May 18, 2004.

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