What is the antithesis of ekklesia? For the last three posts we have struggled to come to terms with this Greek word that is normally translated as “church.” In part 1, we dealt with the meaning of the English word church and the classical Greek understanding of ekklesia. In part 2 we considered the way the ekklesia was understood by the Hebrew translators of the Greek Old Testament. Finally, in part 3, I demonstrated that “assembly of citizens,” seemed to convey the New Testament meaning of ekklesia, more clearly than “church” does. It is now time to check our understanding by examining what the ekklesia is not.
The power of counter-factuals in education
Most of my professional life has been spent teaching biology. (Depending on your background most of you probably just smiled or grimaced.) Unlike physics which is primarily formula oriented, biology is for the most part vocabulary driven. Much research has demonstrated that simply being able to define a concept does not prove mastery of it. In order to show mastery one must be able to identify counter-factuals, (examples that do not include the concept) and explain why they do not represent the idea under consideration. For example to show an understanding of “vertebrate” you should be able to give an example of a chordate that is not a vertebrate and explain why.
What is the antithesis of “church?”
When it comes to thinking of a word that is the antithesis of church we find that our first thoughts are something like “un-churched,” “non-Christians,” the ‘unsaved,” the “lost,” etc. This quickly reveals that while as followers of Jesus we recognize that “church” is a group of people, our thinking does not really go far beyond that. We know that we are bound together by Jesus, but we don’t seem to recognize what the nature of that bond is.
Please stick with me here. This is not a fine point I am trying to make, it goes to the heart of the nature of ekklesia, and why “church” fails so miserably as a translation of it. Yet the truth I am trying to draw out has been so well hidden that you may have a hard time seeing it.
Consider the Lion’s Club, or even the Masons. What makes them different from a/the church? Is it simply that they have no commitment to Jesus? If all the members of a particular Lion’s Club were Christians, would it then be a church? Of course not! You see, even though we recognize what makes up the church, many of us seem to lack an understanding of the essence of its nature.
To say that a human is a collection of cells does nothing to define what a human is. To say the Church is the body of “Christ” sounds nice, and is certainly scriptural. But for most people this means nothing—especially given that they don’t even know what the word “Christ” means in the passage they are quoting. (For an explanation click here.)
The ekklesia is not a club, nor a corporation, nor a charity. Though the English word “church” often evokes and even encompasses these words. Many “churches” today are simply Jesus fan clubs whose members have no real sense of their identity.