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   When people inquire of us, “What church do you belong to?” or “What religion do you follow?” how should we respond? Is there a name for this faith? Did Messiah come to establish a new religion, Christianity? Did He give Peter permission to start the Catholic church and become the first pope as many firmly believe?

What is a Church?
   The underlying root word in the Greek manuscripts which is translated as “church” is ekklesia, which simply means a calling out to gather, an assembling of people. It is not a building, but rather the word implies a group of people gathered for a purpose, either good or evil. An example to demonstrate is found in Acts 19, where a silversmith Demetrios (Demetrius, in some translations) concerned about losing his business (through Paul’s teaching against idol worship), stirred the Ephesians to riot:
      • Verse 32: Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.
      • Verse 39: But if you enquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.
      • Verse 41: And when he [the city clerk] had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.

   Ephesus (a city near the western coast of modern-day Turkey) was the home of one of the infamous “seven wonders of the ancient world”—the Temple of Artemis (the Roman goddess, Diana, in some translations). She was a Greek goddess, greatly revered and so the Ephesians were very upset when they heard Paul preaching that Artemis and their other idols are not mighty ones. For the defense of Artemis and the other idols, an ekklesia was called. For about two hours, the mob cried out “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:34).
   In the above verses, the same word ekklesia is used. If the translators were being consistent with the English translation, they should have translated it as “church” (like the 115 other occurrences of the word ekklesia in the KJV). But how bizarre it would be to call this riot in Ephesus a “church!”
   Did this “church” have a steeple and stained-glass windows inside with statues of Joseph and Mary? Or crucifixes and paintings of Jesus? Were its congregants coming on Sunday mornings to receive holy communion with the accompaniment of organs playing hymns? Or, if perhaps “filled with the Spirit,” were they shaking violently on the stage speaking words ‘hard to be understood,’ if words at all?
   The concept of “church” referring to a physical structure or even a group of believers is not accurate. It simply means an assembling of people, which in the above example was a city in uproar against the apostle Paul and other believers.
   The Israelites in the wilderness under Moses’ direction were called “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38), so this was certainly not a new concept, but purely denotes an assembled people. Furthermore, Scripture shows the early assemblies often met in houses, not church buildings (Acts 20:20; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philem. 2; 2 John 10). This does not mean having a hall is wrong, it simply shows that the commonly-held belief of “church” being a building or even a group of righteous individuals only, lacks Scriptural validation.

Is Messiah the Founder of Christianity?
   In the mainstream “churchianity”, it is held that Yahshua came to shake the Jewish faith by creating a new religion and establishing a church which focuses on love and grace, where all are welcome to come as they are, and stay as they are.
   After a sleep-deprived night in the mountains of intense prayer to the Father (Luke 6:12-16), Yahshua chose twelve apostles to go and preach a message of repentance exclusively to the twelve tribes of YisraEl (Israel) scattered throughout the earth. Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel, Matthew 10:5-6.
   In a conversation with a Samaritan woman, Yahshua said “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Remember what Yahshua’s Name means—Yahweh is salvation. That is, Yahshua was, and still is, a commandment-keeping Jew! Notice some examples of Yahshua, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5):
      • Yahshua kept the sabbath (Matt. 24:20; Mark 2:28; Luke 4:16, 31).
      • Yahshua kept the festivals of Yahweh (Luke 2:41, 22:7; John 7:1-14, 37; Lev. 23).
      • Yahshua being a Jew observed Hanukkah – the feast of dedication (John 10:22).
      • Yahshua wore tassels (Matt. 9:20-22; Num. 15:37-40).
      • Yahshua told the leper He healed to show himself to the priest and offer the gift according to the law (Matt. 8:1-4).

   But some of these requirements are no longer required since the Holy Spirit is now given to believers fulfilling the same purpose—that the Law may be written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:27; Heb. 8:10). Moreover, the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices are replaced through Yahshua’s sacrifice with the original Melchisedec priesthood (Hebrews 7).
   The Jewish religion, however, has many added traditions which are not found in Scripture and many times, even contradict Scripture, such as: head coverings for men during worship; following a precalculated astronomical calendar that is in contrast to the Biblical calendar, and restrictions of conduct on the sabbath. If we identify ourselves as Jewish to unbelievers, though according to its definition it would be true, yet we may unwittingly be promoting doctrines which are contrary to the Scriptures.
   Nevertheless, certain Jewish national celebrations (such as Purim and Hanukkah) specifically remind Jews of how Yahweh has delivered them out of many troubles throughout history.
   The early believers were simply viewed as another branch of Judaism like the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. This is why the famous Jewish elder and Sanhedrin member Gamaliel (GamliEl, in Hebrew), highly respected among Jews even to this day and grandson of Hillel the elder (whose disciples were known as the “house of Hillel”), was careful to not rebuke the apostles (Acts 5:33-40). They recognized that the apostles were also Jews and obedient to the Scriptures like all the Jewish elders in the Sanhedrin. However, there were points of dispute, namely whether Yahshua was the prophesied Messiah to come.
   But do not be mistaken. Yahshua did NOT come to start a new religion, but certainly took every opportunity to clarify how one must worship the Father “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
   For several years, the ekklesia was exclusively a Jewish assembly. But Peter was given to understand in a vision in Acts 10 that other sheep which were not of this fold (John 10:16) should be permitted to come into the faith. And subsequently, his rehearsal of events occurring in Acts 10 to the elders of the ekklesia at Jerusalem confirmed that now, “even to Gentiles Elohim has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Nevertheless, conflict remained among the apostles and elders whether adult non-Jews males should be required to keep the Law and be circumcised for salvation (Acts 15; Galatians 2).

Are You a Jew?
   In Corinth, many issues had to be addressed by the Apostle Paul, the chief of which was that of division within the assembly. They were quarrelling about who baptized each of them. One of you says, “I follow Paul;” another, “I follow Apollos;” another, “I follow Kepha;” still another, “I follow Messiah,” 1 Corinthians 1:12. To this Paul replies, I thank Elohim that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else. For Messiah did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, 1 Corinthians 1:14-17. Division can come when following after men, is not according to the will of Yahweh.
   “Jew” in Hebrew is “Yahudi” which means one who praises Yahweh. In this sense, believers in Messiah are spiritual Yahudim (the plural of Yahudi, Rom. 2:28-29). Likewise, Revelation 2:9 says some claimed to be Jews, but were not for though they were Jews according to the flesh, by rejecting Messiah they were not praising Yahweh and thus, disqualifying themselves as true Yahudim.

Are You a Christian?
   Did you know that the term “Christian” is only found three times in the whole bible?
   And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch, Acts 11:26.
   Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to be a Christian,” Acts 26:28.
   Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify Elohim on this behalf, 1 Pet 4:16.
   Notice in the first example, the believers did not call themselves “Christians” but the disciples were called [by others, outsiders] Christians. In the second example, it is again a label given by an unbeliever, Herod Agrippa. In the last occurrence it is used with the connotation of suffering and persecution.
   Yahshua an Hebrew, would likely never have been called “Christ” (Greek word meaning ‘Anointed’) but “Mashiach” (Hebrew) or Meshiha (Aramaic). Most of the disciples were unlearned men, and the New Testament is filled with Hebrew and Aramaic words and phrases. So “Messianic” would probably be a more accurate term than “Christian.” In Israel today, Jews who believe in Yahshua call themselves meshihiyim, i.e., Messianics.
   Another label given to Yahshua of Nazareth and His followers, was “Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23, 26:71; John 19:19; Acts 22:8). For we have found this man [Paul] a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, Acts 24:5.
   Around 52 C.E., the apostle Thomas was said to have reluctantly travelled to the southern state of India, today called Kerala. His mission was to preach Messiah to the large Jewish community there. Through his preaching and many works of miracles, not only Jews, but also the local Hindi came to believe in Yahshua. They knew Syriac (regional dialect of Aramaic) and became known as Nasrani, i.e., Nazarenes.
   The Nasranis held services on the Sabbath, used Syriac manuscripts of The New Testment (since they believed Aramaic was the inspired language of The New Testament and observed Passover (Pesaha in Aramaic—which is akin to the Hebrew Pesach). By the 16th century, when the Catholic Portuguese came to India, they described the Nasranis as Sabbath-keeping Judaizers. After much persecution from the anti-Judaic Catholic powers, the Nasranis abandoned their roots and separated into many churches.
   The early believers did not have a name for themselves but were called followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 24:14, 22). I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me, John 14:6. In Hebrew the word for “way” is derek which literally means a way, road or path. This means not just saying, ‘I believe,’ but implies a way of life that is lived with the intention of getting into the Kingdom of Yahweh. What a marvelous descriptor for the people of Yahweh!

A Good Confession
   Yahshua had a good confession before Pontius Pilate (1 Tim. 6:13). What is our confession when others ask, “What church do you belong to” or, “What religion do you follow?” If our answer is, “We belong to Yahweh’s Assembly in Yahshua” or any other organization, we are losing an opportunity to witness. Moreover, we belong to Yahweh (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Yahweh did not give mankind religion, division or labels. Yahweh wants His creation to become obedient children to Him, walking faithfully after the example of His Son Yahshua Messiah.
   Maybe answering a Christian who believes the Law was “nailed to the cross,” replying, “I believe in the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments,” might spark questions. Or perhaps responding to a Jew, “I believe the Torah (the Law of Yahweh) is relevant, but also that Yahshua was the prophesied Mashiach.” Or revealing Yahweh as the Creator of all living, to those from non-biblical backgrounds. The response to these questions must be appropriate to the inquirer and to their situation.
   Look first to finding common ground, or to something the inquirer can relate to, and then scatter seeds here and there using the occasion to tell them of Yahweh and His ways. If any insist upon a name for followers of Yahshua, “The Way” might be best. However, even that would likely require explanation.
   Give opportunity for further inquiry about the Scripture. If any are interested to know more, show them from the Scriptures what Yahweh requires of us. What does Yahweh require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your Elohim, Micah 6:8.
   Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true Elohim, and Yahshua Messiah, whom you have sent, John 17:3. This is the truth people need to know, not the name of any religion or church.

-Brother Rohan John (Australia)

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