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.