Explorations in Theology

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Ekklesia or ekklesia?

Paul uses (as did Jesus before him) the term ekklesia (usually translated ‘church’) to refer to those who were bounded together, in relation to Jesus, called to bring about a shift to wider context. It has a history within the Greek translation of the ‘Old Testament’, the Septuagint when used to translate the Hebrew word ‘qahal’, which refers to the people, but the people when they were called to respond actively to God (‘qol’ being the word for voice / speech). Those called for purpose (when there was no direct activity the word ‘edah’ tends to be used for the people of Israel).

Ekklesia also had a background in the Graeco-Roman world with its roots originally in Athens but by the NT times spread throughout each city-state. It was – almost – what we would call the city council. Paul wrote consistently to the ‘ekklesia in…’, and of course each of those places already had an ekklesia, so he wrote to the ekklesia in Jesus Christ. Of course this indicates how transformational was his vision, with a deep underlay of expecting the future destiny of the city not to be decided by the Imperially approved ekklesia but by the ekklesia in / of Jesus.

A huge question is did Paul expect the city ekklesia to disappear? Did he expect there only to remain one ekklesia – that of Jesus? I think that is a very difficult question to answer as a) he does not address that and b) I am not sure he had thought it through! I maintain that Paul had step 1 of the process in mind – get an ekklesia of Jesus in every part of the oikoumene (Empire) – hence his desire to get all the way across to Spain. Once step 1 had been completed what next?

This is the question we are facing. As well as an issue that is huge. I am not convinced we are as far on as Paul was, in other words we are pre-Pauline with ekklesia being shaped sociologically as community not movement, thus reversing the thrust of the New Testament. So at that level we are pre-Pauline, but I think with the end of Christendom in Europe we now need to be on the post-Pauline journey of where to now, hence the question of ‘one’ or ‘two’ ekklesiai becomes relevant.

Let me put that a little more practically. I observed Gayle and Andrew at work with a group from Meta and Google this past week. Urging those Christian believers to see themselves as ekklesia within the respective companies, taking responsibility for the culture, values and future of the company – so just like Paul releasing an ekklesia in the city-state for the city-state.

The questions we are now facing are: does the ekklesia that is necessary for transformation consist of only believers (after all I started the post with ‘in relation to Jesus’)? There is also an ekklesia, in the sense of governing boards within companies. Do they have any part to play in the outworking of the future?

Here then is where I am currently (spelt ‘tentatively’). We need believers to step up and as they do something is shaped in the heavens, for all authority in ‘heaven’ and on ‘earth’ is given to Jesus; as they do that space is created for others to align themselves with that. At that stage the blurring begins, the expansion takes place, the ‘Asiarchs’ are engaged… a path is set toward the kingdoms of this world becoming the kingdom of our Lord and Christ.

Nothing perfect. But nothing static, and no ghetto please! Steps forward, and maybe steps back, maybe the pronouncement that you cannot buy and sell… but until then.

3 thoughts on “Ekklesia or ekklesia?

  1. The question that arises for me to this post, Martin, is how does this vision differ from the Dominionism vision. The one where ‘Christians’ seek to influence the government or any other structure, at any level, in order to bring in the Kingdom? Isn’t that what we have seen particularly in USA and Brazil among other places? A vision that Christians infiltrate and set the agenda for an organization so that they reorient it to the Kingdom of God (as they define it)? Whether 7 mountains or any other name (Calvinism if I remember my theology correctly), what is the difference here?

    Are you advocating something nicer? Less assertive? Lacking the backing of a formal institution? We know the quest for power corrupts and has massively corrupted the church and Christians over the centuries, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Evangelical. Somehow the intent to establish the kingdom tends to have corrupt and often violent results. I still remember reading, when in theological training, that people in the 16th century feared Calvin’s Geneva and the imposition of his vision far more than the Catholic Inquisition. Who knows if that was true, but Geneva under Calvin was pretty nasty. But I guess it was a vision of the Kingdom. Or the back and forth in England between Protestantism and Catholicism. Pretty nasty too. Lots of people died, sometimes violent and hideous deaths, all in service of a vision of the Kingdom.

    Evangelicals in the USA were committed to Trump and supported him in office despite all of his offenses against their beliefs as they believed it would gain them their vision of the Kingdom. And yes, the appointment of very conservative Supreme Court judges has resulted in trauma and violence against women, who are often denied life saving medical care with the loss of health care services that include medical abortions. But, it is a vision of the Kingdom being implemented.

    How is this vision different? How does it mitigate the problems of former visions? I know your intentions are good here. I trust that. I also know my history. In light of Dominionism and the history of Kingdom-bringing we need to think hard about it all. These are big questions. How does the Kingdom come? What is our role in that?

    1. Hope you have not caught me out!!! But I don’t think so… where does it differ?
      1) not seeking to ‘Christianise’ or rule over. If we use the word ‘kingdom’ or ‘rule’ it has to be filled with how does God ‘rule’… Jesus being in the form of God humbled himself – not in spite of being in the form of God! (as per most translations). And then we probably need to shy away from the word ‘rule’ as it immediately plays into the ‘rule over’, ‘subdue’ and even ‘dominate’ concept.
      2) it genuinely is for humanity’s benefit. So the cross is not in order to condemn but to liberate from powers that dehumanise, and I suggest that intrinsic within the cross is that of preserving the right to reject ‘salvation’ – though I would rather use the term liberation for what is on offer.
      3) so ‘ekklesia’ is a movement word to transform culture to a human-friendly one and away from an exploitative system; away from money as defining value and toward freedom of people and planet as defining value. I consider that Paul’s words ‘if a person does not work they should not eat’ does not mean if a person earns loads of money they can eat well, but if a person is unemployed they should starve! Work has to be defined along the lines of God as a worker -and that is in relation to creation and its progress toward new creation.
      I hope I can now breathe a sigh of relief that I am still on the right path!

  2. Thanks Martin. Because of the long history of imperialism and the church I wanted to push a bit for an explanation. I think the intent here is good. My struggle is how do we account for those who perhaps use the same words but have a very different intentions. We have a problem with that, just has human beings. And intentions can get modified or corrupted over time.
    The Russian war against Ukraine as well as other current events makes it very clear that as communities at any scale we have to account for and ‘manage’ those who have different intentions or harmful intentions. Yet often, the language is very similar which can confuse people.
    I have no answers just a lot of questions going forward. To survive and even thrive in climate chaos humans need to reorient their intentions in relation to one another and towards all other species and the planet itself. So intentions, language and actions become critical as we are transforming as communities into whatever we are going to be. I appreciate that the church and Christianity in general requires much scrutiny right now. Keep on pushing.

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