JAC Online

by Cadet Erin Wikle


Ekklēsia Outside the Bible


Ekklēsia (“assembly”) is derived from, ek-kaleo (“call out” – i.e. summoning an army to assembly) and finds it origins in the 5th century when full citizens of the Greek city state would be called to assemble in the case of an emergency or “extraordinary” gathering (Hawthorne 123). These gatherings would allow each rightful member the opportunity to share (specifically, to speak). There is particular emphasis on the fact that full citizens had access to ekklēsia and that its function was strictly political (a place where judicial decisions would be made).


Ekklēsia in Paul


The work ekklēsia is mentioned throughout the New Testament, of which 66 of 114 occurrences are found in Paul’s writings (Hawthorne 124). Hawthorne references three categories of which ekklēsia is used in the New Testament: the local gathering, house church, and heavenly gathering. Note, however, that each are in keeping of the original Greek meaning of a called assembly, congregation, meeting, and gathering.


1.         Local Gathering – 1st recorded non-Political instance was in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians) as evidenced in Paul’s greeting, “… assembled by God the Father and by the Master, Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). The use of ekklēsia is true to the original meaning – a gathering of a singular nation, in this case, the Thessalonians.


2.         House Church – Hawthorne notes “it was not until about the middle of the third century that earl Christianity owned property for purposes of worship”, making reference to homes in Laodicea, Colossae, and Philippi, and Corinth where the earliest believers gathered in Jesus’ name (Hawthorne 125).


3.         Heavenly Gathering – This is notably the most general (broad) and eschatological reference to the church as a whole, specifically referencing all believers, as would eventually be assembled in heaven.


Origin & Images of the Church


It is alleged that the term ekklēsia, when it stands alone in scripture, operates as an abbreviation for he ekklēsia, which means Church of God. This distinction is made to assert that God himself and Christ, as part of the triune Godhead, operates as the origin, impetus, and source of [religious] ekklēsia (Hawthorne 126). In this, we the church, are a living extension of Christ, the head of the church worldwide.


Hawthorne writes that while some images and metaphors are analogous to the true interpretation of ekklēsia, the correlation is not always implicit (Hawthorne 127). There are many instances where mention of “the body” or even “the temple” are made in reference to an individual’s direct relationship to Jesus rather than to the church on the whole. Thus, it is important (critical, rather) to consider the entire context of the particular passage to understand its right interpretation.


The Purpose of the Church’s Gathering

The three main purposes for the church to gather is to edify one another, meet with Christ, and worship God (Hawthorne 129). Paul teaches that gathering together in this was necessitate a willingness to build one another up, showing growth and progress in one’s faith that cannot be done alone, apart from other believers. In meeting with Christ, there is power in remembering that through his death and resurrection, immediate access was granted to meet with Jesus, the Son of God. This is best modeled through, prayer, scripture, sound teaching, and spiritual songs – whereby the presence of Christ manifests through his Holy Spirit where those who believe gather. The greatest distinction between Old Testament and New Testament worship is a frequent talking and teaching point of Paul – worship itself is of a living, active God and should be practiced in “every sphere of life” (Hawthorne 130). Hawthorne continues that worship as a corporate response also works to edify and lift up the body of Christ.


Authority of the Church

Lastly, the church operates under the authority and mantel of Jesus Christ, remembering that he is the head/origin/source of the church itself. Any work of the church in a purely apostolic sense – that is to witness, teach, and build up – was to be done under Christ’s authority, provision, and power alone.


Why Does it Matter

From its beginnings, ekklēsia, as we understand it in relation to Jesus Christ, functioned as a place to find commonality even amongst diversity. Its purpose was to gather like and missional minded persons together to assemble to edify and encourage one another, grow in one’s faith and understanding of Christ, and worship a triune God who is worthy, above all else. In assembling in this way, God has reminded us of the importance of gathering, assembling, and being “called out”. The church does not exist for itself, but also cannot exist without keeping connected to its source – the Head, Jesus Christ. It is necessary to remember the origin of ekklēsia, that even within a political interpretation, the church functioned to respond to emergent matters and that those who belonged to it were required to respond with both plan and action.


It seems as though the name “church” has been misunderstood and misrepresented throughout the course of history. It has also missed the mark. I can’t help but wonder if this is because we, the church, his church has, for so long, wrongly understood our origins and our Origin. Because the church is comprised of completely fallible human beings, the risk of both intentionally and unintentionally hurting others, misunderstanding the needs/hopes/desires of others, and failing to actually be ekklēsia. This article served to provide a more academic understanding of the origins of ekklēsia without failing to put back within our grasp the basic ideas and tenants of belonging – both for the sake of each other and for the salvation of the world. Real ekklēsia mandates an apostolic way of life, wholly reliant on Christ as our Source, remembering one another and others, for the glory and growth of HIS Kingdom.  



Works Cited

Hawthorne, Gerald F, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters,     

1993. Print.










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