What and why Ecclesia

What is the ecclesia and why use this word

EC-CLE-SI-A, n.; [L. ecclesia; Gr. ekklesia, an assembly of the people, from ekkletos, summoned; ekkaleom, to summon, call out.]

  1. The political assembly in the ancient Greek states, at which all free citizens could vote.
  2. The early Greek and Latin name for the church; a congregation (This secondary definition reflects its subsequent incorrect adaptation to the churches).

(Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Standard Ref. Works Pub. Co., Inc. NY, 1957)

Bust of Solon, one of the first Greek Statesmen

The ecclesia or ekklesia (Greek: ἐκκλησία: “gathering of those sumned”) was the the most general word for principal assembly of citizens of the democratic city-state in the old Roman State and of ancient Athens during its “Golden Age” (480404 BCE). Its roots lay in the Homeric ‘agora The ecclesia was already functioning in Draco’s days (c. 621 BC). In the course of Solon‘s (Greek: Σóλων) codification of the law (c. 594 BC), the “ecclesia” became coterminous with the body of male citizens 18 years of age or over and had the right to hear appeals in the Hëlaia, take part in the election of archons (chief magistrates), and confer extralegal rights on individuals. All classes of citizens in Athens were able to participate, even the thetes.

The ekklesia opened the doors for all citizens, regardless of class, to nominate and vote for magistrates—indirectly voting for the Areopagus—have the final decision on legislation, war and peace, and have the right to call magistrates to account after their year of office.
Assemblies of this sort existed in most Greek city-states, continuing to function throughout the Hellenistic and ‘Roman periods, though under the Roman Empire their powers gradually atrophied. [1]

Christian usage of ecclesia as “church” was probably derived from the Septuagint, where it renders the Hebrew qahal (“gathering”). The Apostles used it also in both ways, namely to refer to pagan or democratic state and Christian gatherings  and the Christian community as a whole.

Nowhere in the original Bible’s New Testament shall you be able to find the word “church” which so many Christian denominations use. Though many will say Jesus Christ initiated it, but sometimes we do find ecclesia translated as ‘congregation’. In modern translations we do agree can be found the wrongly translated form “church”.[2]

The Greek “kuriakos” (“ku-ri-á-kos” or “ku-ri-á-kon.” ) (=”pertaining to the lord.”) eventually came to be used in Old English form as “cirice” (kee-ree-ké), then “churche” (kerké), and eventually “church” in its traditional pronunciation. A church, then, is correctly something that “pertains to, or belongs to, a lord.” “Ecclesia” is an entirely different word with an entirely different meaning than “kuriakos.” In fact, the Greek word “kuriakos” appears in the New Testament only twice. It is found once in I Corinthians 11:20 where it refers to “the Lord’s supper” and once again in Revelation 1:10 where it refers to “the Lord’s day.” In both of those cases, it is translated “the Lord’s” — not “church.” This word does not appear again in the New Testament.[3]

In the time of the Apostle Paul an ecclesia was a gathering of the elders of a community. In smaller villages and towns across the Roman Empire, local elders would gather regularly to discuss and deliberate over a variety of social and political dilemmas facing the community. An ecclesia was a gathering of wise community leaders, brought together by their common vision for the harmony and well-being of the wider community. Ecclesia in this sense was really a community-within-a-community whose very purpose was to add value to that community. It brought wisdom to the village. It helped the village be a better village. They were members of the village, and their destiny was as connected to the prosperity and peace of that community as anyone.[4]

Synagogue, which has evolved into a Jewish religious term, is a word which appears often in the Greek New Testament. During the writing of the Greek New Testament, it was just an assembly — any assembly. At that time, “synagogue” could have referred to a Jewish assembly, or any other kind of assembly — religious or otherwise. In the first centuries after Jesus’ preaching his followers came together and assembled in ‘synagogues’ or meeting places. More and more the disciples and their followers found not their place at the Jewish or Roman meeting places and came together to study the Word of God in particular houses.
The followers of Christ, at first called Jewish sectThe Way” left the synagogues (later also called churches) for what they were and found that the synagogues/churches were not Christian in nature.  Jesus had shown them the way to be open to everybody, no matter what race, education or class, and had used mountain fields, gardens and private houses to preach. Jesus had not had the intention to create a special class of religion with separate special buildings to meet. It had not been the mission to build churches and synagogues. The New Testament Christians escaped from the heathen religion concept of church organization. They went out into the world and they established “ecclesias” [ek-le-see-a] (ekklesia/ekklesiae/ecclesiae) (Christian communities of Christ’s reign), united bodies, fresh in spirit, hopeful with no restrictions to others, but keeping attention to one another.[5] For the early Christians the meetings were important to consider how they could spur or provoke one another on towards love and good deeds. They were aware that they had to make their faith work. Faith without works was a dead believe.[6] For them body and spirit could not be separated and separating faith and works would also get the same thing: faith apart from works is dead and would leave the person just with a corps. Therefore they found it necessary to come together regularly and not only to encourage one another—and all the more as we would see the Day approaching.

Never had there been the intention to have a special place for one or other day; any day of the week or month could be used to come together and to edify each other. Also no ranking in the way of placing one person above the other was foreseen as in the civil governments or organizations. For the early Christians it was important to keep high principles of morality and ‘show the outside world’ that as followers of Christ going for the Most High Almighty, they did not consider themselves as part of this world and did not need the hierarchy of this world. Because they did not want to belong to this world, knowing that they have been chosen out of the world, therefore the world hated them. [7]
The structure of the community does not have to be on the world’s terms, and follows the structure of the lay-out by the apostles of the first hour. The main focus of the group should be studying the Word of God and preaching the Good News of the kingdom, for a testimony to all the heathen, looking forward to the return of Christ and the End Times.[8] In the temple and privately this Good News was been preached.[9]
Daily also continuing with one accord in the temple, breaking also at every house bread, they were partaking of food in gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people, and the Lord was adding those being saved every day to the assembly.[10] The early Christians continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers, and that is what we still have to do today.[11] As Jesus Christ has taken the cup, when he had supped, the community of followers of Christ has to do that, as often, in remembrance of the Offering of Jesus the Lamb of God as a sign of the New Covenant.[12]

Most of the Christian churches do have a bureaucratic structure as central government, but we as an ecclesia want to be an independent self-government under Christ Yeshua. In our community is no exact governing body or central ruler or Pope. Everybody has his or her own free will to follow Gods Law and to come together with other like minded people whose believe and formation is based upon the principle of independence through law (God’s law). God has given enough laws and His Word gives enough direction what to do and how to do it. We do believe God has given us enough guidance and directions how to meet and form an acceptable group of Followers of Christ. We do not need any more laws, enforced by humans. An ecclesia, constructed on Christian principles, would be based upon the principle of independence through law (God’s law). It would preclude central government or monopolies by any entity. It would insist upon free trade, private ownership, and the common law. It would use God’s law as its constitution, and abstain from creating any more laws. Man would not rule man, but every man would be responsible for any crimes he might commit — and answerable to his victim(s) according to God’s law. The law would be enforced by every free male that is of age.[13]

We naturally want to “pertain to the lord” Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah, Christ, son of God. And we do want to use the Book of the Acts of the Apostles as a good example how to live together with brothers and sisters of the same faith, all sharing the body of Christ.

The writers of the New Testament when they talked about the ecclesia meant a body of Christians called out of the Roman and Judean system to come together into a separate spiritual civil community. It meant a politically autonomous body of Christians under no king but Jesus. As in the Jewish synagogue there was in the Christian municipality also no separate hierocracy neither a clergyman who had to say everything. No singular man ruled them! Only Christ was the head. In the synagogue every pious Jew took an active part in reading aloud and having time to explain. So also in the Christian municipality it was expected from everybody that these contributed to the meeting and all had to do a public notification and to each exhort each other to love and excellent works, but this had to happen in an orderly manner.[14] Because they did not want another king then Jesus they ran into trouble with kings and rulers; got in trouble with Caesar; were arrested, crucified and martyred. They dropped Caesar and took up Christ.[15] According to the Romans Paul and Silas were “turning the world (system) upside down” choosing for only one king: Jesus.[16] It was the walking away from the normal accustomed system, against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:” (Ephesians 1:21 KJBPNV) [17]
When the followers of Christ became more and more separated from the Jewish community and became as such independent, different models evolved within the ‘Church’ that differed from the model visualized by Jesus and practiced in the early Christian brotherhood.[18] Although there were many attempts to bring the Church back to the spirit of the early Church through the monastic orders, mendicant orders, pious associations and various lay movements, often the intuitionalism prevailed.[19]

Also today the task for the ecclesia are the ‘coming together’ of the Christians should be a coming together in union in a system that take distance of the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience.[20] The Pharisees and Romans clearly understood the teachings of Christ. Christ didn’t set up a new religion! He set up a kingdom government! Thus, Christ’s government system was immediately at war with the government systems of the world (i.e., the dragon of Revelation).[21]

The ecclesia has to be the place on earth were God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness, the heathen world which does not want to see, and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.[22]

As Jesus called his followers to withdraw themselves from the Roman/Jewish political systems (i.e., the beast system) we also do have to take distance from every worldly system, though we do agree some civil procedures have to be followed. For example we have to buy or rent spaces, have to pay taxes, be legally in order to be accepted as a group and do have to have an accounting, etc…[23] Jesus called his followers to form their own independent political systems based upon God’s law and the patriarchal, family-type system which is God’s true plan for civil government among men, and that was annoying the leaders at that time, but it is still the rule for today. Central governments are still basically the same in our day as they were in the first century. Central government is the proverbial Babylonian beast system, and we are still being “called out” of Babylon. We are still commanded to withdraw ourselves from the beast system.[24]

As a family unit works (independently and with the husband as its head) so an ecclesia works on a larger scale (with Christ as its head).
This civil association (co-op) is the type we find in the book of Judges when God was king in Israel, and there were no human kings ruling over them. Each individual, and each family, were free, and personally responsible, to do what they believed to be right (Judges 21:25)[25]. Their leadership was from the patriarch and judges. God was the only Lawgiver as well as the ultimate Judge. There was no central government to tell them what to do, and there was no church system to block their thinking ability. There were community leaders but they were not rulers who imposed their ideas as the only ones to follow. And there was no central enforcement agency to force ‘parishioners’ to pay taxes. There was no obligation to give and the tithes were given freely. In Scripture there is no talking about sending money to a church organization.

Godly government is been instituted but has Christian Self-Discipline with elders and overseers desiring good work and ministers (diakonos) who should serve essentially the same function as the ancient Levites, all doing their Work of God in good conduct in the house (i.e., kingdom) of God, which is the ecclesia of the living God, and pillar and ground of truth.[26] The Statement of the World Council of Churches: Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry recognises that the three-fold order of deacon, presbyter and episcope, are located in essence in the Scriptures and underwent development in later centuries.[27]

At the gathering there has not to be only one speaker for all can prophesy one by one or speak in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. All may be exhorted by listening to each other. Because God is not a God of confusion, but of peace everything has to be done in good order. [28] In good order the community can devote to the apostles teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and drinking of the cup in memory of Christ, and bringing prayers and songs to our only One God, sharing their knowledge that they have all things in common and favour with all people.[29] All members feel like living in communion/solidarity, and actively participate in Christ’s mission as a priestly, prophetic and servant people, not only restricted to one day in the week, but every day and at every moment being ready to help each other and to make time for each other.

To be authentically ‘church’ has to be the main goal for real Christians and we should be aware what Jesus Christ wanted of his followers and to know that to be church is not only to do the religious thing but to listen, to struggle with people. An ecclesia should be a community or congregation of enthusiast people going for the One Faith that take their impetus from Jesus in his historic human dimension to lead them in their search for an authentic church. As ecclesia the members are Jesus’ people destined and tied into that of the broader community in which they exist. They are there to add value, to bring wisdom, to foster a better village. In short, to participate with the work of Kingdom of God going on all around them, being a Gospel empowered, unfettered people-movement, perfectly designed for nothing less than the transformation of the world and the destruction of the forces of evil.[30] The ecclesia is not limited to that of a local church with a distinctive shaped building and a certain denominational preference and style, it is and always has to be a thriving moving always fostering community.

As sincere students of the Bible, we are convinced that it is important to keep to the Word of God and to keep to the concepts Jesus introduced to the new world. We do not have to prefer a state concept that evolved out of the Roman world of Constantine. Believing that the words God used in the Holy Scriptures are important, we must respect them and also use those words and not the ones preferred by the world. Therefore we prefer to use the words God brought to His people and try to translate them as accurate as possible. Taking all this in account we prefer to use the word ecclesia instead of church.
In faith and in prayer we unite with likeminded people and see how, through the Spirit, we are drawn into creative ways of flourishing and serving into the vehicles of God‘s grace.
Though the Christadelphians are not with many they are fully aware that it is not the amount of people present but the intention of the heart which fills the community. Not quantity but quality fills the community. They want to grow together in unity and fraternal love. To be able to do that they are aware that they have to meet regularly and that this can be best done in smaller groups in which close interaction and community witnessing is possible. The secular world too that wishes the transformation of the society realizes the importance of the small groups.[31] The ecclesia is the venue to foster the aspect of Christian love as a commitment to persons, interacting with neighbors and witnessing to Christ on a regular basis. Since the communities are less structured, all can gather together – men, women, youth and children. But rather than being a crowd, they are people who are responsible for one another. There is no permanent house for gathering; yet no economic or ethnic barriers affect such a communion of communities. There may be pluralism in thought, but there will be unity in action, for the motivating force of this ecclesial community is service.

The more people learn about the Gospel of the Kingdom, the more they realize the importance of re-discovering the meaning and purpose of Christ’s ecclesia system. The Bible refers to the ecclesia system of God, i.e., the Reign of Christ, many times in definite terms.

So we are sanctified and intentionally set apart as instruments of God’s love for the world.

Let us in this world, which does not wish to know much about God ,nevertheless bravely continue with perseverance and continue to proclaim the Good News and invite people to become a member of our ecclesia which is the ecclesia of God.

 

CBM Cricket Tour of Belgium, Ecclesia Leuven
Meeting with songs at the Leuven ecclesia

 

 


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesia_%28ancient_Athens%29 + Encyclopaedia Britannica Micropaedia Vol III 15th Ed., 1980

[2] Over there the word ecclesia (civil assembly in Athens even before the writing of the New Testament) as seen as a governing body had more to do with the civil organization. – According to the Encyclopedia Britannica: In the New Testament, “ecclesia” (signifying convocation) is the only single word used for church. It (ecclesia) was the name given to the governmental assembly of the city of Athens, duly convoked (called out) by proper officers and possessing all political power including even juridical functions.

[3] What is The Ecclesia? Is It A Church? Is It A Cult? Is It Important? Part One of Three By Ben Williams

[4] For The City by Matt Carter & Darrin Patrick & What is a missional community? By Alan Hirsch

[5] “Also, may we show consideration to one another, stirring up like a fire among ourselves compassionate affection and good works. May we not quit our assembling together in meetings as is the custom of some persons. Rather, continue to be encouraging, and so much more as you behold the Day drawing closer.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 MHM)

[6] “Therefore, just as the body without breath is dead, so also, conviction without works is dead.” (James 2:26 MHM)

[7] “If you were from the world of humankind, the world of humankind would certainly have affection for their own. But, because you are not from the world of humankind-but rather I chose you apostles out of the world of humankind-for this reason the world of humankind continues to hate all of you.” (John 15:19 MHM)

[8] “And this good news of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations. And then The End will come.” (Matthew 24:14 MHM)

[9] “And so every day in the Temple area, as well as in private homes, they did not stop teaching and preaching Christ Jesus.” (Acts 5:42 MHM)

[10] “And daily they continued in harmonious devotions in the Temple area sharing their meals in private homes. They shared food with jubilation and sincerity of heart, praising The God and finding favor with all the people. And at the same time YHWH continued adding daily to those being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 MHM)

[11] “Then these Jews devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the community, also to sharing meals and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42 MHM)

[12] “And just the same with the Cup, after having the Passover supper, saying, “This is the Cup of the New Covenant in my blood. Continue doing this, as often as you ever may drink it, in my remembrance.”” (1 Corinthians 11:25 MHM)
“Also in the same manner after the Passover meal the cup, saying: “This cup is the New Covenant: in my blood which is being poured out in your behalf.”” (Luke 22:20 MHM)
“The Cup of the blessing that we are blessing, is it not the blood of the Christ? The Loaf which we are breaking, is it not a sharing of the body of the Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16 MHM)

[13] What is The Ecclesia? Is It A Church? Is It A Cult? Is It Important? Part One of Three By Ben Williams

[14] “May we continue holding firmly the confession of the Hope without faltering, for the One who promised is completely trustworthy. Also, may we show consideration to one another, stirring up like a fire among ourselves compassionate affection and good works. May we not quit our assembling together in meetings as is the custom of some persons. Rather, continue to be encouraging, and so much more as you behold the Day drawing closer.” (Hebrews 10:23-25 MHM)

[16] “and Jason has taken them under his roof. All these are opposed to the dogma of Caesar, saying that there is a different king, Jesus.”” (Acts 17:7 MHM)
“Because we are not wrestling against blood and flesh, but against heavenly hierarchies, heavenly authorities, heavenly world-rulers of this darkness, against wicked spirit-beings in the Celestialum.” (Ephesians 6:12 MHM)

[17] “over and above every hierarchy and authority and power and lordship and every name named-not only in this time period but also in the New Age to come-” (Ephesians 1:21 MHM)

[18] A. Dulles, Models of the Church, Doubleday: Image Books, 1987 (1978).

[19] You can read more about the evolution of the ecclesial work at: http://belgianbiblestudents.wordpress.com/ & http://bijbelvorsers.blogspot.com/ were the history of the Christian movement is sketched.

[20] “Those things in which you once walked in harmony with this world order’s time period. You walked in harmony with the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit-being who now energizes the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2 MHM)
“over and above every hierarchy and authority and power and lordship and every name named-not only in this time period but also in the New Age to come-” (Ephesians 1:21 MHM)

[21] Read more about it in the Book of Revelation by the Apostle John.

[22] “It is The God who has delivered us from the authority of the Darkness and transferred us into the Realm of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13 MHM)
“It is The God who has delivered us from the authority of the Darkness and transferred us into the Realm of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13 MHM)

[23] “Now Jesus responded to them: “Return to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to the God those things belonging to the God!” Now his reply astounded them.” (Mark 12:17 MHM)

[24] What is The Ecclesia? Is It A Church? Is It A Cult? Is It Important? Part Two of Three By Ben Williams

[25] “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 ASV)

[26] “Despite writing these things to you I expect to visit you soon. So, if I am delayed you may know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s House-which is the Church of a Living God, the pillar and foundation of the Truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15 MHM)

[27] World Council of Churches  Agreed Statement: Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.

[28] “For The God is not disorganized but peacefully arranged.” (1 Corinthians 14:33 MHM)
“But, let everything occur according to good manners and order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40 MHM)

[29] “So those Jews who accepted his words were baptized and on that day about three thousand souls were added. Then these Jews devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the community, also to sharing meals and to prayer. Fear came over every soul as the apostles performed many wonders and signs. And all those believing were gathered at the same place and they had everything in common. They would sell their possessions and went to distributing the money to everyone as each had a need. And daily they continued in harmonious devotions in the Temple area sharing their meals in private homes. They shared food with jubilation and sincerity of heart, praising The God and finding favor with all the people. And at the same time YHWH continued adding daily to those being saved.” (Acts 2:41-47 MHM)

[30] “And so I tell you: You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will never triumph over it!” (Matthew 16:18 MHM)

[31] J.B. Rajan, “Kerala’s Perspectives on Decentralised Governance: Need of the Time” in The Living Word (March-April 2000) 5-20.

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