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Church Doesn't Mean Called Out Ones
Welcome to another Thursday UNFILTERED substack article, the only substack newsletter that observes it’s been six months since it joined the gym and there’s no progress. It’s going there in person tomorrow to see what’s going on.
I deeply appreciate all the support for the new book The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: Revised & Expanded. The donations were beyond what I imagined. And the book (now on its 395th draft) was given to the first editor on Monday. (Not the publisher’s editor, but an independent editor I hired thanks to the generous help many of you gave.) I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the book.
Now for the subject at hand.
You’ve probably heard it before: “Church happens wherever a Christian is.”
That’s the slogan for the postchurch view, which I dismantled back in 2009.
Yet the misguided idea that the church is “the called out ones” is still pervasive in the body of Christ despite that scholars and theologians have discounted it for years.
The word “church” that appears in most Bible versions is translated from the Greek word ekklesia.
In the first century, ekklesia DID NOT mean “called out ones.”
So why do people say that it did?
Because that’s what you get when you combine the prefix with the root word. But that’s now how you discover how people used a word during a certain era.
First-rate scholar Robert Banks in his seminal work Paul’s Idea of Community offers an irrefutable argument in the New Testament, ekklesia means assembly or meeting. (Rob is a long-time friend and a superb Greek scholar. And his work has been confirmed by countless other scholars.)
When it came to the town hall in Greek cities, people were “called forth” from their homes to “assemble” together.
It wasn’t the “calling forth” that made a group an ekklesia. It was the “assemblying.”
This explains why in Acts 19, the word ekklesia is used three times to refer to people in the marketplace who assembled. And these people were not Christians. (See Acts 19:32, 39, 41. By the way, the WEB version translates “ekklesia” correctly—“assembly.”)
So as Banks, Dunn, and many others (see footnote) have pointed out, ekklesia just means an assembly. Or a meeting/gathering.
That’s how the word was used in the New Testament.
The word is akin to our term “Congress.”
Congress assemblies. One individual is NOT Congress. But a member of Congress assembles with the other members.
Since the early Christians gathered regularly in a given city, they were called the ekklesia of that city. And when they met, they assembled the parts of Jesus Christ by functioning , making Him visible. (I explain this in my book, Remagining Church.)
Consequently, there is just as much biblical support to say “I am the church” or “you (individual) are the church” as there is to say “the church is a religious building.”
The support is zero.
By the way, I’m not suggesting at all that as Christians, we aren’t called out of the world. If you’ve read Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, I argue that we are called to “come out” of the world system. But the word “ekklesia” doesn’t have that meaning.
Next week we’ll take a look at the real apostolic succession.
 During the New Testament era, the term “ekklesia” simply meant a gathering or assembly. Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: Spirit and Culture in the Early House Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020), 25-28; James D.G. Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 599-601; Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 166-167; Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 123-124; Douglas Mangum, ed., “Assembly,” Lexham Theological Wordbook (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014). Logos edition. “An ekklesia was a meeting or assembly.” It was used to describe “a local congregation of Christians and never a building.” J.D. Douglas and N. Hillyer, eds., New Bible Dictionary, second edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), 205. According to Wayne Meeks, the term “ekklesia” was borrowed from the political assembly in Greek cities. Wayne Meeks, ed. Library of Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987), 2:138. David deSilva agrees. Personal correspondence with deSilva, 8/4/23. See his book One Another: The New Testament Prescription for Transformation (Seedbed, 2021) for a discussion on the importance of Christians gathering together in-person. I could add many more sources, but this should suffice.
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