In our translation team, someone raised a question on what word that we should use for “church” in Tagalog. Is it “iglesya”, “simbahan” or something else? This is an interesting question considering that it does bring confusion not just Christians but to unbelievers we are reaching out.
I already pointed this in an article that iglesya is one of the misunderstood theological term here in the Philippines. I think it’s worth exploring it again here because I think it’s more than a question if such word should be used. The issue can be more deep than that. I think as we Christian who doesn’t want to misrepresent the gospel, so it should be our motive also to rightfully show what a church really is according to the Scriptures.
The point of using iglesya or iglesia is that it is what a church is defined in the New Testament. Needless to say, it’s a biblical term. It’s the Spanish equivalent of the word ekklesia (which in Greek means “called out assembly”). Since our language is a mix of other languages due to colonizers of the past, we get to retain it for a long time. Because it’s so near to the ekklesia, it gives a much better meaning than using words like church, simbahan or sambahan when used in books or sermons. For an ordinary Pinoy, church, simbahan or sambahan means the church building.So while those words can be used and sometime interchangeably, iglesya is the best choice because it really pertains to the people and not the place. Most importantly, it is much fitting for Christians especially for those who hold on the doctrine of grace, that teaches we are elected, that we use iglesia. Election is God choosing us unto salvation the foundation of the world, not because of church membership (like Iglesia Ni Cristo teaches), baptism or good deeds but by trusting in the finished work of Christ. We are able to have faith in Christ due to regeneration done by the Holy Spirit. This steams from our election by God.
We can use maninimba, sumasamba or nagsisimba but it will refer to the worshippers or attendees of a church. It will highlight the act of the people who goes to church but not point out that these people are the church itself. Still the word iglesya emerges as the best word.
The use of iglesya has it’s disadvantages. Iglesya sounds like an archaic word and for others it connotes the Iglesia Ni Cristo church, that’s why one should be conscious in using it. However, we as preachers, authors and translators want to choose words that not just to help us connect with our audience but also give out words that is precise and weighty in meaning.
So how do I, as translator and preacher handle the word iglesya? For me using it at our church is not a problem. Our members will understand that when I (and other preachers or our pastor) made mention of that word, when speaking on the affairs of our church, we can comfortably use iglesya. If however, there are unbelievers in attendance, we should briefly, if possible, explain to them that word and we are not referring to Iglesia Ni Cristo. This will help to foster the idea that iglesya can be used by other than a reference to INC. Educating people to understand what it truly means can be a springboard to a discussion on what really is a church about. As for print or audio, I go for what the pastor in our translation team suggested; in some cases we can use iglesya. It’s the translator’s judgment call. He added that the INC can’t monopolize that word. For my translation work, if the word “church” is frequently used in a material and to avoid redundancy, I’ll throw in iglesya. That is if I provided an obvious and sufficient idea to the readers that the use iglesya and “church” are the same throughout the material.
That said I suggest, we should use iglesya often whether it be a churches or in our literatures. The more we use it we will get the hang of it and also people around us. It’s time to redeem a word that belongs to people are the ones referring it . So a biblical term for the biblical Christian. We might not copyright or monopolize it, but word really pertains to us and not for a church who claims to be a follower of Christ.
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