EKKLESIA 06 - Ekklesia or Church?
Matthew 16:13–19 (The Message) - When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out. “And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”
This is the first of three times that Jesus used the word to describe what we now call Church. The word Jesus used is an extremely vivid word picture to define who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing.
Last week, we looked at many scriptures on what the Early Church looked like. They basically changed every village, town, city, and region they were a part of; they influenced every sphere of society. They filled the cities with their doctrine of the Good News of Jesus, the King, and His Kingdom.
Acts 17:6 – They have turned the world upside down.
HOW? Jesus said, “I’ll tell you how I want this to look and how I will do that. I will use something you all know very well as a model. I’m going to build MY EKKLESIA.
At the time of Jesus, there were three leading institutions in Israel:
- The Temple
- The Synagogue
- The Ekklesia
It is often assumed that all three were religious, but it was only the first two.
- The Ekklesia was not a religious or sacred institution at all.
- The Ekklesia was a political/governmental term.
- The Ekklesia was a culture-shaping term.
Jesus didn’t say, “I will build My Temple!” or “I will build my synagogue!” They were the two premier Jewish religious institutions. He could’ve said, “I’ll restore My Temple to its full glory….” He could’ve also said, “I will build My own worldwide network of synagogues to make the Gospel available to people in every nation.”
The Temple and the synagogues were both buildings and places. But when the moment came for Jesus to introduce His transformational agency Jesus didn’t pick either of those!? He announced He would build His Ekklesia. He chose a secular term in the Roman Empire and Greek culture that described a governmental institution, a reforming agency.
Jesus didn’t discard the synagogue or Temple, but He assimilated significant components from both institutions into His Ekklesia.
- Temple – He kept the indwelling presence of God and worship (His death on the cross ripped the veil in half).
- Synagogue – He kept the central role of scriptures, understanding scriptures, prayer, and fellowship.
The Temple and synagogue are fixed places. People had to go to them at set times. The Ekklesia was a mobile, flexible, moving body. It could operate 24/7 in the marketplace, at the city gate, in the neighborhood, at the theater, in open-air stadiums, on the streets, from house to house, and in the temple/synagogue.
The secular ekklesia had an impact on everybody and everything!
Jesus was saying, "I want my Ekklesia ruling and reigning and bringing my Kingdom. I want it to impact everybody and influence everything!
In those days, everyone knew what an ekklesia was. They had been in existence for a few hundred years. The Greeks first came up with the concept of ekklesia. Then the Romans conquered the Greeks and took their model to the next level.
Classical Greek Definition: An assembly of authorized citizens who make decrees, legislate, and govern on behalf of the emperor.
- 113 times in the New Testament translated “church”
- It comes from 2 Greek Words:
- Ek = Out
- Kaleo = Called
- Ekklesia = Called Out Ones
Now, many people look at that and think it just means we're the "called-out" ones – called out of darkness, sin, the world. Of course, there's great truth to that, but there are some things we also need to think about.
- Everyone knew what an ekklesia was, and Jesus said He was building one. The ekklesia was a legislative assembly that governed things on behalf of the emperor or a king or ruler.
- The problem with saying ekklesia just means we're called out from this world is we still live IN this world.
One of the most important verses in the Bible is "For God so loved the WORLD…." (John 3:16). How about the Great Commission in Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28? "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone and make disciples of all nations." Jesus said, "We live in this world, but we are not to be of this world's system and the world's ways of living." (John 15)
So, when Jesus used the word Ekklesia, He meant more than just being called out or separated from the world. He meant, "Just like the ekklesia in your city is regularly called out to gather and publicly legislate and rule things, I'm building My Ekklesia. I'm building My governing, legislative body representing My Kingdom's rule on this earth and speaking for me!"
The word ekklesia was rich with understanding at that time but not as much to us now.
WHY IS THAT??
Something very subtle but dangerous has crept into our understanding of what Jesus said He was building. It’s a plan of the enemy because he doesn’t want us to know who we are or what Jesus has really called us to.
- Satan has a nefarious agenda to rewrite and redefine history to make us impotent and passive.
He has succeeded for a while…BUT GOD. God has been in about a 500-year reformation of His original intent. We have had the honor of being able to live through most of it, and we’re going to get to see even more. This is genuinely the most exciting time to be part of the church and history.
I learned a little rhyme that even had hand motions as a child. It went like this: Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. Sounds innocent enough, but it's laced with deception. I often see Satan going after the kids by using "cute things" to corrupt their minds and teach his narrative. What did he teach through that simple rhyme? The church is a place where "church people" go. They stay within the four walls of a building, and that's called "church."
Ask anyone, "Do you go to church?" or "Where do you go to church?" They will immediately think of a building or a place they may attend or a service time.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary (as in virtually all dictionaries) gives the definition of "church" as "a building for public worship."
That's not exactly what Jesus said He was building. Jesus used the word Ekklesia. So, when did it become church? Where did we get our concept of church? We have to take a brief trip back through history to uncover where we adopted the word "church" over the term "Ekklesia." We will fly over some historical events and see how the enemy used them to lead us away from Christ's original intent.
Note: I tread lightly through the minefield of our church history with great respect. I mean no dishonor to anyone or their church background.
Church History Flyover
- The original Ekklesia, beginning in the Book of Acts, expanded the gospel and influenced entire cities and nations until about 325 AD. Even though it was often oppressed and persecuted, the Ekklesia Christ had established couldn’t be stopped. It changed the world for the better!
- In 325 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine (whom, it has been said, became a Christian) legalized Christianity. Wonderful! Everyone loves freedom! During this time, the Nicene Creed was written. Great places of worship were built where people could freely come together to worship. Those places would eventually be called “churches.”
- In 380 AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great made Christianity the state religion of the entire Roman Empire. What appeared to be the pinnacle of revival became the unraveling of the Ekklesia. It was no longer freedom of choice to worship Jesus because the Romans had a way of forcing control and tyranny.
- The state church began to squeeze the Ekklesia into its mold, taking control of its leadership for its own personal gain. Their freedom to worship and do what they were called to do was suppressed.
- For the next 1,000 years, the state formalized religion slowly took over the Ekklesia.
- The church's leadership becomes corrupt. It took on a form of godliness but denied its power.
- Now, only the elite, the wealthy, and the educated who understand Hebrew, Greek, and Latin have access to the Bible. The average person couldn't read the Bible. They even chained the Bible to the pulpit. They then made up all kinds of corrupt rituals and things to enslave the people during this time.
- The Roman Catholic (universal) church became well established and engrained into the culture of the empire. God, in the meantime, has a remnant of people who stay pure from the polluted religious system. They were rogue members of the Ekklesia. They were kingdom-minded people, and they carried the voice of the undefiled gospel.
- Over some time, the word "Church" started becoming the norm and the standard that defined God's people and His institution.
The etymology of the word church is fascinating and shocking!
Here is the progression of how we got the word "church":
- Greek – Kuriakos (koo·ree·ak·os) (Strong's #2960): Kurios, the Greek word for "Lord," is easily recognizable as the root of kuriakos, which means "lord's, showing possession, belonging to the Lord." This word is in the Bible only twice referring to the Lord's table and the Lord's Day.
- Late Greek Word – Kuriakon (koo·ree·ak·on): The Lord's house.
- Scottish – Kirk: A place or a location, as in a building belonging to the Lord.
- Old High German (Anglo-Saxon) – Kirche: It meant the same as the Scottish word.
- Modern English – Church: This word indicates a building, a place where God is worshipped. It gradually evolved to include the place and the people who worshiped there and the worship services.
The modern English Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary – "church":
1. A building for Christian worship
2. Regular religious services
3. A local congregation of Christians
We get all this from the late Greek word Kuriakon.
THE SHOCKING PART
What's shocking to realize is that the word for "church" (Greek word "kuriakon") did not exist until the fifth century or around 400 AD. So, if we embrace the idea that Jesus used the word "church" in Matthew 16:18, we have to believe and accept the fact that Jesus used a word 350 years BEFORE it even existed! The word "church" or Kuriakon wasn't spoken anywhere on earth until 350-400 years after the New Testament was written. There's not a single citation anywhere that anyone in the first-century church would've known this word.
insert record scratch sound here... WAIT, what?
Back to the story
- The state church maintains its power through bloody crusades against any resistance groups through the centuries.
- In 1525 AD, William Tyndale translates the New Testament from Greek to English for all common people to read.
The translation is known as the "Tyndale Translation." In his translation of Matthew 16:18, Tyndale rightly translates the Greek word Ekklesia as "assembly" or "congregation" as opposed to the word "Church," which had been used for many centuries already. That was the beginning of the end for Tyndale.
The Church and its Pope and bishops were furious. They claimed that the Church was started by Peter (the Rock), and therefore the Pope and all the Bishops were little Lords. Tyndale's accurate translation jeopardizes their whole system because Tyndale's translation would become public. The average common person could read the correct translation of Matthew 16:18 by the masses. That presented a real threat to the power structure of the religious institution. They threatened Tyndale and told him to remove the word and change it, but he wouldn't do it.
- William Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536. But the Word of God was out for the average person.
Let's leave Rome and go over to England for a minute. It's the same timeframe. The Protestant movement is growing. Tyndale, Luther, and the Reformation are all happening. Guess who wanted to take advantage of the growing Protestant movement - King Henry VIII! He was looking for a way to separate from the Roman Catholics.
- King Henry VIII endorses the Great Bible (produced in 1535 AD). It's basically a rebranded version of the Tyndale Bible. It was made to sidestep the system of the Roman Catholic church. King Henry was mad because they wouldn't let him annul his wife and marry another woman.
- King Henry VIII persuades the English Parliament to separate from the Roman Catholic Church.
- The 1534 Act of Supremacy makes Henry VIII head of the new English Anglican Church. This nullifies the Pope's authority in the country, and it starts the Anglican Church under the king's rule.
- King James rose to power in 1603, and he firmly believed in the "divine right of kings." He's now the head of the state-run Church, which is just as tyrannical as it is in Rome. He is also not happy that there are translations of the Bible available for the common folks. In particular, he was not a fan of the Geneva Bible's Explanatory Notes. To be clear, King James was not really a good guy.
- He persecuted, incarcerated, and executed his opponents, including Pilgrims and members of other dissident groups. This is the same King James that oppressed the Pilgrims we know in our country's history. He's the one who caused them to look for religious freedom. He didn't like average person understanding the power of the Word. Those teaching notes contained notes on church government that ran counter to his belief in the "divine right of kings." It was a rule that meant he had absolute power to rule uncontested in every area of his kingdom.
- The Anglican Church, of which he was the head, was one of the primary vehicles through which he channeled his royal authority. He appointed Bishops to implement his rule all over the territory. The idea that common people could have an authoritative voice in legislating anything threatened him big time.
- To counter that threat, in 1604, he had a new translation project start: "The King James Authorized Version of the Bible."
King James deploys 47 translators for the project and issues 15 rules for translation.
The 15 Rules of Translation, Article 3 says, "The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word "church" not to be translated to assembly or congregation."
By translating Ekklesia as "church" instead of "congregation" or "assembly," King James and the Anglican state church accomplish their goal of maintaining power by defining Christ's ruling body as "the Lord's house" and not "legislative ruling assembly." It kept the government of the Church in his hands and the people subdued, powerless, and only in a building.
- The King James Authorized Version was published in 1611 and quickly grew popular. The King James Version has been the most popular and number-one-selling translation of the Bible for over 500 years!
I honor and respect that so many people have read the KJV Bible over the years. Still, I'll be honest, it's not my favorite because of how it's translated. It's also harder to understand. But, we are blessed to live in a time where we have many exceptional translations. We also have access to the original Greek and Hebrew.
We can clearly see that Jesus did not use the word "Church" as we know it to describe what He was building.
Does that mean we should change our name to City Gate Ekklesia? No, don't panic. City Gate Church is a great name for our local congregation. The Church is a concept that our culture knows and understands. I love the Church; it's meaningful to me and many of us. God can use anything. We will never disparage the Church. She is beautiful even as she rediscovers her original intent.
We also understand that we are in a new era: a Kingdom era. God is reviving, reforming, and transforming His Church. He does that through the revelation of His word. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. It will continue to change things when we learn who we really are and what we're really called to do.
Again, it's not that we're doing things wrong. It's just that we might not have the full picture; we might be missing something. We're missing this complete concept of Ekklesia. We've had the theory of "church" being a building, a place where we go, and a service we attend for over a thousand years, but it doesn't make it accurate according to the Word. In reality, we are supposed to be an Ekklesia – a fluid, mobile, governing, legislating, culture-shaping body in every sphere of society.
It's obviously not sinful to have a church building. We're blessed to have a place to gather, and we don't take it for granted. It also doesn't mean it's wrong to have a service time to come worship, grow, and be equipped together. Having a service is fantastic. Jesus incorporated the most beautiful aspects of the temple and synagogue into His Ekklesia. But when we're talking about "Church," we must understand that a building and a service time once a week isn't all that means. There's more to this whole thing that Jesus is building. We are to be His Ekklesia in our city.
What does that mean? Let's look at an Ekklesia historically.
History of Ekklesia
An ekklesia was a governing assembly of citizens convened publicly to deliberate and legislate over every sphere of culture in a city or region.
WHO WAS THE EKKLESIA?
- Full authorized citizens who answered the call to assemble and govern
- They were men 18 years old and up
- They started with 2 years of military service, after which they became part of the Assembly
- Each citizen was valuable, no matter their station in life
- Each citizen was included and could answer the call at any time
- They had the general ekklesia, a council of 9 that the President of the ekklesia chose from the ekklesia
- There were 40-50 meetings a year but could also be called quickly in cases of urgency
- The Herald or the Crier would come out and Call Out the Ekklesia to Assemble
- Usually held outside because there could be up to 6,000 people
- The President/Council brought the agenda to discuss, and the ekklesia would hear and participate
- The ekklesia had freedom of speech and was encouraged to join if they could speak to a subject
- This freedom was not absolute or without regulation
- In early ekklesia, citizens 50+ spoke first, then the younger men
- They also had to talk on the agenda, which was laid out by the Council
- There was a sergeant-at-arms who maintained order
- They were very critical of anyone who spoke outside his expertise
- But on the majority of issues, they were free to be a part of the discussion
Socrates says, “When the discussion isn’t about technical matters but about governing the city, “he who rises to advise them on this may equally well be a smith, a shoemaker, a merchant, a sea-captain, a rich man, a poor man, of good family or of none.”
WHAT DID THEY DO?
- Made appointments and confirmed government officials, military leaders, commanders, county clerks, magistrates
- Reviewed old laws, discussed suggested new laws, legislated and made final decisions on new laws, and regulated laws
- Managed defense of the city, city walls/gates
- Oversaw contracts and treaties
- Oversaw food supply
- Dealt with city finances and budgeting of all funds, including for military
- Responsible for the general conduct of public business
- Ruled on all societal and cultural matters for its geographical location
- Conferred citizenship, gave immunity from taxes, gave crowns to those deserving of thanks for some public service (one day we will cast our "crowns" at Jesus' feet)
- Handled lawsuits or disputes, dealt with complaints people couldn’t solve on their own (if people couldn't solve issues, they were dealt with in front of the ekklesia. This is where we get the concept of dealing with issues before you bring your offerings, and by bringing them in front of the elders, then the church)
- Conducted trials and ruled on cases of treason or impeachment
- Oversaw city festivals, cultural gatherings, parades, and religious events
- Oversaw all foreign policy
- Sent out embassies/ambassadors and received foreign embassies
- Declared war and summoned the army
- Negotiating Peace treaties
- Dealt with corruption and political manipulation, bribes, etc.
- Made decrees on all of these things
- It was not the High Court, the Areopagus, but they decided who would serve
The Roman Ekklesia
- When the Romans would conquer new territory – they would send a procurator (or a governor) to rule the province in the name and authority of the emperor. Pontius Pilate was the procurator at the time of Jesus’ ministry. They would also send in a team of administrators, legislators, or regulators to be the Ekklesia in that territory. They would also grow the Ekklesia out of the reformed town.
- The Ekklesia was an arm of government that helped the governor administer the policies of Rome. These citizens assisted and ensured the policies and decrees of Rome passed down to them through the governor were enacted and enforced throughout the region of their jurisdiction.
- Roman Ekklesias were responsible for transforming a territory to look like Rome. They would shape the culture, arts, business, and education. They would change the language and legislate laws, societal standards, and taxes. The idea was a reformation. It was apostolic – they were apostles.
- Go in with your apostolic leaders, change culture, build an Ekklesia, and reform a city.
- Make each province, city, or town look like Rome.
- Make it compatible with Roman Rule and the Roman Kingdom.
- The general public in Jesus’ day understood Ekklesia to mean both the secular institution and the governmental system it represented.
This is the context where Jesus said, “I’m going to build MY Ekklesia!”
The Conventus: A Fascinating Caveat
The Greek and Roman versions of the Ekklesia came in all forms and sizes. One interesting format was called the CONVENTUS CIVIUM ROMANORUM - Conventus for short.
According to Sir William Ramsay: When a group of Roman citizens as small as two or three gathered anywhere in the world, it constituted the conventus as a local expression of Rome.
They could've been far away from the empire's capital and the emperor. Still, when they came together as fellow citizens, it automatically brought the power and presence of Rome into their midst. This was the Roman Ekklesia in a microcosm.
You see this in Acts 16 when the Roman magistrate panicked after realizing that they had beaten and thrown Paul in prison. Paul tells them, "Hey, I'm a fellow citizen, a Roman, and you beat me and threw me in prison without due process!".
At that moment, the Conventus kicked in. All the laws and protection of the emperor were in their midst. So, the Roman magistrate panicked because they knew Paul had the power and authority of the Roman Empire behind him, and they screwed up.
I love learning those things because it makes the Bible make even more sense! In Matthew 18, Jesus says this after He described the authority He gave to His people:
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
I used to always look at this verse and just get all the feels. Aww, Jesus...He's just so sweet and loving; look how much He wants to be with us! It only takes two of us, and His FOMO kicks in (He doesn't really have any fears but work with me), and He shows up! It's just so warm and squishy. NO, this is governmental, Ekklesia, authority, law language. This is what the Conventus did for the emperor and for Roman citizens. This was legal speech, not fuzzy, cuddly speech. Jesus was making His authority, His entire kingdom, and His Name available to His Ekklesia in the same way.
BUT IN A MUCH GREATER DIMENSIONS BECAUSE HE SAID,
Matthew 18:18 – Whatever you forbid on earth will be considered to be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be considered to be released in heaven.
Because Jesus picked the Ekklesia model over the temple or the synagogue, He chose a system that could succeed everywhere.
- Not just in Israel
- Not just in religious situations or sacred buildings
- But in the marketplace
- At the city gates/government
- In the schools
- In business
- In arts or entertainment
- Wherever His disciples would go – even if it was just 2 of them!
Jesus' ultimate objective was not to reproduce or expand religious institutions or build more buildings. He wanted to see people, cities, and nations discipled by penetrating every aspect of culture with His Kingdom through His Ekklesia.
- Jesus picked a concept that His disciples and all that would follow were highly familiar with in the secular arena.
This is why He taught it so few times. There was no need to explain what everybody already knew. There was no need for Jesus or the New Testament writers to describe what was already commonly known as a decision-making, society-impacting, people institution. To the people in the Roman Empire (including Israel), the Ekklesia was as familiar a concept as the congress and senate is to us. Or the management team is to the employees in a corporation.
- Jesus didn't confine his followers to buildings. He didn't subject them to a schedule of centralized meetings.
Yes, they met regularly and in all kinds of ways (in the temple, in the synagogue, in the open air, in homes). But, it wasn't about a building or a meeting time; it was people who made up the Ekklesia – wherever and whenever as few as 2 or 3 gathered with His manifest presence and power.
The Church was never meant to be a sterile, sanitized holding tank. His followers weren't meant to hide away until Jesus comes back to rescue them from this evil world. His Ekklesia is meant to be the vehicle that injects the leaven of the Kingdom into the dough of culture and society. So, first people, then cities, then eventually nations would be discipled.
- The same way Rome made its presence, power, and culture felt wherever it conquered - Jesus designed His Ekklesia to conquer the Kingdom of darkness.
It is not a coincidence He introduced His vision at the Gates of Hades. Jesus said, "The gates of hell will not be able to prevail against My Ekklesia!" In other words, "My Ekklesia will bring My presence and power into a situation, a city, a nation. My Ekklesia will bring the culture of heaven wherever they go."
- We have the upper hand in all situations because Jesus gave us authority to legislate in visible and invisible realms. The gates of hell will not prevail in either realm when we understand our authority in Christ.