"There are a thousand hacking at the
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"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have
to bring peace, but a sword!" Jesus in Matthew 10:34
"I came to cast fire upon the earth; and wish that it were already kindled!" Jesus in Luke 12:49
Definition/Description of Ecclesia
Ecclesia n: an ancient Greek word which refers to a group of people who are called out from the population to come together and use their judgment in dealing with serious business or problems, to come together to do something responsible about an otherwise intolerable situation in which they find themselves.
First of all let's look at what an ecclesia is NOT. It is NOT:
As I understand the origins of the Greek word it was applied to the citizens of Greece who had the status and right to vote. Slaves and foreigners were excluded as well as children and women as far as I can ascertain. When one digs into the implications inferred by the word it becomes evident that the Greeks wanted those making the important decisions of society to be those individuals who had the wisdom and the general interests of the society. Those were to be the ones empowered to run the affairs of the state. The "ecclesia" was the voice of the majority of those people thus designated by the term.
How this term came to be used in a religious or spiritual sense follows an evolutionary process that has led us far astray from the original usage and meaning. As is true with most words when either misused over a long term or applied to a group which itself has evolved to exercise the original term only in a manner that differs greatly from the original, it mistakenly signifies something that has now been thought of as a church.*
An important aspect of the word is the implication of independence from a wider influence that would introduce confusion and noise, and a taking of matters into their own hands. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon has from the root verb "ekklesio" meaning to “Shut out” and the French "ekkleros" meaning “called out”: Ekklesia, a gathering of citizens called out of their homes to some public place. These men did not do this for fun but for a serious purpose in their own enlightened self interest, yet that is not to say that the process was risky, unreasonably burdensome or even unpleasant.
"In general about the
rise of Christianity the average Christian is
Another aspect of the original public gathering was an exclusion of women and children. In the symbolism of the day, Jesus used—Thomas 114—the feminine to imply the less reliable aspects of emotionalism, feeling, softness and sentimentality, and lack of critical thinking rigor in contrast to the masculine aspects of clear headed vigor, rationality, logic and reason. Of course, he was not being sexist and clearly not meaning to literally exclude women but was tacitly acknowledging that—in the face of the fact that we are already awash in emotion, feelings, and submission to tradition—what was needed was intellectual rigor, a holding of ourselves to be accountable for our beliefs and concepts to be rational, logical and reasonable. “Women and children” would represent those that cannot or are unwilling to do the more vigorous work of making valid sense of things.
A few more words about the gender issue. The world at the time was clearly male dominated, with women considered possessions or chattels in most cultures. This aura of male superiority and domination, of course, is completely wrong. Jesus came in the male form to show us that true masculinity ramifies into service, not domination, ordination or control. His words, which are still not accepted adequately by religious people, were, “I came to serve, not to be served.” THAT is the role of the creator and the proper masculine role!
On the other side of the coin, Jesus' gender-based claim in the last verse of Thomas was ENTIRELY symbolic and applied as I have already explained, and had NOTHING to do with literal gender. It is apparent that NO ONE in the world at the time was advanced or recovered enough along the intellectual/spiritual path from the global psychological meltdown from the great catastrophe to really appreciate and understand the full implications of what the man said and did! This is reflected in his rhetorical question late in his ministry, “When the Son of man passes, will he find faith (valid belief) on the earth? Obviously not!” (This question is found in Luke 18:8, but you probably don't know that the Bible translators leave out the imbedded “Obviously not!”).
Evidently, the first and most promising person that he offered to usher personally into the kingship of the heavens was the Samaritan woman at the well. Unfortunately, she proved to be inadequate along with all the rest, in that even though she became aware that he spoke for God she didn’t even follow his simple instruction. Jesus also deliberately set up the Lazarus situation to make the most earnest appeal to Mary and Martha, but they too, were not ready to wake up and realize who he was and what he was up to. According to the accounts that we have, he made a more direct, impactful appeal to these women than to any other person at the time. The response and understanding of the male followers was nothing short of pitiful, but the women didn’t step up to the plate either. No ma’am, if anything Jesus treated women as probably more receptive than any of the men. He DID wind up giving Mary a higher accolade than he gave to anybody else.
The critical aspects of wisdom and the general interest of society at large are also major implications of the word ecclesia. Not to mention that a crucial and CENTRAL aspect was serious and forthright discussion. One of the most excruciating issues that an ecclesia had to deal with was when to go into battle, when to go to war.
Most of the various 12 step programs use an "ecclesia" structure that would resemble the original Greek format with a few exceptions. One is that they do not exclude anyone based on gender, education, or personal status in society. Another is that they claim a spiritual basis rather than a political one, which in fact makes them more closely allied with the religious connotation of the word. The limitations of the 12 step "ecclesia" of course is that each specific 12 step group is dealing with a single addictive behavior and is oriented to helping the individual addict recover from his/her addiction. In contrast the Greeks had to deal with all of the major issues which impacted their society as a whole. If the 12 step structure were to broaden its scope to deal with all the issues that plague a dysfunctional society then it might be very close to the meaning of the word. The most important aspect of the 12 step programs is the requirement for rigorous honesty with one's self.*
“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and ...” - Zosima, in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky
An extreme ecclesia is an assembly of people that are justifiably angry about their oppression and insufferable situation. It can now be considered as a group that can come to be intensely dissatisfied with the wretched "human condition", and understands that they have nothing much to lose by shifting their focus from hoping and coping to triumphing by following the directions.
The ecclesia that Jesus tried to foster and looked forward to, is a group of spiritual warriors who are not spearheaded by preachers expounding from pulpits but by honest, courageous thinkers and sharers conversing in the living room. It is composed of people that have internalized authority and held themselves personally accountable for what they believe, a group that is willing to throw off traditional understandings when necessary, a cadre that knows what a god SHOULD be, that makes sense out of what Jesus said and did, that "listen to HIS voice" and not tradition, not even "Peter and Paul". As in, "And this IS salvation, that they understand you and he whom you have sent." It is a group of spiritual warriors who take responsibility to recognize the human condition context and do the right thing, who come into effective unity, who will NOT be vanquished, who WILL win, warriors who are willing to be led but not willing to have permanent or semi-permanent formal leadership, who are willing to go to WAR!!! Not with the weapons of violence, nor with the mundane approaches like politics, formal organizations, or money or power backed evangelistic campaigns, NOT AGAINST certain people, INCLUDING NON-BELIEVERS, but FOR ALL people.
It would be a disparate collection that transcends gender, race, age, sexual orientation and nationality, a growing family that is willing to wage war against our universal victimhood and the wretched human condition with the words of truth and self-interest inspired love. A war pressed by spiritual warriors that resonate with "Give me liberty or give me death." A war consonant with the acceptance of people but NOT their nonsense and unsound or insane beliefs. A valiant battalion committed by self interest and inspiration to have the package, one that fights with insight, vision and understanding, rationality, logic, reason, unquenchable attitude/spirit/morale, and unity of purpose, values and paradigm.
"What the world needs is men! Men who can
As to the usage of this word by Jesus, there are only 3 examples and they are all in Matthew:
Mt 16:18 “And upon this rock will I build my Ekklesia”
These are not very definitive or authoritative as to whether J really used the term or whether he meant it to mean substantially what it has come down to us as meaning, either by the derivation from good scholarship or by the common substitution of the word “church”.
One seasoned man of good will that is a friend noted: "The second and third usages cited above have the context of settling issues between equal believers when a direct dialogue of the offended/offending parties could not be resolved amicably. Others became involved primarily as witnesses in the second phase and the "Ecclesia" or equal member group as a whole would determine the outcome between the offended parties. In this context it appears Jesus was giving instructions that would specifically avoid a unilateral decision made by an authoritarian "leader". It is interesting to me that I have never seen a dispute resolved using this method and Paul chastised the Corinthian church for tolerating civil suits as they seemed to be doing. I personally would be hesitant to trust a majority vote as I don't observe a large group having the collective wisdom, ethics, justice to make the correct decision. That seems to be precisely the reason the Greeks limited who could be part of the ecclesia."
Jesus gave us criteria to determine how we are doing in the really important aspects of what he was calling for, such as "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free", a rejection of hierarchal authority, unity on everything that matters (values, purpose, plan and belief paradigm?), and "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another." On this latter issue we should understand that love is the outcome that comes naturally, not the initial mechanism to achieve.* When the promises of Jesus begin to become effective again, how could you keep people out?
Is this what a spiritual ecclesia is all about? Is this what God is waiting for?!
* Text passage largely contributed by George Lizer