I have often heard believers say, “The church just needs to be the church!” But actually, that is exactly what we are typically being. We are fulfilling the full substance of what we are declaring. Our words matter. Sometimes we say, “I belong to such-and-such church.” No! You belong to Christ and you attend a church, but you are the ekklesia.
Perhaps we should start speaking what we really mean to say: The church needs to be the ekklesia. It may initially seem to be a trivial discrepancy, but the differences are staggering.
The word in English bibles for church is ekklesia (or ecclesia in the Septuigant). I believe there is a reason it was not transliterated, as many other Greek words were. A transliterated word is a word that was created to sound similar to the original because there was no true English word that would convey the same meaning. Words such as apostle, Christ, angel, amen, hallelujah, baptism, passover, and scapegoat were all transliterated words. But when it came to ekklesia, King James demanded that it be replaced with church instead of transliterated. Again, the implications of this replacement are profound, and I believe intentional as well.
Church Versus Ekklesia
We could fill a book unpacking and expounding on those differences and bringing clarity to the entire issue. But for now, let me summarize it and state it simply.
Church speaks of a place where people gather and it influences their identity. Ekklesia speaks of a people who gather in a place to influence it out of their identity.
Do you see the difference? In every sense, down to their roots and developed meanings, they are exactly the opposite. When you meet someone and ask, “where do you go to church,” that person’s answer immediately shapes your perception of who they are. You begin to identify them, to some degree, by which church they do or do not attend.
God commissioned us to influence every place we set our feet from out of who we truly are. We have been commissioned to go into all the world, make disciples of all nations, make it on earth as it is in heaven, to live from the Kingdom above and shape the world below.
There’s More… But First
There is so much more to understand about becoming who we actually are as the ekklesia, the body and bride of Christ, a called-out assembly of heaven commissioned to rule and reign like Christ. But how do we bridge the gap between the reality of church today, generally speaking, the ekklesia in the book of Acts in the past, and the ekklesia that Jesus returns to in the future? How do we get from where we are to where we should be? What does it mean for your particular church? And what can you do to come into alignment with the heavenly plan? I will get into all of that in the future, but in order to get there we first need to lay the groundwork.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together (episynagoge), as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
The original word translated here as meet together (assembly in other translations), is the word episynagoge (epi-soon-a-go-gay). It speaks of the assembly of the Jews on the Sabbath. This is the habit of some to which Paul is referring.
The synagogue is a community center and a place where you receive the same basic Torah teaching year after year. It’s a place where you pray and worship together; a place of tradition, family, counsel, and care. The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who had been living under the old covenant. And, I’m going to make up my own word here… Paul is saying, “Don’t forsake synagoging, since that’s your habit.”
If any linguists are reading this, they are probably cringing at how I’m misusing word tense, etc., but it’s for a reason. I’m making a point that the Lord has made clear to me. I’m shaking your perspective.
Functioning As Synagogues
There are churches acting as ekklesia. But, the fact is, functionally, many churches are synagogues. They are local community centers where you get married and buried, places where you get the same basic teaching branded by a particular denomination or stream, and it’s a place of family traditions. So we need to understand two things in this regard.
First, synagoging is good, but it does not define you. And second, if a local church is functioning as a synagogue, that’s fine. But we need to understand that it’s not primarily what Jesus is building. Jesus is building people, together, into His fulness, for a purpose.
One church has a strong focus and anointing for feeding and ministering to the poor, another to the widow and fatherless. One church is powerful at helping people walk out of addictions and life-controlling issues, while another is strong in teaching the Word of God. It is that way because of the particular anointings and callings of the leaders in that church. And that is great!
In my opinion, it is by design. I do not think that any one of our churches are meant to be everything to everyone all alone. As people we need one another; as local churches we need one another also. Every part only functions properly when connected through those joints who are called to connect and supply (Eph 4).
We will only be whole when we learn to complement one another, understanding that we are different members of the same ekklesia. In fact, I believe that our churches will only be truly healthy when we realize that we are only a part, but a crucial part, of a larger, multifaceted, many-colored Kingdom ekklesia.
But What Is Jesus Building?
The staggering piece of this entire puzzle is that Jesus never said, “I will build my own synagogue.” He didn’t start His own synagogue or tell His apostles to do so. In fact, never once did He command anyone to to transform local synagogues either. Rather, Jesus said, “I will build my ekklesia.”
He didn’t start a new modern version of a synagogue. He didn’t create a new denomination or movement. He initiated something altogether different. He restored mankind’s ability to fulfill our original purpose. He released God’s ruling counsel to go into all the earth and make disciples of all nations. He empowered people who are born again out of heaven and called out to transform all of creation for His glory.
That’s good news! Some of you should be released of the burden you’ve been carrying to change things in your church. You don’t need to change your pastor or senior leader either. But you do need to step up and be who you are in Christ and find your place in the ekklesia.
And leaders, Jesus is still building His ekklesia. If you focus on building the ekklesia also, you’ll find Jesus working with you and confirming your work and message by accompanying signs (Mark 16: 20). This is a kingdom perspective—kingdom thinking. Jesus is building His ruling counsel in houses, in local churches, in each city, in every region, and in all nations.
The ekklesia has a purpose, a structure, goals, and a plan. But before we can embrace all of that, we will have to embrace this foundational shift in our thinking.
Jeremy Caris is the founder and president of Caris Ministries. Since he is called as a prophet and gifted as a teacher, much of his focus involves equipping believers to hear, know, and follow God in their own daily experience. He teaches the foundational truth of the Word with simple clarity, while revealing deep things of the spirit in practical ways. He has the unique ability to demystify the supernatural side of real relationship with a living God and make it an embraceable and accessible reality for all believers. Jeremy has been married to his best friend, Mandy Caris, for twenty years, and is the proud father of two boys.