August 18, 2011

Ekklesia - what is the church?

I've written elsewhere about the whole, "what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven" business and my friend Bill the Greek scholar, helped a lot in the comments. I'll leave that for another year.

Instead, I'd like to deal with a peculiarity in Matthew's version of Peter's declaration, one that I know so well, I forgot it only appears in Matthew - Jesus' renaming of Peter.

"Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

We so quickly skip over that word, church, when we read this lesson. We all know what church is. Or do we? For some, church is 10am on Sunday morning. For some, church is a building with stained glass and a steeple. For some, church is lively worship music. For Jesus, church was ekklesia, and it only shows up three times in the Gospels, only in Matthew, and twice in one verse.

What is the church? Ekklesia, according to the Friberg Lexicon, is "(1) in a general sense, as a gathering of citizens assembly, meeting (AC 19.32); (2) as the assembled people of Israel congregation (HE 2.12); (3) as the assembled Christian community church, congregation, meeting (RO 16.5); (4) as the totality of Christians living in one place church (AC 8.1); (5) as the universal body of believers church (EP 1.22)

Church is people, gathered together, confessing the name of Jesus and, as Acts will later flesh it out, following The Way.  It has nothing to do with music, prayer books, vestments, buildings, or, for that matter, going to heaven when you die - it has everything to do with living as a disciple of Jesus right here and right now, to the glory of God.

Peter took his job seriously. He went to the cross, upside down, because of his life of faith in Christ Jesus.  Our means of doing, of being Church are a lot less dangerous, but they are just as necessary.  Standing up for the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, the resident alien.  Sharing our resources with those who have none. Lifting up people from the depths of despair. Offering a place of silence in a world full of noise where people can hear the voice of God.

To be that, and do that, you necessarily have to have places and lights and air conditioning and leaders (who may or may not be masters educated, paid, full time staffers, but they should be mature in their faith, which is a whole different post for a different day) and service times and newsletters and discretionary funds.  But when that stuff becomes the priority, and the community and the way get lost in a plethora of line items, well then ekklesia, the church is no more.

May God look with favor upon his ekklesia, guard us from getting in our own way, and show us The Way that is life.  Amen.


jennifer said...

if we had to, we could hold services in a tent or outdoors -would be difficult in this weather though

jennifer said...

Steve, I tried to shorten my 1st comment-don't know whether or not I accidentally submitted it though