When I read about the ekklesia (“church” – or literally translated “assembly”) in Scripture, I get the sense that there is more fluidity and inclusiveness among the followers of Jesus than what we see today. Today, the idea of the “local church” tends to include only certain believers while excluding all others.
For example, imagine that there are four different “local churches” who own buildings that sit on the four corners of the intersections of two roads. Believers meet in those four buildings, and they each consider themselves a “local church.”
However, if several people from each of those four “local churches” met together, they would probably not consider themselves ekklesia (“church”) even if they met together regularly. (To be fair, even a subset from one of those “local churches” would not consider themselves “church” nor would they be considered “church” by the others, even if they met together regularly.)
(By the way, Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” has started a good discussion concerning “small groups” which parallels this post in some ways. See his posts “Just like small groups? Not exactly” and “Why Small Groups?“)
In Scripture, I don’t perceive the same kind of exclusivity and limited use of the term ekklesia (“church”). Instead, while term ekklesia is applied to gatherings of believers who meet together regularly, it would seem strange for one of the authors to limit the use of ekklesia only to certain groups of believers meeting in certain locations at certain times under a specified organization/leadership – which is the way that the phrase “local church” is used today.
For example, in Romans 16, Paul addresses several groups of believers. He identifies them by several terms including ekklesia. (Romans 16:5) However, if some of the people from each of those groups got together, I would think that Paul would still use the term ekklesia to describe that assembly. In fact, if Paul was part of that group, he would then include himself as part of that ekklesia.
That sounds strange to many today because of the connotation that is often placed on the term “church” and especially the phrase “local church.” But, it doesn’t seem that the Greek term ekklesia carries that same baggage.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on a couple of questions:
1. Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve written here? Why?
2. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, what would happen to the church (ekklesia) if we treated the assembly (“church”) as less exclusive, as I’ve talked about here?