Submitted by Jim Hoag

Why did Jesus use the term “ekklesia” in Matthew 16:18 to describe His church? Why did He and Paul make so much of it? I mean it’s not a Christian term; they didn’t invent it. But it seems like they picked it up for its uniqueness and took hold of it and said, “That’ll work to describe what the followers of Jesus will be like”. And from there, Paul takes it and develops it and adds to it. But what was the “raw material” of that word with which they began? Well, “ekklesia” describes a gathering of citizens in an ancient Greek city-state; a “called out assembly”, a particular body of faithful people. As we know, in its simplest form, it has to do with a gathering of those summoned and called out of one sphere or group to form another entity or group.

Back in the first century, it was used more often than not as a reference to a particular meeting. In Jesus’ and Paul’s day, whenever a village grew largeenough, they’d wall it in with brush to keep the cattle and livestock from wandering off and the people safe. The entrance to the village through the brush fence was called the “city gate” and the elders of the city gathered there to meet everyday.They did so in order to help solve village problems; domestic, civil, and practical, bringing wisdom, help, and counsel. The gathering of those elders was called the“ekklesia”.

What did this gathering of elders do in the village? They made a tremendous contribution to that society. If you could go back in time to one of those villages and you stole away those elders, the people of the village would weep and lament over that loss. Why? They would feel the loss of their input, their practical help, their wisdom, love and the sense of their presence. They knew they were a better village than they ever could’ve been without them because of their assistance, their reliability, and their accessibility.

Now, in Paul’s understanding, the called out followers of Jesus would be a gift to their “village” (their culture, city, community, spheres of influence) of which they were a part, just as those elders or “ekklesia” were to their community. This new ekklesia would also bring wisdom, speak life, add discernment, and bring HELP (Acts 16:9) .They too would be accessible and live out God’s love and God’s life in the midst of the “village’. They’d be visible-manifesting the character and nature of God through acts of compassion full of honesty and integrity, hope and encouragement and practical and spiritual help; they would be salt and light. Take away the influence of that ekklesia of Christ from one of those villages or towns, and those people would grieve, not only for the loss of people that demonstrated unconditional love, kindness, and respect, but because they would not know how to be as decent, kind and as good a village themselves without the influence of that “ekklesia”.

I believe through this that God might be asking us, His ekklesia, “If your church, or you as an individual, were taken away from your town, community, or city, would anybody notice? Would they grieve? Would they say, ‘we would not have known God or what true unselfishness was like; we would not have known genuine love or how families and marriages ought to function if it were not for these called out, sent ones– this ekklesia of God.’” Jesus said about us, His church, that, “You are the light of the WORLD. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Let your light so shine BEFORE MEN that they may SEE your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven”. Most churches have become so inwardly focused that those on the outside don’t have a clue as to why they exist or have any desire to relate to them because they have little or no relevance to their lives. The church is seen through the eyes of most unbelievers as an uncaring, narrow-minded, judgmental group which they want no part of. But the day is at hand when if the ekklesia (the church) was takenout of a community, that the community would grieve over that loss. There is a great shift underway.The Holy Spirit was sent to empower and propel the ekklesia into culture as the blessing of God. (Acts 1:8). The redemptive mission of Jesus Christ is being restored to His ekklesia at the city gates to “a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out”. (Mt.16:18b, Message Bible).

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