Much is being said today about the failure of the church. Drew Dyck, a lead researcher for Christianity Today, writes that “young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate.” A recent study by Barna shows 60 percent of today’s young adults in their 20s – who had attended church during their teens – are “spiritually disengaged” (i.e., not actively attending church, not reading the Bible, and not praying).
I think a large percentage of the Christian population is blind to this trend, despite what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11: “… that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” Most of us claiming to be the church are like the young eaglet that got dropped into a chicken yard by mistake. He grew up thinking and acting like a chicken. Even though he was the most majestic and powerful of birds, he spent his days walking instead of soaring, trying to peck the ground for food even though his powerful beak was intended for ripping flesh from his prey.
Why are we so ignorant? Could it be the mistranslation in Matthew 16:18 in which Jesus himself said, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”? In the first place, this has nothing to do with Catholicism or a pope, which came along years later. It has little to do with church as we know it. If Jesus had intended “church,” he would have used a word like “sunagoge,” meaning an assembly of people or the place where they assembled. The word he did use was "ekklesia," which everyone understood to be a governing body, an assembly of the people, which in Greek cities had the power of final decision in public affairs.
Here’s a better translation of Matthew 16:18-19: "And I also say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my assembly (ekklesia), and the gates of Hades (death) shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on the earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on the earth shall have been loosed in heaven."
Jesus gave his ekklesia both the power and the mandate to rule on earth. He even said we would do greater things than he. So where he stilled a storm with his words, so must we. Where he healed the sick and raised the dead, so must we – not through any power of our own, but through believing and prevailing prayer of agreement of an ekklesia: binding, loosing, declaring and decreeing.
Church is a great place to meet with other Christians, hear the Word, and do and receive all those things associated with pastoral care. But the word "pastor" is only listed once in the New Testament, in Ephesians 4:11: “And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers…” The Greek word "poimen" is translated "shepherd" in other places and generally refers to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Have we put all the emphasis on pastoral care and ignored apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers?
Is it possible that King James’ mistranslation of "ekklesia" in Matthew 16:18 caused us to miss our main purpose as people of God? After all, “pastor” is only one-fifth of the gifts Jesus gave his body. Church functions well with only the pastoral gift. Ekklesia needs all five: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Maybe we’re doing a great job of being the “church,” but just maybe, Jesus never intended us to be in the chicken yard – a group that come together to get our needs met. Did he intend us to take charge of our families, religion, government, arts, media, education, business – the seven mountains of influence? Obviously Jesus said he would build his ekklesia (ruling body) and the gates of death would not prevail against it.
I cry out to God for Christians to rise up and take the place of authority Jesus intended us to have. Yet many of you have grown up in churches that discouraged you from entering mainstream life – or even from voting. We all have a choice and will be accountable to God for it. For more information on this subject, see "Ekklesia Rising" by Dean Briggs.
Linda House is a member of New Life Worship Center.