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The Phenomenon of Ekklesia: Part 2 of 2

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 23-04-2012


Ekklesia is Supernatural

I have said that there is much going on in the ekklesia at many different levels. The ekklesia is not a phenomenon of the natural historical world only. The writer of Hebrews says that we have already been introduced into the transcendental realms, which includes participation in “the ekklesia of the firstborn ones who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb.12:23).

Think of it as polarized by the Godhead and creation. Between these poles is a great variety of interchange — many different things are going on. On any or all of these levels of dynamic interaction, the ekklesia is identified by the presence of Christ. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt.18:20).

According to philosophers and linguists there are three requirements for an adequate linguistic expression. It must be simple, complete and consistent. Here we have a simple statement — the ekklesia is constituted by the personal presence of Christ. It is complete, for He who is Himself the center of ekklesia-life is the one that “fills all in all” (Eph.1:23). And it is consistent for He that expresses His fullness through the ekklesia is genuine truth.  The presence of Christ, therefore, is an adequate expression of ekklesia. As few as two or three believers assembled together can now constitute the ekklesia.

Hence where Christ Himself is present the ekklesia exists in a totality. It does not require a composite collection of various assemblies to form the total ekklesia. Each local ekklesia is the ekklesia. Each local ekklesia is conscious of itself as the representative of the universal ekklesia (1 Thess.2:14, 1 Cor.1:2). This seems paradoxical to us — how each gathering can contain the whole ekklesia in its universality.

But such is rooted in our blindness to spiritual reality where the whole can be contained in a part. It also fails to appreciate the truth that since Christ is the essence of the ekklesia, His own fullness flows through the members as they are available and capable of being His vessels (Eph. 4:7-16; Co1.2:19). The fullness, therefore, is that of Christ — a fullness available to any local ekklesia (could we say also, to any individual believer?). Our experience of partial fullness should not be allowed to govern our expectations.

By identifying ekklesia with Christ Himself (cf. 1 Cor.12:12), we see that the fullness of His perfection is available to and expressible through each gathering of two or three believers. This vision of what is given to us in Christ must be firmly revealed and made real in our experience. The unity of the ekklesia, for instance, is grounded in the oneness of Divine essence between the Father and the Son (John 17:1-26). It is not the unity of a local congregation or a conglomeration of different congregations — although that might be an expression of the unity of Christ’s body — but it is the transcendent oneness of Christ Himself that is His gift to us. This renders it unthinkable that the local ekklesia should be divided. Our acceptance of division is a silent testimony to the unreality in our lives of the perfection that is in Christ.

What Is “Fellowship”?

The same clarification changes our concept of “fellowship.” We tend to use the word as relating to some interaction or association with other believers. The NT, however, uses koinonia mostly to refer to participation in the fullness of Christ, rather than to a horizontal sharing with others. Believers are partakers of grace (Phil.1:7), of glory (1 Pet.5:1), of the Divine nature (2 Pet.1:4), of spiritual blessings (Rom.15:27), of Christ’s sufferings (Phil.3:10), of the gospel (Phil 1:5) and of the Father and His Son (1 John 1:3). Fellowship with each other is an expression of this fellowship with the Divine.

Both unity and fellowship are rooted in the accomplished fact or established reality of Christ. That truth must control our thinking about the ekklesia. There are many ways in which these facts are working in the universe. So we need not codify or constrain the ekklesia to only one form. But the deeper inner reality needs to be more real to us than the external forms or temporary interactions. Multiplicity of ministry, for instance, is rooted in the multiple diversity of the grace of Christ (Eph.4:7; 1 Pet.4.10). The same illumination holds for other facets of ekklesia life. All exists on a higher plane, in a perfected state that we are called to envision, appropriate and enjoy in the phenomenon of ekklesia.

Ekklesia Is “Political”

All that I am saying about the ultimate reality of Christ and His ekklesia is also true of what I said earlier about ekklesia as a policy-making assembly. Paul saw this clearly in Phil.1:27 and 3:20. In the first reference he exhorts the believers to conduct themselves worthily of the gospel. He sees them as members of a political community in that word “conduct” (politeuo; our word “political” is derived from this Greek word). Their first

responsibility was to live up to their citizenship in the kingdom of Christ. Then, in the second reference, he notes that this political citizenship is “in the heavens.” The ekklesia on earth is like a foreign colony outside its mother country with certain specified rights and duties. But it is firmly rooted in the perfect political community “in the heavens” (cf. Heb.12:23).

So our thinking of the ekklesia as a policy-determining body is controlled by the decisions, as Jesus put it, that have already been made in heaven (Matt.16:19). Our task, as an assembly, is to discern what has already been bound or loosed in heaven and to confirm our agreement on earth with those decisions. In so doing we will translate those decisions onto the scene of human drama and history. A oneness exists in the universe.

Decisions in heaven move along lines that reach into every area of our world. The role of ekklesia is to discern and translate those decisions untainted by the ignorance and evil of a fallen world. Such tuning into the heavenly realm means that we have contact with the eternal domain where all things are known in their finished state. Hence, the Greek tense in Matt .16:19 (“have been bound or loosed”), indicates that those decisions are already in a perfected state.

Ekklesia As Event

But as in the areas ot unity, fellowship and ministry, the richness of what occurs in policy-making depends on our comprehension of the fullness of Christ. All of us have a very limited and narrow grasp of this. But this can change if we are willing to be open to new and flexibl movements of the ekklesia. In other words, if we can experience ekklesia as a phenomenon or event rather than as an established structure, we can begin to tap more of the fullness of corporate life that is open to us in the person of Christ. What is needed is the sense of a movement — of rhythm and melody in the life of the ekklesia — rather than comfortable security in established patterns.

Ekklesia As A Bride

It is helpful to see the position of the ekklesia by noting that it is a feminine noun and represents a feminine aspect. Paul identifies the ekklesia as Christ’s bride (2 Cor 11:2; Eph.5:22-32). Christ is the new man (Eph.4:13) who has the ekklesia as His feminine counterpart. This calls us to experience the powerful expression available to us as we learn proper feminine qualities. In our life with Christ we are responsive, submissive, receptive and co-operative. From Him, as the husband, we receive the power to bear fruit (Rom.7.4). To Him, as His wife, we offer our very beings as vessels for His endowment (His inheritance in the saints, Eph.1.18).

Femininity is not a very familiar quality to most of us raised in a masculine-oriented culture. So-called masculine qualities are much more apparent — aggressiveness, successfulness, control, dominance, etc. To highlight femininity is to thrust most of us into a whole new learning experience (including the feminists whose view of femininity is often Amazonian). To some that does not happen until they have been forced by life’s situations to be more passive. Even then it is submitted to only grudgingly, with no real display of fruitfulness or abundant energy. Apparently passive/active motifs are not very accurate for identifying feminine and masculine qualities. Better for the feminine side to regard it as inward surrender. To choose this route is the privilege and glory of the ekklesia as Christ’s bride.

Ekklesia & The New Creation

The ekklesia is linked with the resurrection of Christ. It lives in the awareness of the end of the age inaugurated by that resurrection. Its inward surrender is to that consummation. The situation is one in which the return of the Lord is already being experienced in the midst of His people. Whenever Christ is proclaimed and received, He becomes present and real. Believers are called together in the reality of a new creation.

While there may be some continuity with previous forms (like the Jewish synagogue), the emphasis is on the new eventfulness of the assembly. Paul uses a word for “newness” that means brand new — fresh — something not there before. In the ekklesia, therefore, events are contemporary — up-to-date — as it is caught up in the cosmic dimensions of the work of Christ. Through the ekklesia the wisdom of Cod is made known to the cosmic powers (Eph.3:10; 4:8).

There will be an ekklesia, therefore, for as long as the end time is upon us It will be an instrument for the risen Christ to extend His sway over the whole universe — His agent for renewal and reversal of entropy. As the resurrected Lord, His activity and presence in the ekklesia guaranties that “the powers of death [the gates of Hades] shall not prevail against it.” There is no effective protection for the domain of death against the phenomena of the ekklesia.

The world, therefore, is not isolated from the ekklesia but, rather, the ekklesia is the means by which Christ moves out into the world. For its own self-preservation the ekklesia does not require an institutional form, but rather the dynamic interaction of truth and love between Christ and His body. In the mutual sharing of that love and the discovery of truth lies both the event of Christ’s presence in the world and the interaction between the believers (Eph.4:14-16).

Such an event transcends the efforts of the world to maintain its ordered systems at the expense of other systems. Here is a system drawing upon the infinite resources of truth and love — not exploiting other ordered systems. In this dynamic of truth and love is the source of life-flow which is worthy of the same honor and glory that is given to Christ Himself.

Discovery of truth and sharing of love are deeply correlated to one another. Since truth is vast, infinite, and ever-expanding we would be lost in the whirl of possibilities without the security of love. It is the assurance of God’s loving care and direction that makes it possible for the realm of truth to open up to such multi-potentialities. We know that we are being cared for by Him and He will secure our safe conduct into the realm of truth. A decision can be made on our part to trust our well-being into His hands. We can will the one thing that is most important to living in the midst of such infinite resources and possibilities.

Because of Christ’s resurrection, the ekklesia is ushered into a realm where there is a plenitude of possibilities. But this is not a dizzy world that overwhelms us if we make the right decision to begin with. That decision is to yield to the Lordship of Christ and to trust His loving care for us In that decision we can become whole and united with others in our policy-making. But it is not a true decision unless the whole being makes it, and the whole being (either individually or corporately) can only choose as a whole being that which is best.

So let us set ourselves on to the work of self-unification by a willingness to trust Christ and to be yielded to Him. Thus we will know the direction that must be taken. Novelty stretches out from us in all directions from our present perspective. Reality opens up to new dimensions. But the many different perspectives can be integrated as we set ourselves to repeated restructure. There is no final event here — the phenomena of ekklesia occurs again and again. But the soul of ekklesia is rooted in the unifying decision to cast all upon the watch-care of the resurrected Christ.

In this way spiritual insight will accompany and permeate physical, social and cultural life. The ekklesia will emerge as a Divine community — the descent of God making the possibilities limitless. I want to be a part of that ekklesia — to share in the transaction of spiritual decisions about the reality of the world and others — don’t you? It will take us up into a process of mutual enrichment — our minds affecting and being affected by other minds constructing the world through the phenomena of ekklesia.

Written by Floyd Mackler

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