REDEFINITION OF ‘EKKLESIA’
Study Series: Paul Altered Christ, Part 3
The world of Christianity is not complete without the emphasis on the church as its hub. Their understanding of the term 'church' is primarily based on the teachings of Paul. Let us find out how Paul impacted Christianity's view on 'church' and compare his notion with the evangelical truth of The Lord Jesus-Christ. The first mention of church in the New Testament is in the pronouncement of The Lord in Matthew 16:18:
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
This statement of The Savior comes as a promise that He will build His church on Himself being the rock and chief cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:6-8). This Church was not yet established by The Lord at the time of His utterance despite the fact that He already had a large following of people who believed in Him. This is proven by His use of the future tense, “I WILL build My Church.” What is this Church that He built upon Himself?
To fully understand the Church that The Lord built upon Himself, we first need to understand the etymology of the word ‘church’. In the original Greek rendition (Koine, or classical Greek is the original language of the New Testament), the term used is ‘ekklesia’. Here is the definition of ‘ekklesia’ in classical Greek:
Definition of the Church. The New Testament word for "church" is ekklesia [ejkklhsiva], which means "the called out ones." In classical Greek, the term was used almost exclusively for political gatherings. In particular, in Athens the word signified the assembling of the citizens for the purpose of conducting the affairs of the polis. Moreover, ekklesia[ejkklhsiva] referred only to the actual meeting, not to the citizens themselves. When the people were not assembled, they were not considered to be the ekklesia [ejkklhsiva]…
In classical Greek which was the language of the New Testament, ‘ekklesia’ means gathering or the assembly of the citizens. The same is the logic of the Church promised by The Lord in Matthew 16:18. Its purpose is to be the final assembly or gathering of God’s people in heaven. How can we specifically point to this gathering or assembly to be in heaven? Because it has been prophesied through the prophets, testified by Apostle Peter who was the one directly given the ‘keys to the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat. 16:19), as well as Apostle John who was allowed a preview of what it really is in the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us see it from the perspectives of these messengers of God:
(2 Samuel 7:12-14)
12 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
14 He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
(1 Peter 2:4-5)
4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
What the Prophet Nathan prophesied concerning the ‘House that He shall build for God’s name’ has a dual reference. The first one is the Temple built for Him by King Solomon. The other reference points to the same ‘Sanctuary’ prophesied by Isaiah, which later was previewed by John in his vision as the ‘Tabernacle’ of God. To give more credibility to this exposition is the description of Peter describing that which is being built up as a ‘Spiritual House’. In the end, which is this Spiritual House or Tabernacle or Church?
2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…
The Holy City or New Jerusalem is the same Church that The Lord Jesus promised to build. Does not the fact that He is in heaven all the more proves the logical validity of this presentation? How so? Well, if the Rock is in heaven, where else could that which was built on it be?
What is our purpose that we went the extra mile in presenting the evangelical significance of the Church promised by The Lord? We just want to show the fact that The Lord’s Church is not an organization on earth, nor does it have anything to do with the claim of many churches (starting from the Catholic Churches) that their organization is the same Church testified by The Lord.
THE ASSEMBLY OF BELIEVERS ON EARTH
How about the other New Testament reference of church like in other verses particularly in Acts 2:47; 8:1; 15:4; 18:22, as well as the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation? These churches mentioned in many other verses in the New Testament do not refer to the Church promised by Christ in Matthew 16:18, nor do they refer to any HIERARCHICAL ORGANIZATION like what we commonly known as ‘church’ in our days. They simply point to the gathering of fellow believers and followers of The Lord Jesus. After all, the word ‘ekklesia’ simply means gathering and this is coming from The Lord Himself:
20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Whenever followers of The Christ gather in His name, an ‘ekklesia’ occurs, even if there are only two or three of them. This is the time when they can study about The Lord and His words together, sing hymns of praises, break bread or share a meal and remember The Lord, and minister to each other (1 Pet. 4:10). What happens when they are dispersed from their gathering or assembly? The ‘ekklesia’ ceases to exist, showing the non-relevance of any organization in the preservation of one’s relationship with The Savior.
PAUL CHANGED THE PARADIGM ON CHURCH
While the evangelical truth is that the Church that The Lord promised to build in Matthew 16:18 is the Holy City or New Jerusalem in heaven, that is not anymore the understanding of Christianity today. Since the early centuries, the Rome based church which later became the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church aimed to unite all the believers in Asia, Europe and Africa into one organization under the power of Rome’s Popes. And because they were then the newly appointed official religion of the Roman Empire, they have the implementing arm of the empire in such that the majority of those who refuse to be organized with the Roman Church were persecuted and killed. The Pope’s Inquisition was just one of the many processes of persecuting the other believers of The Lord who wanted to remain autonomous from Rome’s version of organized religion. What was the instrument of the Roman Church in bring under one organization all the believers in The Christ Jesus? They have the writings of Paul that advocated on the concept that all believers should be in one body or organization, complete with structure and hierarchy and almost patterned after the national Israel.
Judaism was unto old Israel a nation and a religion, you can’t separate one from the other. It operated based on a hierarchical structure with countless of rites and rituals. The same rites and rituals that The Lord dismissed in relation to worshiping God (Jn. 4:21-24). The same is true regarding the salvation and eternal life that for which He was deployed to the world (Jn. 4:36-38), as well as to the brotherhood of followers or disciples that He initiated (Jn. 3:5-8). He has shared unto them His Own Rule with the Power and Authority of God as His Subordinate Kings, freemen who were freed by His truth (Jn. 8:31-32).
How did Paul change the paradigm on The Christ’s program of discipleship? For one, he taught that the congregation or assembly of The Lord’s followers was a body, as such as an organization:
18 And He is the head of the body, the church…
4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
(1 Corinthians 12:27-29)
26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
Paul taught the church to be the body of The Christ. That was definitely not what The Savior meant concerning His mention of His Church. Fact is, He is a builder being a son of Joseph who was a carpenter. Paul changed the concept that of a structured body complete with a hierarchy. This teaching formed the post-Christ Christianity - a religion based on hierarchical organizations that started with the Roman Church and has greatly influenced all other Christian churches. The old form of Judaism wherein the tribe of Levi served as the priests to function as their mediators unto God is once again present. The structure of the national Israel was given a face-lift in today’s Christianity as evident in the division of clergy and lay members. However, that is not what The Lord envisioned His followers to become. He never divided them into different ranks or position. On the contrary, He preached not just unity but oneness among themselves and this is what He prayed for, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me… that they may be made perfect in one” (Jn 17:21, 23).
One cannot hear from The Lord the terms clergy and lay members for He did not envision different status among His followers. The structure of clergy and lay members was popularized by the Catholic Church as they pattern their organizational chart to that of Judaism (with much influence from Paul’s hierarchical structure, I Cor 12:28-30), wherein the priests who come from the tribe of Levi (thus are called Levitical priests) serve the whole nation of Israel, while the rest just have to bring their tithings and sacrificial animal offerings. The Lord Jesus Christ has a different perspective concerning His disciples and followers. Rather than a hierarchical structure that could be so divisive and partial, The Lord Jesus desires “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me… that they may be made perfect in one” (Jn 17:21, 23).
The concept of clergy and lay members, or some other structures as adopted by other churches is not aligned with the instruction of The Lord:
“And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.””
If only the instruction of The Savior was strictly adhered by all of His believers, then there is no place for man-made titles such as Pope, President, Executive Minister, Prophet/Prophetess. If only one carefully study and learn from The Savior he would have understood the only calling, or title if one so insist, that He has given His followers:
31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
The ONLY CALLING that The Lord has called His followers is just but one. It is not even the term ‘Christian’ but DISCIPLE.
FOLLOWERS, NEVER MEMBERS
As a result of the paradigm change towards The Lord’s discipleship program, believers were led to believe that they have to become members of the supposed organizational church that is the body of The Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). However, let it be understood that The Lord never taught about becoming a member of anything – this is another proof that His reference of His Church is not an organizational body. What He wanted His believers is for them to follow Him, thus followers:
59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
DISCIPLES WERE LIKENED TO THE WIND
What makes us more certain that Paul has altered the discipleship program of The Lord? That He did not intend for them to be members of any particular organization governed by man? The Christ described the true nature of His followers, the group of people who believed and followed Him and ever guided by His words:
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
According to The Christ, those who were born of the Spirit or born again are like the wind – you cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. If so, they are not static like what members are, but followers who are always on the move as they fulfill the tasks of The Lord.
CHRISTIANITY REBRANDED DISCIPLESHIP
Although The Savior started a movement and a revolution against the norms and standards of The Jews, He never established an organization. In fact, Christianity as a religion is different from His disciple's mentorship program which was based on living His love and not be judgmental towards anyone, and equality of being just one rank before Him and among each other (Mk. 10:41-45) - the status of being a 'freeman' disciple:
31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The Lord Jesus called His followers as DISCIPLES. Out of the 264 New Testament mention of the term, 233 of them were found in the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. How many times did Paul ever mention this term which was the branding of The Messiah and His movement? Zero! Never did Paul use what is important to The Lord as if he was bent on changing the form and nature of His movement. Instead, how did he rebrand the discipleship movement of The Christ?
25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Paul rebranded the discipleship program of The Savior into what it is now that we see today - Christianity. And he was indeed successful in this effort that the term disciple is no longer a household name among believers of The Lord Jesus. They are now called Christians. Who is Paul to overrule the will of The Christ?
Why are we sure that the term disciple is near and dear to the heart of The Lord? How is it that all who believe and follow Him preserve this calling that The Savior Himself initiated to call His followers?
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Right before The Lord ascended to heaven, his last instruction was to MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations. That was how important the term disciple was to Him. How is it to make disciples? By baptizing or immersing them in His teachings, not Paul's nor any one else's. Had this instruction of The Christ been followed we should have over 2 billion disciples who abide or adhere in His teachings only (Jn. 8:31) instead of 2 billion confused people who introduce themselves as Christians.
And then again, one may ask: What's in a name? It's EVERYTHING when that name is from The Lord Jesus, The Savior of mankind.
SACRIFICES MADE CHRISTIANITY CORPORATE
Would The Lord be the guest speaker in many of today’s Christian services - with the red carpet treatment and limousine service, being transported by different private jets to go into different arena sized cathedrals, and virtually thrown money at His feet after each service – He would probably feel awkward or shocked at the very least. After all, He was the one serving men during His time while it is the exact opposite over two thousand years after. He even paid Caesar tax! On the contrary, Christianity of today enjoy their tax-free status in most countries. Oh, times have changed.
How could these church leaders represent The Lord who preached about “not laying up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Mat. 6:19)? On a bigger note, how could they amass so much wealth and enjoy lavish lifestyles from the hard-earned money of their congregants? By making people believe in the paradigm that all they give is truly for the greater honor of God, and how He truly “loves a cheerful giver”:
(2 Corinthians 9:7-12)
7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written:
“He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, 11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. 12 For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, 13 while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men…
Paul taught for each one to give cheerfully for in this liberality believers are offering ‘thanksgiving to God through them.’ And what is the supposed purpose for this giving of thanksgiving offerings? To ‘supply the needs’ of the saints, for such they glorify God. Is using material things to entice people unto God approved by The Christ?
26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
The Lord knew of the negative impact when people follow Him because of material things like food. In fact, this is not how He wants people to follow Him – the exact opposite of Paul’s approach which has become the basis of Christianity’s thirst for offerings. And because they have connected the Christian offering to be the same sacrifices that gives a ‘sweet smelling aroma that is well pleasing to God’ (Phil. 4:18), it makes it easier for many of these groups to also implement the rule of tithings, that is an obligatory ten percent offering from their congregants’ income.
Is The Lord being honored by the offerings or monetary sacrifices done in His name?
13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
How could The Savior be honored with something that He did NOT desire? Let everyone understand this truth and put a stop on many churches' financial abuses that only fuel the lavish lifestyles of their rich leaders. And may those leaders not only feel the shame, may they fear the anger of God who spoke about their evil deeds:
22 But this is a people robbed and plundered;
All of them are snared in holes,
And they are hidden in prison houses;
They are for prey, and no one delivers;
For plunder, and no one says, “Restore!”