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What is Ekklesia?

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I saw a video this week released by “It is Written’s” John Bradshaw where he talked about the evolving definitions of words. He was more specifically talking about slang words and even how some even probably know the slang word definitions more than the actual or original definitions.
Its funny, growing up and being into snow sports and water sports its not uncommon to hear phrases like “dude that was sick”....(translation, that was a great job!) As i say that now from the pulpit, it sounds odd, but when you have just landed a big jump somehow describing it as sick somehow comes out naturally. I remember the puzzled even slightly offended look on mothers face when my attempts to fit in with others, my new found slang had entered into the house. My mom asked me how my day had been out wakeboarding: I answered something like “Oh mom it was ridiculous, so crazy” What I thought I had said was, “It was really fun, I had a good time.”
In Bradshaw’s video, I had to chuckle because he used words and phrases that were not (to my knowledge) even being used when I graduated college only 6 years ago. Words like
-woke: to be aware or enlightened
-litt: is to be cool (which is already a slang word for “neat” or “awesome”)
-turnt: growing excitement
-squad: your crew or closest companions
-savage: “throwing “shade” which is slang or hurling insults
Heres one thats been around most of my life, was “chill or chill out” meaning relax
All these slang words can sound a bit ridiculous, and by ridiculous, I mean the actual definition of the word and not the slang version.
But you know I got to thinking. As Christians we can and are even guilty of evolving words beyond their original intent. Some words in the greek and hebrew will mean something with different and at times more complicated nuances than how it reads in English.
For instance a few weeks ago we discussed in one of my previous sermons about the greek and hebrew words translated as “forever” or /eternal/everlasting as used in scripture has broader meaning than the english words. It may describe (1) something or someone existing without beginning and without end (in connection with God); (2) or something or someone with beginning but without end (the eternal life of the redeemed as described in ; ); and (3) something or someone with beginning and with end in the sense of “for some time.” This helped us arrive at the conclusion that the forever burning hellfire of revelation is not a fire that burns forever, but is one which its effects last forever and always.
Now there is a greek word on the screen. Is there anyone here who can tell me the english translation of this word Ecclesia? Most people will say church. But depending on your understanding of what church is defined as…we can miss the mark. You see defining church as it is originally intended would be a gathering or community of God’s people. Unfortunately what many will picture in their head, whether you are frequent active member of a church or someone who hasn’t ever been a part of a church, is the picture of a gathering place or a community center: Basically what many are picturing is the building. They are picturing that building with a steeple and a sign outside with a catchy phrase on it.
Today we are going to examine how we the church can once again be known as the church and change the new narrative or the slanged one and be the church God has called us to be.
Before we go further lets take a moment to pray

The church was a new movement that arose after Jesus’ resurrection. The members of the early church sought to adhere to the confession of Jesus as Lord in the midst of an idolatrous, pluralistic culture. As family members who had been included in the new “church of God,” early Christians strove for unity around the gospel, which was portrayed vividly in the Lord’s Supper.

); and (3) something or someone with beginning and with end in the sense of “for some time”

Words Matter

The church was a new movement that arose after Jesus’ resurrection. The members of the early church sought to adhere to the teachings of Jesus and worshipping Him as Lord in the midst of an idolatrous, pluralistic culture. As family members who had been included in this new “church of God,” early Christians strove for unity around the gospel.
Greever, J. M. (2016). Church. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
In its earliest beginnings: the church was not stationary…it was a movement. The church was moving. It was like a sports car ready for take off. There is a model of Porshe that can go from 0-60 miles an hour in 2.2 seconds. That is mind boggling fast! The church in its beginning with the Holy Spirit fueling it was moving from town to town, province to province. It was accelerating fast. The picture of the church was only the people. The church was Jesus’ own prophecy!
In order to know what or who the church is. We have to look back at Jesus’s earthly ministry. During his time, ministering as a human on earth, there was a constant debate about His identity. Was he a teacher, a rabbi, a prophet? Was he actually divine or simply granted divine power. He had shown he had authority over nature, but where was the source of his power? Whether it was from Nicodemus or the woman at the well, the question kept coming up… “who in the world is this guy?”
Jesus asked this question to the disciples? “Who do the people say I am?” If he was talking in slang, maybe he said, “so whats the word on street about me?” We have to give the disciples a little credit. They answered the question that was asked.

14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus responds to this: “Who do you say I am?”
Peter responds without hesitation
16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
and here is Jesus prophetic statement.

17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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.

Andy Stanley likes to say this is his favorite prophecy, because it is here, Jesus predicted us! Every time we gather as believers to worship and learn, we are a present day fulfillment of Jesus words over 2000 years ago!
In Stanley’s book “Deep and Wide” he writes concerning this text:
“This is the first time the term church shows up in our english NT. The church is referenced within the context of a prediction. Jesus predicted he would build it and that nothing, including death, would stand in his way. Furthermore, he states that the “rock” or cornerstone of the church would be this inspired statement that peter made regarding Jesus identity.”
Church family: if you can write this down: “Words matter”
Before the invention of concrete, builders used stones to lay a foundation for a new building. They gathered different types of rocks from quarries such as marble, limestone, and granite and would chisel them down into giant brick shaped blocks. Then they selected one particular stone and designated it the “cornerstone.” —the reference stone that would determine the placement of every other stone in the foundation. As they laid other stones end to end to form the outline of the building’s foundation, they made sure each one was level and square with the cornerstone. (deep and wide pg.59)
The cornerstone or foundation for this new entity called the church would be the belief that Jesus is the Christ Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Looking at the Christian church today, belief in Jesus Christ the Messiah appears to be about the only 100% unifying factor within the church.
There is more to be taken away from this exchange between Jesus and the disciples. Just simply looking at the English translations, we can miss something rather important. I mentioned the english translations for Ecclesia is often church, but gathering is really the more appropriate translation. The reason being is that Ecclesia is not truly a religious term. An ekklessia was simply a gathering or an assembly of people called to a specific purpose. It never referred to a specific place, but only a specific gathering.
Interestingly, when the Hebrew people were scattered all around the world, they were still known collectively as an ecclesia, an “assembly, gathering, comunity, congregation.” While dispersed, the people of Israel gathered in close-knit communities and established synagogues. Each community of God’s people called its synagogue an ekklesia, understanding it to be a local, literal gathering of people who were members of the broad, spiritual gathering of israel. In both secular and sacred literature, ekklesia always referred to a gathering of people united by a common identity and purpose.
So when Jesus used the term, his disciples understood him to say, “i am going to build my own assembly of people and the foundation for this new assembly will be me.”
It would be natural then to wonder, why are pretty much all of our english translated bibles not using the word gathering, if that is the real meaning of the word? The answer I believe is why many of church as a building or a location.

From Assembly to Assembly Hall

It was AD 313, when Christianity became legal across the Roman empire. What really happened was freedom of religion. This was pretty major, as for almost 2 centuries Christianity had been largely outlawed. Christians were an interesting type of rebel. They weren’t trying to overthrow political powers at this time, They just simply acknowledged Jesus Christ as the King and not the emporer. They also weren’t acknowledging the emporors as divine. They also were largely misidentified as Jews who had quite a contentious relationship with the Romans. But With the arrival of Constantine, Christian life was about to change in a major way. As many of you know Constantine declared himself a Christian! After generations of trying to wipe away this strange group of people who were followers of a carpenter. The emporor himself had joined! All of the sudden, its now okay to be a Christian? That is quite the adjustment.
Before constantine became made these changes. Christians, the Ekklesia, were gathering in homes. Singing, had scripture readings, and spent time in communion. There were a few cases of more tolerant cities where their might be special room somewhere in the town where they were able to worship, but for the most part the believers met largely in an underground fashion. They also met on the seventh day Sabbath. After Constantine’s conversion, powerful people with largely pagan backgrounds also declared themselves Christians, but brought with them former notions and began being an influence to the established christian communities. Its possible these new “converts” may have brought more organization and structure but also brought elements of imperial protocal, including incense, ornate clothing, processionals, and pageantry. Before Constantine, it was not uncommon for Christians to commemorate the anniversary of a martyr’s death, but this evolved Christianity took this to the next level, erecting buildings dedicated for worship over grave sites. Although Christianity had largely been a growing and moving underground religion for many generations now, it only took around a decade or so for the ekklesia to cease to be a movement. It was no longer an expanding group of people sharing a unique identity and purpose. It had now become a location. The romans called each of their gathering places a basilica, this is the latin word used. The germanic cultures that became heavily influenced by Christianity used the word kirika, which in modern german is called Kirche. This word means “house of the Lord” and was used to refer to any ritual gathering place, christian or pagan.
The Germanic term became the one used most often to refer to the ekklesia of Jesus, and from it we get the word church. Whereas most of our english Bibles are word for word translations from the greek text, that is actually not the case when ekklesia is used. What we have is a replacedment word. The word church comes from kirche not ekklesia. Kirche is a location, it is a meeting place, an assembly hall. Ekklessia is a people. An ekklesia is a purposeful gathering of people. You can lock the doors to a kirche, not so with the ekklessia of Jesus! Now listen words evolve. I’m not saying you have to go around calling ourselves a the seventh day adventist gathering and not church. I am saying the word we use must acknowledge ourselves as ekklesia and not our building.
As the church began to shift its vacbulary, it also shifted its emphasis and direction. The church became power thirsty rather than being servant to the community. The church was no longer a grassroots movement built upon the the simple understanding of who Jesus is. The church became synonymous with location. Whoever controlled the church building now controlled the church. Worse, a littler later who ever controlled the church building controlled the scriptures. By the middle ages in europe, the bible was literally chained to the pulpit. Those who controlled the church property and the scriptures controlled the people, and even the government. This church had very little resemblence to it origins. While it is quite amazing, the church survived persecution leading up to Constantine, its even more amazing it suvived its great institutionalization and corruption in the centuries that followed. But as we see the many examples in scripture and found in spirit of prophecy, we know there is always a faithful remnant. The ekklesia survived. Jesus promised it would. As it turned out the kirche of Man could not hold back the ekklesia of Jesus.
Thanks to the Holy Spirit leading in the lives of reformers such as William Tyndale, John Huss, Martin Luther and several others alike, the ekklessia of Jesus became a movement once again. The protestant reformation breathed new life into what had become a tightly controlled and corrupted institution. The gospel was unchained from the pulpit and made accessible to the common man and woman. It was with this same sense of Ekklesia movement driven study that William Miller, James and Ellen White, as well as Joseph Bates led a movement and began the journey to truth many of us have found ourselves on as well. Looking through the history of the ekklessia of Jesus we can see his fingerprints every step of the way. He has remained the cornerstone for His faithful followers, the remnant of the Ekklesia.
I haven’t found a better description in the Bible of Ekklesia than:
Ephesians 2:19–22 ESV
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Now I want to get to the uncomfortable part. Last time I spoke, I shared some uncomfortable truths neccessary for gospel centered racial reconciliation. Maybe to some it may have felt like pouring peroxide on an infected wound. It stings but is neccessary for cleansing the wound. Today some of my questions may feel like some of that peroxide.

Hard questions

What does all this mean for those of us called to lead and shape the 21st century ekklesia of God? It means we need look around our kirches and ask some hard questions. Like
Are we moving or are we simply meeting?
Are we making a measurable difference in our local communities or simply conducting services?
Are we organized around mission or are we organized around an inherited traditional ministry model?
Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of hte world or is church culture driving our budgeting and financial decisions?
Are we ekklesia or have we settled for for kirche?
I those enlightening questions were not my own, and in fact when I read them, I felt greatly unsettled. But I think that was a good feeling ultimately. Because they were necessary to ask for us to find answers. I believe questions such as these reorient us to what Jesus intended when he announced the formation of the ekklessia, the gathering of people in His name.
Pretty unsettling
As his disciples took turns answering Jesus’s questions regarding his identity, they had no idea that they had no idea they were beginning a new era in mankind. They had no way of knowing just how significant that conversation with Jesus would be. Their vision was no bigger than the borders of Israel. But Jesus had something else in mind. The church. His unique Ekklesia. It was the church that would take his message beyond the borders of Israel. In an astonishingly short span of time, it would be the church that ensured his message reached beyond the borders of the Roman empire. But in the midst of the explosive, unexplainable growth and expansion, the ekklesia of Jesus would find itself wrestling with a question we continue to wrestle with today. Namely who is ekklesia for? Why were we the ekklesia, or the as we call it today, the church formed? Why has Jesus had his hand with us so long? I believe because He has a task for us, His gathering. Next time I preach, I will tell you more of what that is!
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
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