Same Words Different Meanings

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Christianity is a culture with many terms that are used almost exclusively within that culture.  When was the last time you heard the word propitiation used outside a church context (or inside one for that matter)? We often talk about righteousness and grace and justification.  Those words are good English words, but their meaning inside church culture holds great significance.  Outside that culture, however, these words are seldom used.  

We have other words that we use commonly but we’ve given them a different definition than their original intent.  

The term “pastor” is used nowadays to refer to anyone who is in a preaching role in a church.  Usually the pastor is the “head” of that branch of the church.  The bible doesn’t use this term this way.  In fact, I’m surprised that the bible includes this term at all.  It is only used once in English translations and the Greek word that it is translated from is always translated as “shepherd” in the other instances it is used in the New Testament.  A pastor is supposed to be one of a group of shepherds or elders of a church.  

Pastor is a term the church of Christ has tried to avoid for many years, but culture keeps using that term in its new definition, so many churches are giving up on fighting this original definition.  The original definition of “pastor” is being lost on this generation.

There are a couple other terms we use commonly in church culture that we gave up on a long time ago.  We don’t even readily argue for the perpetuation of the original meaning anymore.  

The first is “church”. 

I recently had the blessing of serving with a friend of mine who is living in a missional community with the intention of driving the darkness out of the city in which they live.  They live together – Christians in common – being the church in community.  

At this service opportunity a teenager asked my friend if they all attended church together.  My friend looked bewildered and said, “yes, this is it.” 

He was bewildered because he was living in the biblical definition of the word “ekklesia” that many translations interpret as “church”. Church didn’t become a building until after the Catholic church began to build buildings around holy places as shrines for worship. The english word, “church”, comes from a German word that was used to signify such buildings.  Ekklesia, on the other hand, denotes community.  It is the assembly of saints in every place.  It is the people – not the place, and definitely not a denomination.

The other term is “ministry”.

This same teen asked my friend where they did ministry.  This was still in the context of the previous question about where they attended “worship” (another term that has been redefined throughout the years). My friend looked around again and said “we do ministry by living.”

Christians often think of ministry as a program of the church where they attend where people who have something to offer provide goods or services to those “less fortunate”. This cannot be further from the biblical idea.  Ministry wasn’t intended to be relegated to a specific activity.  Ministry is an outpouring of love to those living all around us.  Ministry is seeing others as equals and treating them as such even if they are drug addicts and prostitutes.  Ministry isn’t enabling dependence on a welfare-like activity.  Ministry is living with those the world sees as less fortunate and encouraging them and respecting them and expecting the same from them.  It’s not a top-down kind of mentality; it is an equality mentality.  Ministry doesn’t feed the poor; it frees the poor.

If you’re reading this chances are you are part of a church that does ministry.  Read the book of Acts.   See how the church functioned.  Imagine what the world would be like if we were actively battling the forces of evil in the spiritual realms while living together in community without need for all the pomp and circumstance.  Could this really be what we are called to? 

This group that my friend is involved with has been actively battling the darkness for at least five years now, and they now have watched Jesus drive the darkness out of two whole neighborhoods that were the most dangerous places in their city.  They are now actively pursuing the darkness into a third neighborhood.  Even the police recommend they don’t follow, but they do anyway – family and all.  God continues to scatter the darkness as the light and salt of Jesus is spread in strongholds of the enemy.  

This isn’t just church talk.  This is really happening.  The book of Acts doesn’t have to be a historical document.  It can also be a playbook for how to live for Christ today, but that would require us to give up on fear and be filled with an unquenchable love and desire to follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding.  It would also require us to remember the original meanings of so many biblical ideas.  It would require a restoration of first-century discipleship. I’m praying for a generation to rise up and change the world, and the generation I’m praying for is mine.  Won’t you join me?

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About Johnathan Dobbs

I'm a Christian first. I'm a husband and father second. Then I am an avid outdoorsman (hiking, camping, climbing, canoeing, fishing, etc...). Right now, I have a passion for climbing and card tricks. I am the minister for the Aztec church of Christ in Aztec, NM. I look forward to meeting new people and hearing from all. View all posts by Johnathan Dobbs

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