Mt. 7:21-23 π Mt. 24:12 π 1 Cor. 5:10-11 π 2 Cor. 6:16-17 π 2 Cor. 11:3-4 π Gal. 5:19-21 π Col. 1:13 π Heb. 10:25 π 1 Pet. 4:10-11 π 2 Pet. 1:3-4 π 1 Jn. 2:21 π Rev. 17:14
There are some who are rightly concerned that the believers who have abandoned the "church" so as to better follow Christ in spirit and truth consistently fail to become united with a group of other believers after successfully making their exodus from the "church" (at least physically and emotionally if not totally spiritually) and spending time in what can only be called a spiritual wilderness experience. Some who voice this concern are merely disappointed that they are not going to be the next leaders or they are impatiently discontent in waiting upon God for whatever He wants to do next or they are mistakenly expecting the next move of God to resemble the things that make up the "church" paradigm. Some have even advocated a return to the "church" as if one really could find - or be! - the living in the place of the dead. But these can be easily dismissed as flawed, fleshly and misguided and we need not dwell on them here. Rather let us examine the process true believers must undergo and look at various aspects of what genuine assembly and spiritual unity will look like.
Let us consider again the Greek word "ekklesia." This is the word that is commonly misrendered "church" in many English versions. The original word is exceedingly rich in meaning for the follower of Christ and there are many, many ways to study out the nuances this word contains for the genuine seeker of God and Christ. The first thing that ought to strike us is that the word is not even a religious word. It comes from the realms of politics! Another thing that should strike us as unusual is that the roots of the original Greek word ekklesia are not used in the New Testament. But the roots of this word - and the way it was used - give us a clue as to where genuine believers have failed to become a united expression of ekklesia.
The verb from which ekklesia is derived is "ekkaleo" and it means "to call out." When this is applied to believers in Christ, it is pointing to our having been called out of the darkness of this world and called into Christ's kingdom of light. We have been translated from darkness to light by answering Christ's call upon our life. ( Col. 1:13; top ) We have become citizens of God's kingdom.
But our life in Christ is not complete just because we have answered His initial call any more than a marriage is complete because there is an engagement agreement. The citizens who were called out - most often by a herald announcing a gathering - were referred to as the "ekkletoi." But it was not until the ekkletoi came together as a group to attend to the affairs of their city that they became the "ekklesia," the assembly of the called out people.
When we see this with spiritual eyes we will recognize instantly where modern "church," built upon centuries, even millennia, of the traditions of men, falls short of being true ekklesia. First, who is the herald who calls out the citizenry? In the spiritual realms, it can only be the Holy Spirit who announces a gathering of the citizens of Christ's kingdom. The "church" does not need a herald as it has millennia of the tradition of meeting on Sunday mornings to endure the "pastor's" sermon so as to be free to do one's own thing the rest of the week - a tradition that does extensive damage to the spiritual life that Christ brings. The calendar and the clock and the "church" bulletin have quietly replaced the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing together the people who claim to follow Christ. And whereas it is true that the Holy Spirit will prompt some people - primarily immature ekkletoi who would otherwise die of starvation or complete spiritual isolation - to attend a "church" for some time, such routine attendance must come to an end at some point if one truly wants to follow only God. "Church" attendance and submission to a "pastor" are snares of the devil designed to entrap the unwary but are used by God to allow the believer to demonstrate whether his allegiance is really to God or to self or to men. When we hear what the Spirit is calling out to the ekkletoi, we will recognize our responsibility to separate ourselves from all forms and practicers of "Christian" idolatry. ( 2 Cor. 6:16-17 ; 1 Cor. 5:10-11; top )
Second, the New Testament links every ekklesia (singular) to a local town. Plural ekklesias (meaning more than one) are only linked to regions. There are no ekklesias based upon differing theologies or philosophies of ministry or denominational distinctives. Though these things are the very cornerstone of modern "church," they are condemned in Scripture as divisive and heretical, completely able to remove one from the kingdom of light and return him to the realms of darkness. ( Gal. 5:19-21 ; 2 Cor. 11:3-4 ) Thus, when one fails to link up with the other ekkletoi of his local city, town, village or neighborhood (in the case of those who live in a modern megalopolis) but instead joins himself to a distant gathering of like-minded pseudo-followers of Christ, he has forsaken the assembly to which in the eyes of God he should be joined ( Heb. 10:25; top ) and he has rejected whatever calling out the Holy Spirit is voicing to him which would link with the other local believers. These remain trapped in the schemes of the devil because they remain complacently comfortable in their counterfeit pseudo-assembly and never join themselves to the real, local assembly which God has foreordained them to belong to. One must not overlook how modern technological advances like the automobile, telephone and internet make long-distance, superficial, shallow relationships more possible. And even the isolation that modern suburbia promotes contributes to this impersonal fašade of "Christianity." But these too are only snares of the devil designed to trap the unwary even as they are used by God to allow a believer to clearly demonstrate his true allegiances.
Some ridicule even the notion of the local ekklesia as being completely outdated and unimportant, dismissing it by saying, "No one practices that!" This only confirms the wide scale nature of the great falling away from the faith, the apostasy. Those who refuse to practice this local, personal way of following Christ are rejecting the leading of the Holy Spirit and are instead exalting their own opinions of what is right and true above the word of God in their life. This can be as true for a lone individual as it is for a small group as it is for a wildly popular charismatic "pastor" or head of a denomination. This is the lawlessness - doing what is right in one's own eyes - that abounds. ( Mt. 24:12; top )
Third, the ekklesia - in order to be a genuine ekklesia - must attend to the affairs of Christ's kingdom of light. The "church" functions by virtue of one or a few men's ability to lord over other believers and it relies on carnal means (manipulation by guilt, gossip, power-mongering, etc.) to remain a cohesive unit. These instruments of darkness can only build up the kingdom of darkness and have no place in the kingdom of light and truth. ( 1 Jn. 2:21; top )
One could write at length about the works of darkness routinely practiced at "church" - especially on the "business side" of the "church." But even in the "fellowship side" of a "church," the practices come, not from the pages of the New Testament but from Greek and Roman paganism (often with out-of-context Old Testament references misapplied to the modern practice). One simply cannot find things like "pastor," pulpit, pew, "church" building, worship leader, ordination, the tithe - the lynch pins of modern "church" - in the New Testament!
But we must look beyond that and look toward what the real ekklesia would be like. In the New Testament, we find some 60 commands of how we are to love and serve one another. This one anothering is a study in itself and is beyond the scope of this writing. Suffice it to say that the 60 commands - even in the number of verses! - far outweigh the very few descriptions the New Testament gives us as to how to assemble and these are to be the core descriptives of a genuine ekklesia assembly.
Peter wrote, "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone serves, let him do it with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and the dominion forever and ever." ( 1 Pet. 4:10-11 - emphasis added; top) The modern meeting mentality - made wildly popular in this country after seminars were introduced at Chataqua, New York in 1874 - perpetuates the lecture format whereby one man - supposedly expert in the ways and word of God but in truth only gifted with eloquence and the ability to draw a crowd - gives instruction to an audience of lesser informed, apparently spiritually inferior students. This format is virtually unknown in the New Testament as even Jesus dialogued with the people He taught rather than monologuing them to death as many modern "pastors" do now. The monologue of a spiritual guru comes from the Greek Sophists, not the New Testament.
The monologue sermon format promotes two grievous evils: First, it prohibits each one from speaking what God has placed in their hearts. This effectively prevents Christ Jesus from being the true Head over the meeting and robs Him of the glory that is His due. Secondly, anyone who has a serving gift is equally prevented from operating in the ability which God gives. Again, Christ Jesus is relegated to a nominal but not practical or functional position of Headship over the meeting and He is again robbed of the glory that He is due. This exclusion of the serving gifts is the norm for "church" - from mega-"church" to house "church" - and it is a key sign that the meeting is not a genuine ekklesia assembly.
Another key aspect of genuine ekklesia that must be practiced is unanimity. The believers in the book of Acts were "in one accord" because each one listened to the Holy Spirit and recognized when, where and how the Spirit was leading and submitted to that leading. Until this unanimity of the local ekklesia is practiced, the kingdom of darkness will be built up and the kingdom of light will be neglected.
Another key aspect of genuine ekklesia that must be practiced is ministering unto the Lord. This is virtually a lost art though many "churches" give the concept lip service - their hypocrisy clearly exposed by their many paganistic practices which remain uncorrected and uncurbed. Until we, as individuals, learn to minister first and foremost unto the Lord - at the expense of our own agendas, desires and even our very lives - what hope is there of assembling a group of Christ's followers dedicated to ministering unto the Lord? And make no mistake. Any group that ministers first unto the Lord will exhibit a supernatural flow of ministry one to another. The group that claims to minister unto the Lord but neglects the orphans, widows, the least of Christ's brothers or one another is not a truly functional ekklesia assembly.
When either the local nature, the one anothering aspect or the exalting of the Lord is removed, diluted or corrupted in our meetings, to that extent the meeting ceases to be genuine ekklesia and becomes mere "church," the vehicle for abandoning the faith in Christ Jesus. Until we hear the Holy Spirit call out to us and we answer His call and assemble according to His directions and under His leadership - whether that be with one or two others or with a group of people - we are not ekklesa but merely and at best ekkletoi. At worst, we are practicers of lawlessness and usurpers of God's position and authority.
It may be significant that ekkaleo and ekkletoi are not found in the Scriptures. One who hears the call of the Spirit but continues to practice "church" will be told to depart from Christ on the day of judgment. ( Mt. 7:21-23 ) Everything we need for life and godliness is found in the great and precious promises of God - Genesis through Revelation - and anything that is not there is not part of the Christ-centered life. ( 2 Pet. 1:3-4 ) It is not be enough to be called - to be with Christ when He rules the world we must be called, chosen and faithful. ( Rev. 17:14; top )
Let he who has ears hear.
- Simplicity in Christ - Neil Girrard
- One Another Commands - Neil Girrard
- Ekklesia - A Word Study - Neil Girrard
- Church Home - Neil Girrard
- In Search of the Perfect Church - Neil Girrard
- The New Testament Pattern of Ekklesia - Neil Girrard
- How to Be a Local Ekklesia: or, Where the House "Church" Movement Failed - Neil Girrard
I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!