Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How long until we see ekklesia?

What is ekklesia?  Ekklesia is the NT word for ‘church.’  Louw and Nida describe the meaning of ekklesia as “a congregation of Christians, implying interacting membership.”  The definition continues:

Though some persons have tried to see in the term ἐκκλησία a more or less literal meaning of ‘called-out ones,’ this type of etymologizing is not warranted either by the meaning of ἐκκλησία in NT times or even by its earlier usage. The term ἐκκλησία was in common usage for several hundred years before the Christian era and was used to refer to an assembly of persons constituted by well-defined membership. In general Greek usage it was normally a socio-political entity based upon citizenship in a city-state (see ἐκκλησίαc, 11.78) and in this sense is parallel to δῆμος (11.78). For the NT, however, it is important to understand the meaning of ἐκκλησίαa as ‘an assembly of God’s people.’

Lesslie Newbigin further describes the meaning of ekklesia in chapter 2 of “The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission”:

The community that confesses that Jesus is Lord has been, from the very beginning, a movement launched into the public life of mankind.  The Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament was written was full of societies offering to those who wished to join a way of personal salvation through religious teaching and practice.  There were several commonly used Greek words for such societies.  At no time did the church use any of these names for itself.  It was not, and could not be, a society offering personal salvation for those who cared to avail themselves of its teaching a practice.  It was from the beginning a movement claiming the allegiance of all peoples, and it used for itself with almost total consistency the name ecclesia – the assembly of all citizens called to deal with the public affairs of the city.  The distinctive thing about this assembly was that it was called by a more august authority than the town clerk: it was the ecclesia theou, the assembly called by God, and therefore requiring the attendance of all.  The church could have escaped persecution by the Roman Empire if it had been content to be treated as a cultus privatus – of the many forms of personal religion.  But it was not.  Its affirmation that “Jesus is Lord” implied a public, universal claim that was bound eventually to clash with the cultus publicus of the empire.  The confession “Jesus is Lord” implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world – its philosophy, its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people.

The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.

We should hope our ministries among Muslims will eventually lead to robust, indigenous expression of ekklesia in their lands.  But are we naive in thinking that may happen in only a couple years?  Might it take a generation or more?


Anonymous said...

Greetings dear brothers,

On my web wanderings I recently came across* a distinction drawn between those religions (such as Islam) that attempt to please God by building a political society (vainly). Even the story of the Jews (according to this Christian writer) is the story of the limitations of this particular vision.

In contradistinction, Christianity calls people away from this political submission to the "prince of this world" and to the only real way of pleasing God, which is to draw unto him through allegiance to the real King, who is Christ.

Now, the writer said it much better than me, and I don't want to just get into the old, passive, quietist position, but your post on Ekklesia has got me chewing over what it means in terms of how Christians do / do not get involved in the politics of this world. It seems to me that whenever Christians *do* tangle with political power, even within the activities of the churches, it inevitably leads to problems.

How do you see this? Is "ekklesia" supposed to replace the failed political systems of this world, but isn't this the same trap that Islam (and other legalist religions) fall into? Or is the "ekklesia" of a fundamentally different nature?

* The article in question is:

Warrick Farah said...

The church is not and should not be a political society- but that does not mean the church is not public. At the very least, the church is not a private affair. The church witnesses to the Kingdom of God, which is not of this world.

How, if, or when the church engages in social and political issues is not clear and should change from context to context.

PaulLion said...

It would be awesome to see stuff happen sooner than a generation. I am greatly encouraged by the breakthrough's we have seen in the past ten years. Let's keep pressing on in prayer and maybe God will bless us with a few surprises.