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God’s Special Place

Paul the apostle speaking to the Christians in Colossae, said:

— God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles;  which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:  (Col. 1:27)

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” What meaning do these words convey? What is the “mystery” here? How can Christ who was in heaven when this was written be within His saints? He is within them in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is possible and proper because God is One; Father, Son and Spirit: three distinct persons so alike and joined together as to be a singular entity. Where  the Holy Spirit is, there Christ is as well.

It is a mystery in that until Christ came God was present in various places: in the cloud by day and fire by night that accompanied Israel in the wilderness, in the Ark of the Covenant, and in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. In short, God was in a place, a particular place to which His chosen people could come and worship Him. This was the case for Ancient Israel but now things are different: God’s presence is no longer in the Temple; the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies was rent in two at Christ’s crucifixion. Today God is present in the hearts of His chosen people, all true believers.

The old system of worship had outlived its purpose and was replaced by something entirely new. God now indwelled His chosen people and could be worshipped whenever and wherever they were, at home, abroad, or in any place they happened to be.

Is this correct? Does the whole of Scripture support this conclusion? Some passages seem to contradict it:

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the “church” of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.  (1 Tim. 3:15, KJV)

Here, the church is identified as the house of God. Doesn’t this mean that the church is singled out as a place where God is present in some special way, much as He was in ancient times? It would seem so but we need to look a little deeper.

The word church (Greek: kuriakon) literally means “God”s place” or “house of God.” The original Greek word, however, that is translated church in our English language Bibles, is not “kuriakon” but is “ecclesia,” which means the “called-out ones,” a reference to God’s people and not at all a place or an institution. To translate it “church” is clearly is a mistranslation, one that has caused and still causes much confusion among Christians. In the minds of many if not most Christians, a church is a place, a building or an institution; but where we read the word “church” in Scripture, it is “ecclesia,” a reference to the people of God, all born-again Christians.

If, wherever we see the word church in our Bibles, we substitute the literal translation “called-out” ones, the meaning of the text changes quite radically. For example, let’s reconsider 1 Timothy 3:15:

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the “called-out ones” of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15, Textus Receptus, literal translation)

The King James Version of this text places God in a house, an institution called the church, which is the place where truth is to be found. The Textus Receptus (the original from which the KJV was translated) places God’s home in the hearts of God’s people and says that they as a people are the upholders of the truth. The difference between the two is not at all trivial. In one case the reference is to an institution with a confession or statement of faith, ordained officers, etc. In the other the reference is to a special people, independent of their location, age, wealth, skills, education or any attribute other than the fact of their regeneration. One has a locale, the other does not; it is distributed throughout the world. One has many heads: pastors, priests, etc.; the other has but one head, Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, due to this defective translation,[1] most Christians today lack a correct understanding of what this verse says about who they are and what is expected of them. This is true of the more than one hundred passages where the word “ecclesia” is translated “church.” God’s special place in the world today is not in the church; it is within His people. Today’s churches have claimed too much; they are not God’s special place on earth and the church leaders that are aware of this should repent of their sinful silence in this matter.

[1] Other than in a very few instances such as this, the King James Version is a very reliable and trustworthy translation.