In response to my post called “The Other ‘Church’ of Ephesus“, Dave Black posted on the meaning of ÎµÎºÎºÎ»Î·Ïƒá½·Î± (ekklÄ“sia) on 7/4/07 at 8:10 am. After agreeing that it is a fallacy to “define” ÎµÎºÎºÎ»Î·Ïƒá½·Î± (ekklÄ“sia) by it etymology as “the called out ones”, he discusses several possible glosses. I love his choice of “community” and appreciate what he says about the church as community:
How, then, should ekklesia be translated into English? Of the many glosses that have been offered (“congregation,” “assembly,” “church”) by far my favorite is “community,” for that is exactly what the term refers to. A German equivalent might be Gemeinde, a word that can be used in a purely secular way (like the Greek ekklesia) or in a religious sense. Thus, while driving in Germany I might see a sign welcoming me to the “Gemeinde LÃ¶rrach” (the town of LÃ¶rrach), and when I enter the town I might well visit the “Baptistengemeinde LÃ¶rrach” — the Baptist church of LÃ¶rrach. Thus, the church that I attend here in southern Virginia might well be called Averett Baptist Community, for that is exactly what it is!
One other thought: you can go to church but not belong to a Christian community. In a community there is a deep sense of belonging, of permanency, of mutual care and compassion, of helping each other out, of carrying your own load, of cooperating for the sake of the larger community, of disappointment when a member fails, of joy when a member succeeds, of pain when a member suffers. The worldwide church is just such a community. When a brother in Ethiopia is killed or when believers in Turkey are martyred or when Christians in India are beaten, do I suffer with them? I can and must. Likewise, when my neighbor’s crop fails or when my elderly neighbor down the road needs her rain gutters cleaned out or when the local nursing home beckons for a visit it is not someone else’s responsibility to meet these needs, it is mine, because this is my community. This is Christianity at its simplest, yet we so easily lose out because we are so busy going to church rather than living as church in community. I have a responsibility to care for my neighbors (most of whom are believers and many of whom attend Averett), for I am one with them. And even if they are not Christians, I still have an obligation, taking “community” in its broader sense.
If we continue to equate the church with an organization with a hierarchy and structure, then the organization and its leaders become the responsible party, and we must explain away many of the scriptural descriptions and prescriptions for the church. If we begin to understand church as community, with each believer as a vital, contributing part of that community, we will also begin to understand what Scripture says about the church and about our relationships and responsibilities toward one another.