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Why We Should Abandon the Name "Church"

The word “church” isn’t a neutral word anymore. It has way more negative baggage than we often care to admit. Inside the ekklesia, plenty of people assume the “church” is the building or the pastors. Plenty of people inside believe that followers of Jesus are no different than those who are not followers of Jesus. Outside of the ekklesia, plenty of people assume that the “church” is a group of hypocritical hate-mongers who are advocates for right-wing politics.

As David Kinnaman, author of unChristian, has stated, “Christian has an image problem.” I think a strong case can be made that the word “church” has an image problem.

Moving Up, Moving Forward

On Monday morning, Kenny is going to share a proposed way forward in regards to our understanding of ekklesia. I know he’s stepped on some of our toes and his brutal honesty has challenged some of our assumptions about theology and praxis. This is, however, very helpful for us. It might sting a little bit and you might not agree with him on everything, but he’s helping us all think about better ways to fill gaps in our ecclesiology.

Kenny’s current working definition for “church” is as follows:

  1. The multi-ethnic (Jew-Gentile) People of God,
  2. intentionally gathered …
  3. around Jesus as Lord,
  4. announcing together the reign of God in Jesus—
  5. and calling the nations (by teaching them) to follow Jesus as the world’s only legitimate King.

I love this. I think it’s a great starting point. I wonder if we might be able to fit into his definition some of these concerns too:

  • The men and women who are the People of God,
  • including the disabled and marginalized,
  • advocating and working toward hope for the hopeless and justice for the oppressed.

I realize I’m building on top of and looking for a way forward in regards to our ecclesiology, but I think these three issues, which are likely assumed and implied in Kenny’s working definition, need to be articulated because they still are either overlooked or misunderstood.


What do you think?

Is the word “church” helpful for you at all?

What definitions would you offer?  

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Luke Geraty has been lead pastor of Trinity Christian Fellowship for the past six years and is a member of the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Interested in missional theology within the rural context, Luke loves all things espresso, hockey, hip hop, and fly fishing (what a weird combo!). He and his wife have four children. He blogs regularly at ThinkTheology.org.