As a local Pastor of a church, I find myself scratching my head when it comes to reading the New Testament and looking at the modern church. When I look at what we now call church, I often wonder how we would be graded by God as the early church was in Rev. 2-3. In order to give ourselves a sober evaluation, we must use a biblical standard according to the scriptures. In order to do that, we need to first look at the word, “Church.”
We first hear the word, “church” in the Matthew 16:18. Jesus is speaking to the disciples and starts the conversation saying, “Who do they say I am?” After some comments, Peter says, “You are the Christ, the son of God.” Acknowledging this revelation from heaven Jesus responds, “ … upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not overpower it!”
Here is where it gets interesting! Jesus does not use a spiritual term. He could have said congregation or temple or synagogue. These were all familiar terms to His people. Why didn’t Jesus use these familiar terms? Why this particular word we translate as “church.”
The word Jesus used, church, is the Greek term “Ekklesia”. What does ekklesia mean? Anyone interested might look in the Strong’s Concordance and find:
G1577 ἐκκλησία ekklēsia ek-klay-see'-ah From a compound of G1537 and a derivative of G2564; a calling out, that is, (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both): - assembly, church.
Ok, that sounds right if you just stop there, but was there a reason he chose that word? Where did that word come from? If it was not a religious term, how was it used in that day? When was it first used and what for?
A little research may go a long way here. Looking at a religious website or frame of reference, you won’t find much beyond the expanded Strong’s along with more religious assumptions. But if you research it from a language viewpoint, you will find a wealth of information about the context of the word ekklesia’s place in history.
You’ll discover the word was a political term, dating back to 621B.C. Ekklesia, a long held democratic institution was a powerful self-governance right for all citizens. As a form of protest against laws the public viewed as unjust, the citizens of a Greek city were “called out” to the city gates by means of a trumpeter or town crier. At the Gates where the ruling heads of families sat judging and ruling, this assembly was formally extended to all citizens to discuss certain laws deemed unjust. The citizens were given the power of a vote if in attendance. If you didn’t bother attending the assembly you had to live with the public decision. It should be noted that ekklesia referred to the gathering and not the people involved. The size and groups of citizens would always change but the meeting (ekklesia) never changed. It was the “process”. The citizens were not the ekklesia, the meeting at the gate was! Get it?
We as Christians say, we are the church (ekklesia). But what about the process? Do you see what I’m saying here? That statement, “We are the church”, is not really correct from a language standpoint. Jesus was not referring to the people but the process.Let’s suppose of a moment Jesus is not talking about those that are citizens of the Kingdom of God in general, but those citizens of the Kingdom that show up to confront the gates of hell and demand the justice of God and to quote Jesus, “ And the gates of hell shall not Prevail!”
In this context, we recognize that Jesus, representing the Kingdom of God, went from city to city, gate to gate, with a majority of Father, Son and Holy Spirit deciding and proclaiming justice to those who didn’t have it. Think about it!
Now that I moved you out of the comfort zone of church as usual, where are we left? Am I suggesting that when we gather as the ecclesia (called out assembly) follow a different pattern of proceedings? Consider the pattern of Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 11-14. One might consider a modern day meeting of this sort would be out of control. Out of the control of men maybe. Historically the first century church wasout of the control of men but totally in the control of the Holy Spirit. Not until documents like the Didache cited by Eusebius in mid second century did the church really follow any structure even though the simple Gospel spread world wide with signs following. Following that, powerful bishops emerged that exercised authority over vast regions. Constantine furthered fueled the hierarchy by adding the political process of his empire. Unfortunately, this lead us into the dark ages where a corrupt Hierarchy ruled.
Today the remnants of hierarchy remain demonstrated by the one man show and the gifted elite. We are not in the dark ages anymore but looking over the landscape of the modern church, one might wonder, “Who silenced the Lambs!”