Ekklesia – a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place…
The word is used 114 times in the New Testament; 111 of those 114 it is used to reference church, churches or congregation, and three times assembly.
We have taken our word church from the Greek word ekklesia and were right to do so. There are many questions that we should ask and re-ask on an on-going basis however and certain points to remember as well.
That which we call church was called into the public square…the place where the local world gathered. Those believers were called into public assembly for some reason and we would do well to remember and understand those reasons. Further to this we must ask ourselves if the current gatherings that call themselves ‘church’ or ekklesia continue in the tradition of being in the public space.
One might argue that the church met in the public sphere in New Testament times because they had nowhere else to meet. However at the time the New Testament is referring to this is not the case – believers continued to meet, pray and worship in the temple as they considered themselves Jews, albeit Jews with a new dispensation, but Jews nonetheless. Further to this the New Testament points out that believers would meet in homes for evening meals in celebration of Jesus Passover dinner and in remembrance of his death and resurrection. They would also pray and worship there.
So then if the church was seeing worship, prayer, praise, teaching and hearing of scripture, etc inside the temple and homes what were they being called out to the public square for?
I would suggest the word ekklesia was applied because these believers were taking all that they were from a faith perspective and bringing it into the world…into the public sphere. They lived their faith in its many and diverse and broken forms compellingly before the world in the public sphere because they were “called out” by God to do so.
Questions must be asked of ourselves in light of this.
Are we doing this today? Is that which we call church being church in the world? Or is that which we call church increasingly requiring the world to come inside? Does the church of the called out ones spend its time ironically calling the world inside? I think it does.
By and large we have turned places of private worship into places where the entire commission of Christ occurs.
Further – one must ask the question – if the ones named for being called out into the public sphere are no longer going out into the public sphere do they still deserve the title of ekklesia? Do we still deserve the title of church?
Most importantly we must ask ourselves if this thing we call church has morphed into a twisted kind of perpetual motion machine that takes believers, propagates primarily through birth, and takes all of the transformative things going into the world brings and pulls them behind walls away from the scrutiny of the world…away from the public sphere?
If so it says to the world, if you really want to know who we are come into our world, come into our private sphere and learn on our terms. Ministry to the world is offered by proxy through designated missionaries. Relationships which must develop naturally in the public sphere are substituted for programs designed to mimic relationship. All that is natural is destroyed in favour of creating small versions of the temple of Israel – that which Christ declared destroyed upon his death in favour of the new ecclesiastic model he inaugurated.
These are difficult questions. Turning the mirror onto ourselves is never easy…especially when the light is turned up to its brightest level. We see every blemish and would prefer to hide it in dim light, indoors. Still I believe if the church, those who are called out, is to survive into the next century it needs to remember what it was and what it is.
Ephesians 5:8-14 says:
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. his is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
In light of these verses we should ask ourselves why we, the church, the called out ones, have chosen to hide inside, away from the world. It is as if we have built shelters to wait out Armageddon while the world destroys itself instead of giving up our shelter and standing in public with and among the world that, should it burn, we will burn together.
Why have the ones called out into the public sphere built walls for themselves? Ephesians also points out the following in chapter two verses 14-18:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
If ekklesia means what it says it means than walls stand in opposition to its very nature. The church should loathe walls and seek always and everywhere to tear them down.
3 thoughts on “Ekklesia”
I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” with two of my three brothers. Maybe the image of the ekklesia in 1 Peter better suits what Tolstoy envisions as the highest human koinonia. The ‘called out’ are those who have been rejected by the world and the Jewish or religious establishment. There is a strong parallel with Pink Floyd’s last song on ‘The Wall’ album called ‘Outside the Wall.’ There is a breaking away for an assembly of every citizen to decide on public policy. That is, a fellowship that decides what is best for that society out of which it was called.
A major part of the story in ‘Resurrection’ takes place on the march of the prisoners to the exile of Siberia. It is here, among the political prisoners who were sentenced because of their political views, that the protagonists find true friendship and noble human beings. The love they share seeks to bring out the best in one another while resisting the pressure of the establishment.
I love the imagery you evoke with both Tolstoy and Pink Floyd. I will look for his Resurrection.