Thursday, March 01, 2007

Embracing Ekklesia

I try to make it a daily habit each morning, when I wake up, to take a deep breath and begin praising God. I'll thank Him for the air I breathe, for the new day, for my core community, for my mission, and on and on. I know of others who do the same thing each morning - waking, breathing, and praising. We do not wake up alone but in God’s intimate presence; and we go on to connect with one another throughout our day in a unity that can only be described as supernatural. It’s an experience of true community from the first moment of waking.

It’s no secret that everyone needs meaningful community with God and with others. The loneliness and isolation people experience is a dramatic departure from God’s plan. What is in His plan, however, is the supernatural community He offers with Himself and everyone who receives and communes with Him. It’s what the Bible calls, in Greek, ekklesia… what we’ve come to know as “church”.

That English word “church” is a 4th century term derived from a totally different Greek word (kyriake) that’s not actually used in the Bible. The biblical term, ekklesia, is more organic and literally means a “collection of people”. When a first century Christian said ekklesia, they generally meant the global community of Christ-followers. If they wanted to localize the term, they almost always used some indicator like the ekklesia “in Jerusalem” or the ekklesia “in Antioch”.

What do you think of when I say the word, “church”? I’m guessing it’s a building or maybe a name like “Something Community Church”. It’s clear that our understanding of “church” is painfully far from the biblical model. And that misunderstanding has had destructive results in our life together. We think of people leaving one “church” and going to another “church” - as if there were more than one ekklesia, competing with each other. The Apostle Paul responds in 1 Corinthians 1:13 by asking, “Has Christ been divided?” After much careful study in Scripture and prayer, I’m convinced that our emphasis on institutional boundaries and identities within what we call “church” grieves the heart of God and strays from the Gospel. How far we’ve strayed becomes especially clear when people talk about churches “dying” or “closing”. Can Christ’s ekklesia die? Jesus says that all the authority of hell can’t overpower His ekklesia (Matthew 16:18). The true “church” can’t die; and it can’t close. Only our institutional creations can do that.

Here’s why this is on my heart. Many Christians have come to see our church institutions as the ekklesia, the biblical “church”; but if we're really going to experience the kingdom of God, we’ll need to change our thinking and shift our primary loyalty away from our institutions and back to the person of Christ and the entire family of Christ-followers… the true ekklesia. I’ve heard stories and even seen many good people agonize over the institutional future of their "church". While I empathize, I want to encourage all of us to release that concern to the God who cares for us and focus our energy more on growing our relationship with Jesus, with the reborn Christ-followers around us, and with those who have not yet received Christ as their Forgiver and Leader.

Of course, congregational leadership should continue to seek God’s will for their institutions and work to offer them as tools for His kingdom. But with that the truth remains that it is all of you who are the true ekklesia; and hell itself cannot overpower you. Institutions come and go; but Christ and His kingdom people go on forever. 2 Corinthians 4:18 says, “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Do not be afraid of what the future holds; God is in control. Hold tightly and invest completely into what cannot die while pressing more deeply into those eternally consequential relationships.

It is as Jesus Himself says, “Invest into the things of heaven that cannot be diminished or destroyed” (Matthew 6:20).

~ Life and peace in Christ our Example of Humanity.



Bob Carder said...

Good stuff. Many belivers say the church is not a location or a building but then they live as if the church is a location or a building.

We say we believe in Being the Church but we refuse to stop living like the church is a building.

We are sooo dualistic in the church. We say we don't separate church "location" from Church "being" but we sure do prove otherwise. Spiritual and worldly paths are never crossed, at least it seems that way to me. They are not intermingled either.

The true ekklesia is an intermingling Church, all involved with everyone kind of Church!

Adam Gonnerman said...

I loved your emphasis on community of God first, followed by the community of believers. We were not made to be alone.

David said...

All I can say John is...