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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are we gathering in His name?

A friend, Jay Nehme, wrote an email response to my first blog post of November 26, 2011.  (I felt that Jay had clarified an important idea in connection with the word, “ekklesia” . So it is with his permission and in keeping with my desire that this blog be as interactive as possible that I post his email here.)

Thank you, Bruce. I read your piece on "ekklesias" and it's good.
From my research there is one more dimension to the word "ekklesia", and it's inferred in the passages you cite.
Ekklesia was a concept familiar to the first-century mind, especially in secular terms, as some of your references show.
At various times people were called out, or called together for a specific reason, or purpose. That is ekklesia, true enough.
But were they called out merely to listen to (or follow) someone? Were they merely spectators or providing an audience for someone else's show, someone else's display of authority? NO ! They were called together for the purpose of making decisions!
They were part and parcel of the decision-making process. Their full participation was assumed and regarded as indispensable. They were not mere appendages to the nucleus of the action. They WERE the action (humanly speaking). That is WHY they were called together - just like the Sanhedrin when they gathered to decide what to do with Jesus.

So, to correctly define ekklesia as a called-out people without pointing out it's intrinsic God-given authority, is akin to defining Parliament merely as a called out assembly who meet in Ottawa ... (and then what?) - without explaining the purpose for which they meet and the authority to see it through (with as much co-operation as possible).

The implication here is that the ekklesia is called out and vested with authority by God to make decisions in accordance with Jesus' prayer; namely that "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven ..."  So the purpose of the ekklesia is to be active participants in bringing heaven to earth. That could mean various things such as singing His praises in this cursed world, practicing mutual love and submission in His Body, setting captives free, helping people in trouble, visiting the infirm, speaking truth in love, giving and receiving correction, invigorating and motivating other believers, learning together to recognize His leadings (like when the Holy Spirit separated Paul and Barnabas for a specific task), learning to deal with tensions, and a myriad of other things for which full participation in mutual submission is indispensable. I am not talking about "Kingdom theololgy", or "Dominion theology" which is a political fiasco. We're talking about being God's vessels used in a corporate way to make inroads in reversing the effects of the curse brought upon us by Adam's sin. We're talking about  groupings of people who cluster together and respond in unison to an invisible Spirit just like schools of fish do when they all swish and turn  AS ONE. They have learned to accurately respond to that spirit without bumping into each other and causing damage, which in our case is more difficult. With me(n) this is impossible, but with God ....
God bless you,

Thank you Jay!  For far too long many Christians have been lead to believe that, if they are not on “the ministry team”, they are simply passive spectators when the church gathers. But nothing could be further from the truth! Each is to be an active participant. Hebrews 10:24,25 is often quoted as the basic reason why “Christians should go to church”, but I am firmly convinced that this passage rather outlines for us what is on God’s agenda for the normal assemblies of His people!  It is all about “one anothering”!! And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

So too every believer is also to be a good steward of the manifold grace of God, i.e. to minister to others whatever gift has been given them (I Peter 4:10,11)As every man (the generic term “everyone”, NOT every “male” or every “clergyman”!) hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man (any one) speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man (any one) minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

Not only is our ministry (service) one to another to be done that God would be glorified through Jesus Christ, but that service and the decisions that are made in obedience to God’s Word have the authority of heaven behind them!   Gathering in His name, praying in His name, giving a cup of cold water in His name, preaching in His name,  baptizing in His name, asking in His name or anointing the sick with oil in His name is to do such things with His authority! Many have claimed to do great things “in his name”, but such claims without His actual authority are empty and void! (Matthew 7:22-27)  Those who have his authority are those who do what He says. They are like those who build on the rock. Those who do not do what He says are likened to those who build on sand.

So to sum up:  An ekklesia (as the word was used and understood in the Lord Jesus’ day) was “a company of people called out for the purpose of making authoritative decisions together.” Examples of such ekklesias would be “town councils”, men of the city who “sat in the gate” to pass judgments and make decisions relative to their community (Gen.19:1; 23:10&18; Joshua 20:4 etc) and courts of law called together to make authoritative decisions (Acts 19:39).  Thus the Lord Jesus took this well known concept and introduced it in the context of His own people being called out under His authority to live their lives and make authoritative decisions so that the will of God in heaven would be done in the earth!
It is precisely for this reason that it is crucial for us, the Lord’s people, to evaluate whether our practices are simply derived from human traditions or are truly practices which are obedient to apostolic traditions received from the Lord, Himself! Are we building on sand or on the Rock?

(Please feel free to leave your comments, suggestions or questions below!)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Introduction: How is the word EKKLESIA used in the Bible?

The word “ekklesia” simply designates an out calling (ek- “out” and kaleo “to call”) a group of people who are called out for a purpose.

(1)In Acts 7:38 we read of the “the church (ekklesia) in the wilderness” .  This refers to the use of the word “ekklesia” in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the OT:

In its noun form it is translated “assembly”  and designates:
(1) the nation of Israel. (See Numbers 20:8; Deuteronomy 23:1,2,3,8; Joshua 8:35) and
(2) gatherings of the people of Israel together : Deuteronomy 9:10; 18:16;

In its verb form it is translated
- “assemble” or “assembled”. (See Numbers 20:10; Deuteronomy 31:12 & Joshua 18:1)
- “gather together”. (See Deuteronomy 31:28)

So the first usage of the word “ekklesia” in the Bible designates not a gathering of Christians at all but simply the nation of Israel after they were called out of Egypt and of the gatherings together or assemblies of the Israelites.

(2) In Acts 19:24-41 we read of a gathering of silversmiths who made idols of  the goddess Diana. They were concerned that the preaching of the Gospel of Christ was threatening their business. Their shouts, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”  stirred up the whole city which was gathered together,  but most didn’t even know why they were gathered! Thus they are referred to in Acts 19:32 and 41 as a “confused assembly (ekklesia)”.   So any mob of people who were gathered together, even though they don’t know the reason for the gathering were also an “ekklesia” or “a called out company”.

(3) Also in the same context as the above, (Acts 19:35-41) the town’s clerk, after two hours of commotion,  calmed the people and reproved Demetrius and advised him that, if he had a genuine dispute, it should be settled in “a lawful assembly (ekklesia)”.
Thus a court of law gathered together to settle a dispute was also an “ekklesia”  or a called out company”.

So when the Lord Jesus began to use the word “ekklesia”  of the “church” that he would build (Matthew 16:18),  He took a word that had no religious connotation and used it of the ekklesia or assembly which He would build. A company of people called out of the world of men to follow Him and to make Him known in the world.

It is primarily this “/assembly”, the smaller “/assemblies” of which it is comprised and the practices of those ekklesias which we will be considering in detail in future posts.

Thanks for stopping by and please take the opportunity to add your own comments, and questions. I’ll try to include them in our future discussions.

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