I recently watched a BBC documentary entitled, “The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England”. Fascinating stuff. Melvyn Bragg took us through the dramatic story of William Tyndale and the first English translation of the Bible.
The story was not new to me. I remember some of the fun things when I studied the history of Tyndale at college. There were such moments as when the Bishop of London asked who was paying for the printing of the Bibles that were being distributed through the country. This bishop was buying as many copies of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible as he could and then held large bonfires and burning them outside St Paul’s Cathedral. The reply made me laugh. “You are paying for them sir!” said the people. It seems he was paying twice what it cost to print one Bible, so everyone he burnt bought two more. As they say on text: “LOL.”
The thing that struck me though was the fact of Tyndale’s use of the word, “Church,” or rather his non-use of the word. I was sort of irritated with myself as I knew the real translation of the word in the Greek (Εκκλησία, Ekklisía, or ekklesia had an original meaning of "assembly, congregation, council". Being strictly literal it means "convocation" or “gathering.” This is important because it tells us that “church” is not actually a building or organisation, but rather “those called to assemble” – i.e. the people that gather to worship.
Of Course, Tyndale was following Luther, and had a problem with the Church of Rome and its hierarchical orientated system of buildings and positional authority and hence, as he was translating from the original Greek rather than from the Latin as did Wycliffe, he does not use the word “church,” but rather translates Εκκλησία (Ekklesia) as “congregation.”
Funnily enough, just to emphasise the point, Tyndale does use the word church once. He uses it in Acts Chapter 14 Verse 13. Here it is in a modern English spelling form: "Then Jupiter’s Priest which dwelt before their city gate brought ox and garlands into the church porch and would have done sacrifice with the people." This of course was in the front part of the temple; the amplified Bible puts it thus “whose [temple] was at the entrance of the town.”
My Google search for the definition of “church” threw up the following definition:
(Entry 1 of 4) 1 : a building for public and especially Christian worship.
2 : the clergy or officialdom of a religious body.
So, what am I getting at here? The good old King James Bible, which was translated in 1611 was very keen to keep the control factor, hence the word church was entered often.
King James also, of course, also wanted to emphasise “the Divine Right of Kings and place his Bishops in a good place of authority. These were all the things that people like Luther and then Tyndale were finding not a good position to hold.
No wonder King James wanted a new translation! And no wonder Tyndale presented such a problem to the Tudor’s England and especially the King.
So, I wonder why we are not challenging this hierarchical view of “Church” and maybe getting back to being “followers of the Way”.
So often I am asked, “where do you go to church?” My answer is, “ I cannot go to church at all. I can only be church! i.e. a follower of ‘the way.’”
I am also often asked, “Are you a Christian?” Again of course, the word was originally an insult - it meant “little Christ’s,” but it is so misused in modern understanding. My usual answer is “I am a follower of Jesus. Will that do?”
Do I think followers of the way should “congregate,” as Tyndale put it? Of course I do! We need one another. That’s what the body is like. It needs its different parts.
4th March 2019