On Being Ecclesia
I have become convinced that there needs to be a new referent when we speak of the community of Jesus followers. In the past, the simple word, “church,” has sufficed. In these contentious times, the term is no longer adequate because it suggests a place, often a building. Moreover, it communicates being an establishment and a part of the cultural landscape, a landscape that has shifted beneath our feet to the point that we will have to withdraw from it if we are to be faithful to our calling.
My reason for suggesting “ecclesia” to describe the community of Christ-followers is because of its first century meaning. It was understood to be a representative body of a particular state, essentially a group called out to assemble for the business of the city. It was understood to describe an assembly with specific goals and qualities. The most important feature, though, was its separateness.
Another example of intentional separation occurred in Germany as the specter of Nazism, was rising. Some clergy saw the danger and, as a matter of conscience, withdrew from the established ecclesial order. They came to be called “the confessing church.” The term came to describe a fellowship of clergy who felt the need to distinguish themselves from the established order and societal trajectory.
One thing seems clear: As the culture approaches midnight, Christ-followers can no longer be understood to be a part of the established social order. We must be understood to be a community called out from among–a peculiar people with distinctive values and purpose.
We are an ecclesia.