ekklesia: why exist?
Imagine for a second that the CEO of a business decides to expand the company.
He takes a group of fairly plain workers and trains them for the purpose of eventually leading this planned expansion. He spends a number of years teaching them to do what he does, and to emulate it in the context of a new expression of the business. The point of this chosen group is that they would embody the vision of the company, and that they would enact the implications of this vision in terms of their daily business.
The CEO then sets them off on their own as the expansion occurs.
Not many years down the track things begin to degenerate. This chosen group begins to forget why exactly they were chosen. Rather than existing as a group for the sake of the vision of the business they begin to exist solely for their own benefit. They still do some of the things they were entrusted to do in the expansion, but as a whole this group is not fulfilling the full vision of the CEO.
Rather than existing for the purpose for which the CEO created them, this group now exists largely for its own welfare, and for its own survival as a unit.
It is probably fairly obvious by now that this illustration is intended as an analogy for many churches. Not all churches, but certainly many of them. Let me explain why I say this.
Jesus came to the earth not talking about the church, but about the kingdom. In fact the Gospels mention the kingdom (basileia) at least 130 times, while they mention the church (ekklesia) only 3 times (2 of which are in the same sentence, and all of which are possibly anachronistic edits to help a later generation make sense of Jesus’ words half a century earlier. In other words, Jesus may never have even used the word ‘church’).
It seems to me that Jesus’ message was about the kingdom and his early followers, who tried to embody this kingdom message, naturally formed the Church as a community emerged which was committed to The Way. This Church was always intended to continue embodying the kingdom message of Jesus, and was never meant to exist simply for its own sake.
But somewhere along the line the Church became the main game rather than the kingdom. It was like the later generations of workers made their little group the main focus rather than the vision of the CEO.
I am definitely not accusing any church folk of ill-will. I don’t think many pastors, for example, have necessarily chosen knowingly to see the Church as the end-game. Rather I think that many pastors and churchgoers have simply been enculturated into a system of Christian theology which is more influenced by traditions which elevate the Church and its structures and personnel than by (even!) the teachings of Jesus.
If I’m right, and the Church exists for the purpose of embodying the kingdom of God, then perhaps we have a lot of thinking to do about how to approach Christian practice and community. Our questions need to shift away from how to grow the Church, or how to help it survive (!), and towards questions about how best to embody Jesus and his message in reality.
Such questions may well lead the Church to reconsider everything…
Note: While i have not defined the kingdom in this post, nor explained the difference between it and the church, there are bits and pieces about it in other posts i have written over the months.
Posted on November 28, 2010, in Church/Ecclesiology, New Testament, Theology and tagged Basileia, Church/Ecclesiology, Ekklesia, Jesus' Teachings, Kingdom, Kingdom of God. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.