Friday, 15 August 2008

Did God intend the church?

(Recycled and reposted from my piece from a few weeks back on The Crowded Handbasket)

From a fairly straightforwardly literal reading of Matthew’s gospel (16:13-18), yes.

“But what about you?” he [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church [Greek: ekklesia], and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”


Briefly put, the Roman Catholic understanding is that the ekklesia is built on the rock of Peter, the first Pope and that he and every subsequent Pope has the authority to act as the gatekeeper of heaven. There is no ekklesia but the Church which has inherited the true apostolic succession, and no possibility of salvation outside the Church. The traditional Protestant assertion, however, is that it is not Peter who is the rock but his statement you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that the ekklesia and all routes to God and based simply upon a confession of that truth. The problem is, one could really choose to read Jesus’ you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church in either of the two possible ways. The word Peter (petros) means rock in Greek, and Greek has neither capital letters to distinguish rock from Rock, nor an indefintive article to distinguish a rock from the rock. This is why there was so much bloodshed and pillage at the Reformation and Inquisition over the origins and authority of church or the Church and suchlike. But either way, is this what Jesus intended?

The story of what happens after Jesus suggests, perhaps, not.

Was what Jesus calls the ekklesia anything remotely akin to the church or Church today? In contemporary Greek, ekklesia is simple an assembly of people. Yet the early Jesus Disciples worshipped not in their own assembly or organisation but in the Jewish Temple and then, after the fall of the Temple, the synagogues. What led them to start worshipping separately was not a belief that Jesus had told them to, but the malediction written into the synagogue liturgy, in which everyone wanting to worship in the synagogue had to recite a curse condemning Followers of The Way. So if, in the early days after the Ascension, Jesus’ followers and their Jewish contemporaries had got along together better, would the ekklesia have been necessary?

Soon, though, Gentiles began following Jesus and (after a bit of wrangling between Peter and Paul), the Jesus Fellowers decided the Holy Spirit was telling them that it didn’t make sense ro require them to convert to Judaism in order to follow Christ. This, then, is what really established the ekklesia. Was it a wise decision?

So is the church or the Church in whatever form, is it really what Jesus, what God ever intended for us?

4 comments:

razzler said...

I highly doubt that the church is how God would have intended it - because we are sinful. Even if the early believers got it exactly right, we would still have messed up somewhere along the way.

The word ekklesia simply means assembly. An assembly of people who believe and follow Jesus. We're bound to mess up, but I believe that putting too many definitions on the word 'church' contributes to messing up even further, and causing more splits.

Make sense at all?

grace said...

"...putting too many definitions on the word 'church' contributes to messing up even further, and causing more splits."

So how, then, do we strip 'church' of its meanings... and how, then, would that improve things?

Interesting thoughts...

razzler said...

I'm not sure I expressed that too clearly.

Obviously it is necessary to define what it is we belive, church is included in that. But I think that when we have put definitions that are too rigid onto the word 'church' that it has become warped. So to be a Roman Catholic you have to do this, to be a Baptist you have to do this, etc.

Not sure how we can strip these meanings - maybe the 'emerging' church? I do think that it is impossible to do anything without giving it a label, it is in our nature to define things and put them into easy-to-understand boxes, but we should be cautious about getting too attached to these labels, so that we become arrogant and lose our humility.

grace said...

"but we should be cautious about getting too attached to these labels, so that we become arrogant and lose our humility."

Definately. And I think the problem is that so many people have such a fixed view of what the 'church' is or should be that they lose sight of the wider picture, and fail to appreciate the understandings and perspectives of others... which is really what I was trying to get at with my other post on the topic...