Worship Names

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR

June 2, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

The word’s we use to describe our religious places of worship are interesting.  They reveal something of the roots of various faiths.  Of course this is not always so.  Early American Protestants simply called their churches “meeting houses.”  This was likely because the building was used for any occasion the community was called together for a town meeting.  There would likely be very little difference in the makeup of the assembly if the purpose of the meeting was for community business or for Sunday worship.  These were largely Christian colonies.

The word “mosque” comes from the Arabic “masjid.”  It means “prostration in prayer.”  The name of the building reflects the activity that takes place within.  Although the contemporary mosque often has a broader function and may house study areas and information centers, the name speaks of its central function as a house of prayer.

“Synagogue” on the other hand is a Greek word which found its origin in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Septuagint.  The Septuagint dates from about 270 BC and was done for the Alexandrian Jewish community which no longer spoke Hebrew.  The word itself breaks down into the prefix “syn,” which means “together,” and the root “gogel,” which means “to lead”.  It thus translates into the concept of “assembly.”  It represents the Hebrew “Knesset,” which means the same thing and is the name given to the legislature of the state of Israel.  The root meaning references the community rather than an action that takes place within.

This leads us to the word “church.”  The word “church” translates the Greek word “ekklesia.” The word breaks down into the prefix “ek,” which means “out of,” and the root “kaleo,” which means “to call.”  In the New Testament it never refers to a building, or a place.  It always designates a body of people.   The English word “church” is derived from the Greek adjective “kyriakon.”  It means “belonging to the Kyrios,” or the Lord.  However, this word is not used in the New Testament.

The word “ekklesia” as it is used in the New Testament denotes a people who have been called out of the world.  The clearest expression of this idea is found in the prayer of Jesus in John 17 where he speaks of his followers as being “in” the world, but not “of” the world.   The very essence of the Church then from the beginning was a fellowship of nonconformists.  They were a colony of God in the midst of a world system that was not of God.  They were the original counter culturists.

Because the Church of the Messiah was born into a Jewish culture there was much that they shared with Judaism.  Within this Jewish frame they nevertheless went deeper and higher.  Jesus taught from the roots of Judaism and, for Christianity, was the fulfillment of the Messianic hope.

Greco-Roman culture however was idolatrous, violent, hedonistic, and obsessed with power.  It was into this culture the Church moved to provide light and salt.  It should surprise no one that today the Church stands against another culture driven by pleasure and a lack of moral restraint.  This is what the Church is.  It is the “ekklasia,” the called out community.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at >ravscarle@verizon.net>).

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