Church is dilute in effectiveness, and marginalised by society.
Surrendering to recent government lockdowns has made things worse: making church life a shadow of the freedom and empowerment that we should be living in, through Christ.
[Reboot: to restart or revive a process or sequence; to give fresh impetus to:]
It is time for a Reboot.
Perhaps it is time to reintroduce the ekklesia that Jesus spoke about.
Because church as we know today is not the kind of church that we read about in the New Testament.
Why did Jesus use the Greek word, ekklesia?
Why didn’t Jesus use the word for a temple, or synagogue?
Our church organisations are built on the systems and rituals of a temple.
But this is not what Jesus asked us to build.
The two times that Jesus spoke about church in the Bible, he only used the word ekklesia, (Matthew 16:18, and Matthew 18:17).
When Paul wrote about church, he also only used the word ekklesia.
Same with John and James and Peter: ekklesia.
When King James commissioned an English translation of the Bible, I believe that he used his regal authority to influence the translators to tweak the liberating meaning of the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ and interpret it as the more passive word ‘church’.
I believe he imposed this interpretation to avoid a Christian threat to his regal authority: because an ekklesia could have threatened the English monarchy.
And following suit, several subsequent Bible translations have also adopted ‘church’ for the word ‘ekklesia’.
What was an ekklesia?
An ekklesia was an entirely non-religious assembly.
An ekklesia was an assembly of citizens of the democratic city-states of Greece.
These assemblies were active across the breadth of influence of the democracy of Greece (which, in New Testament times, included the area we refer to as the Holy Land).
These ekklesia existed hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus.
The ekklesia was responsible for things like debating municipal matters, electing officials to office, (it was a representative assembly with powers similar to our courts and local borough councils today, I guess, but less exclusive).
But the ekklesia had nothing to do with religion.
You can read a dramatic description of a city ekklesia at work in the book of Acts 19:23-41.
Here, the effectiveness of Paul’s preaching caused a bit of a riot, and the local assembly of the city (the ekklesia) rushed to the theatre to noisily debate what they should do with the Christians who were threatening the prosperity of their city and their famous pagan temple.
Here the word ‘ekklesia’ is used for this secular assembly twice: verses 23, and 41.
Why did Jesus use the term ekklesia?
Jesus is a revolutionary leader!
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. [Romans 12:2]
If Jesus had wanted his followers to use a temple or synagogue as an organisation template for his disciples to duplicate, he would not have used ‘ekklesia’.
What did the early church [the ekklesia] do so right, that the present-day church does so badly?
Because the early ekklesia clearly worked very effectively:-
- Acts 2:41 describes three thousand people gladly becoming followers of Jesus in just one day!
- As Jesus had predicted in John 14:12, his disciples were emulating him, and through God’s power they were achieving very similar results in miracles and healing, ( see: Acts 2:43-47 ; 5:14-16 ; 8:12 ; 13:44, 49 ; 17:4 ; 18:8 ; 19:11,20)
- The Christian ekklesia in Ephesus became so successful that the people of that city burnt all of their pagan scrolls and artefacts, enthusiastically destroying many very valuable items.
- Within the lifetime of Paul, the Christian ekklesia won over the Roman region of Asia, and established proactive centres of Christian influence across Greece and Italy and North Africa and Ethiopia.
How is any of this effectiveness replicated by what we nowadays recognise as ‘church’?
Luke 16:16 states that with the arrival of God’s Kingdom realm, people’s hearts burn with passion to press in and receive it.
Forgive me, but I don’t recognise much pressing in just now! in fact most churches I know of have been struggling to get bums on seats for decades.
Perhaps it’s time for a rethink.
Perhaps it’s time for a reboot.
Think about it:
The early followers of Jesus didn’t have bicycles or cars or trucks or trains or aeroplanes,…
The early followers of Jesus didn’t have satellite communications, or mobile phones, or digital television,…
The early followers of Jesus didn’t have SatNav, or Facebook, or Youtube, or Zoom,…
They had ekklesia
The ekklesia quickly achieved extensive growth, so much so that Paul was even planning a mission to Spain, which was at the edge of the civilised world in those days!
Even with all of our modern technological advantages, our churches struggle to get the bloke next door to take notice of the gospel message – a message of truth that should leave him utterly overwhelmed with joy!
If Jesus is so irresistible, and the gospel message is such good news, could the refusal of people to receive it today be the result of us doing and preaching something less?
To see the results that the church has not yet seen, perhaps the church needs to do what it has not yet done; because if the church keeps doing what they’ve always done, they’ll keep getting what they’ve already got, (which is a faint shadow of what the original ekklesia of Jesus was achieving!).
What was the ekklesia doing so right?
What are our churches doing so wrong?
I do not claim to have all the answers.
I am aware that Roman Emperor Constantine may have had a very negative influence on the Christian church/ekklesia, imposing such things as worship on a Sunday (the same day on which Constantine worshipped his sun god), and giving over pagan temples to the Christians for their gatherings, (which naturally became ritualised and conformed to old religious practices, and dependant on income to meet the escalating overheads of such buildings and institutions), and he instituted a religious hierarchy that was led by a pope!
People will not be drawn to the Kingdom by a church building, or a church organisation, or a church hierarchy.
People will be drawn by witnessing God’s Kingdom as a living and proactive and integral part the common workplace and the marketplace and the government and in every aspect of society and business and decision-making.
You and I, we are ekklesia: we are pastors, we are ministers, we are preachers, we are healers, we are whatever God has purposed us to be in his Kingdom: we are ambassadors of Jesus Christ commissioned and authorised to continue the work that he started here about 2000 years ago.
The devil was defeated through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The devil is finished.
However, the devil and his demons are still active: but they are losers, fighting a battle in a war that they lost when Jesus Christ took back at the cross what the devil had taken from humanity in the Garden of Eden.
The devil is a loser, but the devil is still active as a master of lies and deception, and I count him responsible for the fracturing of Christian believers into a multitude of factions and denominations, (trying his best to divide and conquer).
We are often too busy justifying our way of doing church, and criticising others’ ways, so much so that we often forget who the real enemy actually is!
Distracted, we frequently fail to make ourselves usable by God for the purposes that he designed us for in his Kingdom.
Personally, I don’t care what denomination you claim to be: if you truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life, I embrace you as my brother or sister in Christ.
Such a time as this?
Perhaps now is time, (during this season of fear, and this interruption of church services), for a reboot, so that we can realise what Jesus asked us to do in his Kingdom:
- To re-read the New Testament in the light of the original meaning of the word ekklesia.
- To re-assess the effectiveness of our present-day methods of mission work and local outreach that simply are not as effective as they should be, (and nothing like as effective as is described in the book of Acts).
- To re-imagine what true fellowship is in terms of a worldwide Christian belief and solidarity of purpose through Jesus.
- To realise that it isn’t enough to be Christian once a week, but that every day we each need to be a living expression of Jesus Christ: active ambassadors of his Kingdom: bringing light to the darkness of this world that Jesus poured out his blood to save.
- And to really live the instructions that Jesus gave his followers before he ascended to God’s right hand in heaven,…
Then Jesus appeared before the eleven apostles as they were eating a meal.
He corrected them for having such hard, unbelieving hearts because they did not believe those who saw him after his resurrection.
And he said to them, “As you go into all the world, preach openly the wonderful news of the gospel to the entire human race!
“Whoever believes the good news and is baptized will be saved, and whoever does not believe the good news will be condemned.
“And these miracle signs will accompany those who believe:
“They will drive out demons in the power of my name.
“They will speak in tongues.
“They will be supernaturally protected from snakes and from drinking anything poisonous.
“And they will lay hands on the sick and heal them.”
After saying these things, Jesus was lifted up into heaven and sat down at the place of honour at the right hand of God.
And the apostles went out announcing the good news everywhere, as the Lord himself consistently worked with them, validating the message they preached with miracle-signs that accompanied them.
[Mark 16:14-20, from the Passion translation]