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"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have
NOT come 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 responsible, sober minded people who are accomplished in
critical thinking and seeing the big picture. These are called out from the population to come together
and use their wisdom to deal with serious business, problems or issues,
to come together to do something responsible about significant and
serious issues or an otherwise threatening or intolerable situation in which
they find themselves.
The Church has all along contended for obedient faith on the basis that
what it taught had been Divinely revealed. By this dogmatism it has
achieved a mastery over human reason, and has been able to bring within
the area of its own rulings matters which in fact were the fruits of its
own very human speculations and contrivances. The asserted operation of
the Holy Spirit could be and has been employed to sanction the most
perverse and unspiritual judgments of men. If it is too late in the day
for a mythical and mystical view of Jesus, it is equally too late for a
similar view of the Church. p. xv. - Schonfield, Hugh J. Those
Incredible Christians, Bantam Books, Inc., 271 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Part of Christendom has practically perfected terminological inexactitude.
First of all let's look at what an ecclesia is NOT. It is NOT:
A formal structure or religion with a Grand Poobah leader and
exalted hierarchal levels of authority.
An organization that practices liturgy with rites, ceremonies, sacraments,
"worship" services, and special days ostensibly appointed by God.
A group of people that have some version of Saturn-worship-inspired
sacred writings with black leather bindings as its cornerstone, and lots of Saturnian
symbolism, replete with glorious costumes and robes of royal colors, somber hymns,
inspiring and celebratory music, and mesmerizing chants.
A congregation with a fabulous cathedral with huge
imposing doors and spires, a large semi-professional choir, and carvings
and statuary reflecting ancient planet gods.
Even a coalition of congregations that have a formal credo
and special "dedicated to the Lord" meeting buildings with hard pews
and stained glass windows with an organ inside.
A denomination that has a magnificent promotional department
developing a huge amount of funds pouring in.
A sect that dabbles in glossolalia, self-flagellation, and sacrifice for the Lord’s cause.
A religion that needs and fosters the "magic" but “fakes it until it makes it!”
A docile herd of sheep-like believers waiting with "faith" for things
to get better, begging God to help them cope, while they sleepwalk through life to the grave.
Even a group that understands that being positive is better than being negative,
that ONLY copes using the power of positive thinking, nor even a group that believes
that "God is love" and therefore so should they be!
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 to apply 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 thus 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
or procedure was risky, unreasonably burdensome or even unpleasant.
"In general, about the
rise of Christianity the average Christian is
abysmally ignorant. There has been no serious inducement for him
to regard this as a matter on which he should be well informed."
Schonfield, Hugh J., Those Incredible Christians,
Bantam Books, Inc., New York, NY 10016 p. xvi.
One significant 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 intellectually responsible and accountable for our beliefs and
concepts being 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 J-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 given directions or instructions. See:
What Should We Do?
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 themselves and ALL people.
"What the world needs is men! Men who can
neither be bought nor sold. Men who will
stand for the right though the heavens fall."
(The above quote would also include men who cannot be propagandized nor
accessible to bias, distortion and mischaracterization)
An true ecclesia 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 total package,
one that fights with insight, vision and understanding, rationality,
logic, reason, unquenchable attitude/spirit/morale, and unity of purpose, values and paradigm.
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”
Mt 18:17 “...tell it to the Ekklesia”
Mt 18:17 “... but if he neglect to hear the 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,
belief paradigm and substantial issues), 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 of such a society?
Is this what a spiritual ecclesia is all about? Is this what God is waiting for?!
[*] Text passage largely contributed by George Lizer