Contrasting the New Testament Ekklesia and the Modern Congregational Assembly
As we examine the New Testament, we see that Jesus called for the formation of the ekklesia in Matthew 16:18. In Greek culture an ekklesia was the ruling body that governed the polis or city-state. Thus Jesus didn’t create a new word but borrowed from a common political word to describe His goal for those who would be His disciples: that they would represent His kingdom will on earth with binding and loosing powers that would govern the heavenly principalities (Ephesians 3:8-10, 6:10-18) and thus transform earthly communities where each ekklesia was established. This is a great difference in function from the typical congregational idea of simply assembling together as found in Hebrews 10:25.
The idea of conversion was not merely meant to fill seats for church growth on Sundays but to nurture disciples who would turn the world order upside down (Acts 17:6). Since the late 19th century the idea of church as a ruling ekklesia has largely been lost and replaced with rescuing sinners from this world and living secluded pietistic lives to make it to heaven. We went from changing the world to resisting the world, from engaging the world to protecting ourselves from the world.
This is totally contrary to the original Greek meaning of the word ekklesia, which means being called to engage the world and govern it. Now, pastors are happy to have a lot of people show up on Sundays, whether they affect the culture or not. Thus, church attendance in this nation is at an all-time high but cultural effectiveness is at an all-time low!
If the church is going to recapture its cultural commission of discipling nations and having global influence, as found in Genesis 1:28 and Matthew 28:19, it has to learn the difference between building an ekklesia and a mere congregation that assembles together.
This also explains why God has had to raise up some parachurch ministries that function more like “special forces” with a call to reach cities. It may not be a pure New Testament model, but until local churches stop being inwardly focused and effectively reach their cities, God will continue to call special forces out of its ranks.
This also explains why sometimes a smaller-sized church can have more cultural influence than a megachurch that compromises the gospel. Many megachurches are not ekklesias but are merely gathering places that have very limited influence in the heavenly and earthly realms.
Furthermore, this also explains why some churches experience more strategic-level spiritual warfare and others don’t; mere congregations have lower-level spiritual warfare than those that function as the ekklesias of communities.
The following are some of the contrasts between the two concepts:
- The ekklesia challenges the status quo; the congregation assembles to find peace in the midst of the cultural environment.
- The ekklesia demands a commitment that involves the vocational calling of all its members to represent the kingdom in all of life; the congregation demands a commitment that involves Sunday ministry and church programs.
- The ekklesia trains people for all of life; the congregation trains people for church life.
- The ekklesia effects change in the surrounding community; the congregation only affects change in individual souls.
- The ekklesia is at war against demonic entities in the heavenly spheres; the congregation is at war to have church growth and bring deliverance to some individual members.
- The ekklesia sends out people to serve their communities; the congregation calls for their communities to attend their Sunday worship experiences.
- The ekklesia is only satisfied with bringing the kingdom on earth; the congregation is satisfied if their members have joy in their hearts.
- The ekklesia expands kingdom influence by converting people to be Christ-following disciples; the congregation appeals to the felt needs of people so they will continually depend on a 90 minute Sunday worship experience to feel good about themselves.
- The ekklesia is outwardly focused on stewarding the earth; the congregation is focused on making it to heaven.
- The ekklesia engages in Spirit-empowered humanitarianism; the congregation on Spirit-empowered pietism.
- Those in an ekklesia know they have been sanctified to serve others; those in a congregation believe they are saved for the sake of sanctification.
- The ekklesia embraces God’s sovereign human design for the saints since their physical birth (Ephesians 1:4); the congregation only honors what God has done in saints spiritually from the time they were “born again.”
- The ekklesia preaches Jesus rose from the dead to “fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10); the congregation preaches Jesus rose from the dead merely to save individuals from hell.
- The ekklesia believes in a divine cosmic plan that includes this present earth; the congregation believes in a (postponed) cosmic plan that (largely) excludes this present earth.
- The ekklesia disciples whole nations (Matthew 28:19); the congregation disciples individual ethnic people groups.
- The ekklesia has a vision for the whole community; the assembly for their whole congregation.
- The ekklesia aspires to influence each of the seven cultural mountains of society; the congregation aspires to function only in the mountain of “religion.”