August 18, 2013

Being Called Out To Assemble Together

G' Mornin' all. This post was originally only suppose to be a word study that I posted as a single paragraph with Scripture reference in my Greek O' The Week column. As you can see it is clearly larger than a paragraph. This week's word study was ἐκκλησία/ ekklesia and it became so lengthy I had to make it into a genuine post here. There is something profound going on in the meaning of this word that does not immediately come to the surface by just thinking it means church. After digging and rummaging around in the context of the Scriptures that it is found in and referencing the Kittel's Theological Dictionary and some other lexicons I am humbled by its complexity...and its obviously divine origins. When I was finished writing my own post, even as the writer had to sit back an ponder what I had just written in its profundity as it clearly was done through compulsion of the Spirit. 

ἐκκλησία/ ekklesia

The noun (or nouns) ἐκκλησία/ ekklesia is a compound word from the Greek ek/ἐκ meaning “out from” or “to” and the word  kaléō/καλἐο "to call". When combined they form a meaning meant to address a group of people viewed as being “called out from the world”. This can more be more commonly known in modern times as a church but this is a skewed definition as church implies a structure or assembly within a hierarchy of believers. A hierarchy which is not entirely biblical if it arranges one believer over another. The church therefore is more akin to the unity and balance of the members of the Godhead in equity and equality, not one member over another. Although for a time Jesus was "functionally" subordinate to the Father on the Cross, the Triune Godhead is One Being and three equal Persons.

The truth is that there are no etymological links between ἐκκλησία and the word church. William Tyndale’s (1526) English translation originally translated the word as the term "congregation" not “church”. Originally, the New Testament believers met in rented halls and in the homes of people. They had elders/ πρεσβύτεροi/presbyteroi or bishops/επίσκοποι/episkopoi (please note the plural) which were called of God and given the oversight of the local or individual congregations (Acts 20:28). 

hierarchical church government outside the local assembly is not to be found in Pauline writings unless one wishes to use things like the Jerusalem Collection to bridge contexts (This was a collection he took up among the Gentile churches to help Judean believers who were facing harder than usual economic times as a result of a famine during the mid to late 40s).

The ἐκκλησία are to be an assembly of people selected/elected by God and separated from the world in holiness and humbleness. We are not to be separated in self-righteous arrogance as we see in many misguided Christians today that have fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes of Jesus’ time. ἐκκλησία was originally used in Acts to designate a singular congregation, but it now has morphed to encompass the Church universal also.

It is interesting to note that in Acts (and other places), the use of the word was initially used in conjunction or correlation to single local connections or locations.

Acts 7:38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.

Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

The ἐκκλησία whether singular or plural is therefore to be viewed as tied to a temporal or physical geographically decisive point...while simultaneously being a spiritual entity. It is as if by silence the implication is that the ἐκκλησία potentially could be anywhere (i.e.: the Kingdom of God) but simultaneously is tied to a geographic and time-bound historical location through believer's bodies that are the Temples of the Holy Spirit. It appears that in Christian's, God now has a much more efficiently mobile Tabernacle in the form of the believer themselves instead of an edifice or building. But there is even more going on here. The Tabernacle and believers as the Temple of the Holy Spirit is a unique feature of the Christian body (and Christian faith) that shows that God was not only interactive in man’s world…but he still is. This means the ἐκκλησία or what we now understand as a local congregation is anywhere that two or more gather in the name of Christ (Matthew 18:20). The church is therefore singular yet plural, individual but also universal.

The singular and plural characteristics of the church are seen no clearer than in Acts 9:31 [emphasis in parenthesis are mine]…

Acts 9:31 Then the church [singular] throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria [in a plural context] enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers [individuals in plurality].

We also see the interplay of plural and singular aspects of the church in places like this...

1 Corinthians 12:27-28 Now you [plural you; ye] are the body [singular designation of a pluralistic entity] of Christ, and each one of you [singular individuals] is a part of it [the plural Church or body of Christ]. And God has placed in the church [singular designation of a pluralistic entity] first of all apostles [plural], second prophets [plural], third teachers [plural], then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Finally we have this passage from 1 Corinthians 12. Which if there was any doubt left, will silence any remaining doubts about a universal body made of individuals.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all [plural obviously] baptized by one Spirit [part of a plural Godhead] so as to form one body [singular designation of a pluralistic entity] —whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all [plural] given the one Spirit [singular] to drink.

This is not a contradiction but assuredly it is paradoxical. We as Christians should not be surprised though as God is indeed One Being but Three Persons and it is through the Spirit that his church/churches thrive.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

There is a direct link between the spiritual Kingdom of God and any place living physical Christians gather to obey and do the will of God.

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

To me it is clear that Matthew 16:18 is referring to Christ founding the institution of a universal church but not the establishment of a hierarchical church per se (Roman Catholicism). He is starting the church based on the belief and faith of an individual (Peter) but the entire church is a body of multiple individual's in their individual calls to repentance through faith. The universal church is therefore logical fallout from a unifying of individual church entities but not in a tiered fashion but as one solid single unit. Just as individual families build the local church, so too the local churches create a much large Spirit directed unit.

Implications To The Believer:

We have always been called to gather and assemble ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). It did not matter where in terms of location. We are also to do church around the clock and everywhere that we are geographically and physically at a given moment. Every act of our lives is either an act of worship towards God or an act of desertion or rebellion away from Him. Just like the Israelites in Babylonian captivity praying/worshiping by the Chebar River, it was the heart intent of the believer, not the geographic location. In line with this thought, churches can be quite small and need not be large or enormous congregations of believers. The truth is that extremely large congregations are actually counter-productive to the close knit associations shown in the early church of Acts.

There is something unique about an assembly in that it is something more than the sum of its parts. There is a synergism that cannot be had when one is isolated alone. It is like a hot coal in the furnace. Together with other hot coals it will retain its light and heat longer with others of the same kind. If we remove the hot coal from the cluster of coals it will dim and cool quicker than in a collective.

Additionally, gathering together in individual churches we help make up the universal body of Christ. In so doing we are singular as individual personalities but we also know that each congregation has its own collective “personality”. Some ἐκκλησία are more, “urban”, “rural”, “seeker friendly” whereas others are more “theological”, “dogmatic” or some combination thereof. They are a direct reflection of their individual congregants. Until Christ comes there will always be factions and divisions in the Body due to sin but while we're here some of these categorizations might actually help reach certain types of people (but it is not the optimal situation).

It is in the individual plurality or plural individualism of the modern congregations that we see in the diversity of the body a unique reflection of the Godhead. In this way we better reach the unsaved world while remaining holy and called out from the world. In the ἐκκλησία we see a singular entity with a diversity of individuals that serve different functions. We end up being a direct reflection of God/Godhead individually and plural as in Genesis

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image [singular and plural], in the image of God [singular and plural] he created him [singular]; male and female he created them [plural].

and in a plural manner in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ [functionally singular but part of a Triune Godhead] . For we were all baptized by one Spirit  [functionally singular but part of a Triune Godhead] so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body [singular] is not made up of one part but of many [plural for functional reasons].

Just as a proper biblical marriage between one woman and one man is a direct reflection of the relational aspects of the too is the ἐκκλησία itself.

In the end we’re to ensure we come together as a people to encourage one another and strengthen one another. This is what unites us as a body. What is done on Sunday is not totally what is considered part of this “calling together/ gathering”, it is only part of it (teaching, exhorting, encouraging). The only person doing the talking is the preacher, while everyone listens and do not bother asking questions. What we see in sermons today is only part of what was meant. If you are only attending church on Sunday you are only fulfilling part of the idea of ἐκκλησία and it is a lopsided understanding at best.

Found here: Acts 5:11, 7:38, 8:1, 8:3, 9:11, 1 Corinthians 14:19, 35, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 11:18, Philippians 4:15, Colossians 4:16, etc.

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