By any other name
Lately we've been doing a fair bit of lecturing on Israel,
not in religious groups, but in semi-professional organisations,. Raising a few
eyebrows by saying that Palestinians per se don't really exist -– they're
set up by the surrounding Arab nations. And our audiences often have a fair
sprinkling of Jews, who applaud our pro-Israeli stance, but have genuine
hang-ups about the anomaly of being persecuted by the church in times past, and
now being wooed by those whom they view as descendants of those gung-ho killers.
Okay, we explained it away by saying 'those guys weren't
real Christians, but we are,' style of thing. But it needed some fast
...until we decided to look fair and square at the problem.
Why (on earth!) did the gentile church get so homicidal to God's people? And
the question held a clue to the answer. It's all in the little word 'church'.
And the relationship of 'the church' to the Jews.
To a reasonably literate person, 'the church' is
something to do with Christian gentiles. But 'church' is a slippery word.
Sometimes it is capitalised, sometimes not. It can mean a building, a
congregation, a denomination, or even all Christians throughout time and space.
Many groups (not only Roman Catholicism) regard themselves as the (true
or only) Church.
Centuries of usage have firmly established all those concepts
in popular thought. Speakers can glide effortlessly from one meaning to another
in a sentence or two. An impassioned appeal for 'renewal of the church' may
imply a call for greater spirituality, a simple membership drive, or even a
working bee with Dulux and putty.
We would venture (with our usual modesty) to suggest that
current usage is totally wrong. In other words, usage has caused the word to
drift from its original meaning. So, let's look at the evolution of the word -
and the concept - of 'church'.
In Greek - ignoring the meaning for a moment - the word for
'church' is ekklesia. Latin versions of the New Testament merely
transliterated the word into ecclesia; in the early marketplace society it would
have still been understandable. Later translations acknowledged that ecclesia
had no linguistic meaning and substituted the Greek kyriakus domus. It was
intended to mean 'household of God', but quickly became modified to 'house
of God'. Then, shortened to the German 'Kirken' and Scottish 'Kirk',
its transition to the English 'church' was complete.
So, what did ekklesia originally mean?
In Greek, ek means 'from' or 'out of'; kaleo is 'to
call'. The compound ekklesia was a Greek word in normal usage, meaning 'summoned'
or 'outcalled'. It was also used of Greek citizens summoned to attend a
However, one point mustn't be lost. When the New Testament
was originally written, there wasn't the faintest intention of Jews breaking
away from Judaism - yet ekklesia was used, not sunagoge - 'synagogue',
a 'gathering together'. So the sense of civic gathering wasn't the reason
the word was used, or 'synagogue' would have done nicely-thank-you. Rather
ekklesia was used to stress the out-calling.
We can demonstrate this.
In Acts 7:38, the King James version of the Bible uses a
phrase which has caused nearly 400 years of English speakers to do a double
take. In a passage which is clearly talking about the children of Israel, they
are anachronistically (that means 'something that didn't relate to that time')
called 'the church in the wilderness'. But is that an anachronism, or
simply a pointer to the faulty translation of ekklesia by 'church'? The
children of Israel had been called out of Egypt; hence they were 'the
outcalled'. 'Out of Egypt have I called my son' occurs in both Old and New
Testaments, the (Septuagint and NT) Greek using the similar form ekalesia.
So, what was the term 'outcalled' intended to signal?
We would suggest it indicates the fulfilment of several
prophecies. One is that the Jews were to be 'a light unto the gentiles'.
(This is echoed in another form by the categorical statement of Jesus: 'salvation
is of the Jews'.) A second is that there was to be a time (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
when God's relationship with the children of Israel as a people would be
personalised and individualised, with the Law written on their hearts, because
each one would personally know Him.
It happened. It's a matter of historical record that not
only Jews but gentiles also were called out by a personal on-going revelation
from and of God.
Make no mistake. Jews stay Jews in the original Christian
teachings. Jesus, for all his criticisms of certain Pharisees, commanded his
Jewish hearers to observe Torah. But this wasn't put on gentiles. And for the
remainder of that first century it was possible and acceptable for Jews and
believing gentiles to enjoy dialogue and fellowship. 'The outcalled' was
intended to indicate that degree of unity.
Sadly it's also a matter of historical record that the
pressures of change wrought by the destruction of the second Temple and the
take-over of the ekklesia - the outcalled - by Roman political forces to form a gentile
religious organisation forced a separation between Jews and believing gentiles.
But you get the idea. The outcalled are (strictly 'is'
) the 'one new man' of Ephesians 2:15. The outcalled -– believing Jews
and gentiles -– are the explanation of the odd statement in Galatians 3:25: 'neither
Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Jesus the
Remember -– it's a battlefield out there. Not against
flesh and blood, but against spiritual (and that means very real) forces
that are trying to polarise and divide the outcalled, the believing Jews
Yet that division has never been total. Down the centuries
there has always been communication. In recent days Lord Shaftesbury prompted
Theodor Herzl to remember the province of Palestine as the God-given homeland
for Israel. Colonel Orde Wingate, Bible in hand, taught young Jews how to defend
their land. And, of course, there was General Allenby, to whom God gave the
privileged task of liberating His land from the Turks.
There were many others. And today there are countless
thousands of believing gentiles who are frankly surprised to feel an affinity
with the Jews.
Yes, there is an element of sentimentality and romanticism.
What do you expect when we former pagans become aware of a nation chosen by God
some 3,000 years ago. Yes, there is an element of guilt. What do you expect when
we are linked by the very use of the word 'church' with organisations that
ignored, marginalised, persecuted and massacred the People of God.
We have a gratitude for the scriptures which originally came
from Jews and to a great extent have been preserved lovingly by Jews. For the
gift of Jesus, God's Passover Lamb, slaughtered for the sins of the world. And
we rejoice in a living, dynamic relationship with God, the Maker of heaven and
earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But in addition to all that, the call which gentiles have
heard from God includes a love for the Jews and the Land of Israel. We don't
have a hidden agenda to put on them the gentile mistakes of centuries, nor do we
make any claim on their land. If this isn't true of all believing gentiles, we
can confidently say that those who listen attentively to the call of God are
being drawn to God's People.
This new millennium failed to begin the glorious time of
peace that many gentiles expected. We had forgotten that each new day - in
Jewish reckoning and in God's - begins at sundown and gets darker and darker.
So the present darkness is the certain forerunner of a great and lasting Day,
just as labour pains assuredly presage the joy of birth.
We look forward to that Day with eagerness. Together.