An ekklesia was the governing body of an ancient Greek city-state and the world’s first expression of democracy. It was made up of all of the adult, male citizens in a particular city-state and met 40 times per year to discuss issues and to directly make policy decisions by each person having one equal vote. Everyone was considered equal in the ekklesia and any citizen present could participate and share his ideas, opinions, and concerns.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: “I will build my ekklesia.” (Jesus’ ekklesia, unlike the Greek ones, was made up of His followers, both male and female.) Unfortunately, the early English translators put it this way: “I will build my church.”
However, throughout the Greek (original language) New Testament, a body (or group) of Christ-followers is called an ekklesia. Rather than just bringing that word into English, the earliest Bible translators used the English word church, which referred to a place of religious worship. By doing this, the translators lost the meaning and the history of the Greek ekklesia and turned the idea of church into a building for religious worship (or an institution) rather than an assembly of believers sharing together and ministering to one another (an ekklesia).
The word ekklesia, however, did find its way into the English language. You can see it in the English word ecclesiastical, which means, “of or relating to the church.” For example, ecclesiastical history means church history.
Replacing the word ekklesia with the word church has slanted our traditional view of how the body of Christ gathers and functions. However, a careful reading of the New Testament will still reveal the ekklesia. Believers are continually commanded to minister to “one another,” which appears to indicate that the early church meetings were participatory/ekklesia style, rather than controlled by one leader up front.
In his letter to the believers in the former city-state of Corinth, Greece (then under Roman rule), Paul describes the early church (ekklesia) this way: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” —1 Corinthians 14:26. These words couldn’t help but cause the Christians in Corinth to think about the history of their city’s ekklesia and about how they, as believers, should also meet in an open, equal, and participatory style.
God wants to restore the church to its ekklesia roots — to make it participatory and interactive, prompted and led by the Spirit, rather than programmed and controlled by a one-man leader/teacher.
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” –Jesus (speaking of Jerusalem in Luke 13:34) In the 21st Century, the living, resurrected Jesus still wants to gather groups of people together unto Himself (under His direct, personal leadership). Are we any more willing than the people of 1st Century Jerusalem, to let the living Jesus gather us together in a meeting that He personally leads and directs? (That kind of meeting is called “ekklesia.”)
Around the world, the traditional, institutional church is in decline. However, millions of people are discovering the ekklesia. This movement goes by several names: organic church, simple church, fresh expressions, messy church, house church, non-traditional church. It is revolutionizing the body of Christ by releasing believers to show and tell what God has done.
If you are in the Nashville area, you can experience ekklesia at The Salvation Army Berry Street, on Sunday mornings at 10:45 and Tuesday nights at 6:00. The address is 225 Berry St., Nashville, 37207.
If not, you can invite a group of Christ-followers to your house, read 1 Corinthians 14:26 to them, and then ask them to listen to the Spirit and to say or do whatever He prompts them to. The results will amaze you. Go ahead and try it — step into God’s ekklesia!
Here’s a quote from Bible scholar, Adolf Deissmann: “Throughout the Greek world and right down to NT times ekklesia was the designation of the regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state, ‘called out’ by the herald for the discussion and decision of public business.”
Check out my new book, Beyond Church — An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible — Ekklesia; available at Amazon.