THE CALL TO EKKLESIA LIVING
W hen God declares that His mercies are never-ending and new every morning, we who enjoy Ekklesia Living have no problem believing it. Our lives overflow with blessings and our hearts are full of peace. Why? Jesus is in our midst. He walks among us. He is our God and we are His people. And what's more, we are determined to see His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Perhaps we are impatient. We believe that you need not wait until you die before you can experience a great deal of the Kingdom of God. There's nothing that says we can't reach out in faith and grasp God's Kingdom today. We believe it can be done and we are determined to bring it down to earth and make it ours. In fact, we are enjoying many aspects of God's glorious Kingdom here and now!
In the 2nd part of the series we took an in-depth look at the different characteristics that define a disciple of Jesus and how true discipleship is the one identifying mark common to every member of the ekklesia. In part 3 we will look at the different aspects of the call that leads to Ekklesia Living. Who is called? Who does the calling? How and Why people are called, and what they are called unto. Yet first we are going to probe into the ekklesia from some different angles in order to gain more insight as to what makes this divine machine tick.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BODY OF CHRIST
To begin let us remember that the word "ekklesia" was the Greek term the New Testament writers chose to describe the communities of new believers that had sprung up as the Holy Spirit moved over the ancient world (refer back to part one for a more detailed definition and explanation concerning how and why the word “ekklesia” was used). The important aspect that many fail to realize is that these new communities, or groups of believers, were actually localized manifestations of the Body of Christ. It is wise that we keep this in mind, for the true Body of Christ has never changed throughout the centuries. In its fundamental essence it remains the same as it was in the days of the apostles. If we are serious about truly belonging to the Body of Christ then we must diligently study it in its original form and compare ourselves to it. If the Body of Christ were to change into something other than what God has established, it would be the same as saying that Jesus has changed. Impossible! Despite the onslaught of a literal army of liberal theologians, Jesus will not be re-imaged in order to please the fickle fantasies of men. What this means is that a house church in China today may closely resemble the early ekklesias of Ephesus or Philippi. Although centuries apart, the God who called both of them and who forms and shapes them into His image is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Thus it only makes sense that the Body of Christ the Bible describes in the first century should, in essence, be the pattern that God has set for following generations. Although it may vary in many non-essential details of life, the essence that constitutes the core of Ekklesia Living remains the same. Jesus is at the heart of every true ekklesia, and He owns the heart of every true Ekklesian. In other words, the Body of Christ today should bear the same description, or distinctive characteristics, as that of the one described in the New Testament. Time will never change the basic nature of Christ and the requirements that apply to those who decide to forsake all and follow Him. This brings us to the logical conclusion that if we are going to truly understand how God wants His people to live, it would greatly benefit us to study the pattern established by the first century Christians.
Some may argue that we can't expect Christians living in the 21st century to imitate patterns set by disciples of Christ who lived 2000 years ago. Times have changed, the critics point out. Yes, times have changed, yet the inherently sinful nature of man hasn't, nor has fallen man's relationship to the Living God changed. Some things will never change. Thus, the pattern God established for His people, Ekklesia Living, will be the same in every generation. Understanding that pattern is the objective of this study. More than that, it is essential if we intend to successfully fulfil God's desire for a people He can call His own.
Obviously, political, cultural and economic factors are continuously changing, yet the relationship between man and the God who created him remains the same. God is far above man, yet in His great mercy He walks and talks with us on a level we can understand. Even our best attempts to be good are doomed to failure without His help. Thank God for Jesus! Only as we experience a new birth in Christ, consecrate our lives to Him and strive to rise up and live by His high and holy standards, can we escape the vise-like grip of sin and begin to institute the divine pattern of Ekklesia Living in our lives. Taking these factors into consideration, we believe that Ekklesia Living is the pattern, or plan, that God has established for His people. Through the miracle of divine guidance and the constant encouragement of the Lord we are given the assurance that this high level of living is attainable in this life. In fact, we have been practicing it in differing degrees for over 20 years. God is good and we can prove it!
THE CALL—WHAT IS IT?
There are several important aspects about the call to Ekklesia Living that must be covered in order to gain a clear understanding of what’s happening when someone joins an ekklesia. First of all, what exactly is the call? When someone is born again they naturally become part of the Body of Christ. As a result they are automatically called to Ekklesia Living (remember, Ekklesia Living is supposed to be the normal mode of life for those who belong to the Body of Christ). Yes, being born-again redeems us from the bondage of sin and justifies us in the eyes of God, but it is meant to be much more than that. The new birth is a call to a new life. In other words, when you give your life to Jesus the way you live is supposed to change. This is where Ekklesia Living comes in: A revolutionary new way of life as a member of the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, due to the deeply ingrained machinery of religious traditions, many who experience a hunger for God and seek to satisfy it inadvertently end up settling for a dead church existence— a poor substitute indeed. True, the new Christian can survive on the starvation diet given by most churches, but spiritual growth and maturity are almost nonexistent. The ekklesia has so much more to offer. Yet so few practice Ekklesia Living that it seems like an abnormality on the religious landscape. For most it is a strange phenomenon viewed with suspicion. Often, because it is such a rare occurrence, misinformed church people in their fear and ignorance tend to label ekklesias as some kind of dangerous heretical cult, or at best a bunch of over-zealous fanatics who will eventually burn out. Yet when these skeptics are honestly challenged they cannot escape the New Testament record which plainly shows Ekklesia Living as the pattern that God has appointed for the Body of Christ on earth.
Sadly, as a result of religious traditions and misunderstanding many sincere Christians live out their lives physically and spiritually separated from the Body of Christ to a great degree. Their experience of the Body of Christ is limited to a routine called "church" lasting only a few hours a week. That kind of life is not a sin in itself, yet what a phenomenal waste of time and energy! Plus, in terms of spiritual growth and nourishment, church life results in chronic malnutrition, retardation, and eventually death. God's optimum plan is that His people dwell together in close community, enjoying a continual, unbroken circle of fellowship with Him and with each other. It is a beautiful arrangement, for the Holy Spirit acts as a hub connecting all the members. Yet after the first two centuries of Christianity had elapsed things began to change. Religious men seeking to create organizations which they could easily control decided to put prison clothes on the Body of Christ and lock it up in a state-run religious system called "church". This tragedy resulted from religious men trying to force God to put His stamp of approval on their greedy, selfish lifestyles. As the old saying goes, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. These strong-arm tactics against God and His people have persisted through the centuries and today are embodied in what we know as various brands of denominational religion. The end result? The precious treasure of the ekklesia has been buried so well, so effectively suppressed by religious propaganda, that very few find it. And that is exactly what the enemy intended.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The way the call to Ekklesia Living works is a spiritual thing. The Holy Spirit continuously searches the hearts of men and women throughout the earth looking for those who are ready and willing to pay the price of discipleship. Sadly, He finds very few. There is no predictable pattern that God follows. True disciples of Jesus are drawn from virtually any and every walk of life, for the Lord is no respecter of persons. Rich or poor, simple or clever, weak or strong: God gives everyone a chance. By a variety of especially arranged circumstances God leads the potential Ekklesian into contact with an operating ekklesia. On the surface it may seem like just another casual contact, but underneath the wheels of Divine destiny are turning. Another has heard the call. He has seen Ekklesia Living in action and realizes that God is in charge and that He has come into the midst of an obedient people. God bears witness to the seeker’s spirit, making it plain that this is the way to go. The Spirit of God beckons the hungry soul to come and feast at His community table. Those already living in the ekklesia know that these encounters are not accidents and will make it plain. Ignorance is no longer a valid excuse. The next move is up to the one having heard. At this point the Christian has reached an extremely important crossroad. The road they choose will determine the depth and quality of their relationship to God for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, most who hear the call ignore it and head down the road belonging to the kingdom of self. Usually these poor souls end up settling for a dead church existence. Many work hard for religious systems, pretending they haven't heard the call and convincing themselves they are satisfied with dead works. Others drown themselves in self-idolatry and try to forget. Nevertheless, no matter what evasive maneuvers they use, no matter how much self-deception they swallow, the call of God remains, and that call will stand against them in eternity. Yet there are a few fortunate enough to stumble upon the truth of Ekklesia Living who soon realize that they have found a hidden treasure whose worth is beyond earthly measure. The wise quickly pay the price, sell all that they have and follow the Lord’s leading before the opportunity passes.
WHO IS CALLED?
We all understand that God is no respecter of persons. In His great love and mercy He has offered salvation and spiritual regeneration to the entire world (John 3:16). Jesus calls everyone everywhere to join Him in oneness with the Father. He is an equal opportunity Savior. The only requirement being our willingness to confess and repent of our sins, open our hearts to Him, and then walk in His way. As we read above, being born-again is in essence a call to Ekklesia Living. Since God desires that all would come to Him and be saved, it then naturally follows that everyone everywhere is called to Ekklesia Living. As this amazing truth begins to sink into our brains (dulled by religious routine, hypocrisy and sin) hopefully we will begin to realize that Ekklesia Living is the answer to a great deal of mankind's problems. Everywhere you go you come in contact with the unsaved. You are meeting potential Christians—you are meeting potential Ekklesians. As we lift Jesus up in the sight of a sin-sick world, He promises that He will draw all men to himself. Taking Jesus to the world is one of the strongest driving forces of every true ekklesia. We bring Jesus to the lost, He then draws them to himself, and consequently salvation. The next step is Ekklesia Living. Just for the record, we are not saying that salvation is dependent upon whether you live in an ekklesia or not. What we are saying is that those who belong to Jesus should desire to live together, and that Ekklesia Living is by far the best way to do it.
CALLED OUT OF WHAT?
The early occurrence of ekklesias in their biblical context is not hard to understand, but regrettably the word "ekklesia" doesn't adequately describe the phenomenon which the New Testament writers were talking about. Undoubtedly, the Body of Christ does fit the description of an ekklesia, yet it is so much more. It is important to remember that when the scriptures talk about the ekklesia they are actually referring to the Body of Christ. As we discovered in part 1, the word "ekklesia", historically speaking, was the Greek word used to describe a selected group of Athenian citizens who were notified, or called out, to deal with political and social issues pertaining to the city of Athens. Presumably these citizens of local importance were called from their homes or work places throughout the city. When their business was finished they adjourned and returned to the daily routines of life. This type of political activity is still common today in the form of city councils and local assemblies.
The Christian ekklesia is a much more serious undertaking. True disciples of Christ are summoned from, or called out of, the world, or in other words the society in which they live. Instead of a political assembly that lasts for only a few hours, Christians are called to a radically new way of life which entails forming communities, or ekklesias, with Jesus as their head. The Greeks boasted of their autonomy and ability to govern themselves. The Christians understand that they have answered a much more important summons—the call of God to separate themselves from the fallen world—and have submitted to God's theocratic rule over their lives. They don't want to govern themselves, they want God to do it. Instead of dealing with the mundane problems that plague every city, like who's going to pay the dogcatcher and what color should the park benches be painted, the ekklesia deals with questions of much greater importance. How does Jesus want His people to live? What does He want us to do? These are the issues Ekklesians face.
In Ekklesia Living much time is spent seeking God for His wisdom and guidance in dealing with the tricky business of surviving in a fallen world. The sobering difference between the two ekklesias is that the Christians cannot return to the world from which they've been called without reneging on their commitment to Christ and jeopardizing their salvation. Their calling leads them into a completely new way of life. They've become subjects of a new Kingdom. They no longer belong to the governments of this world. Jesus is now their King. Unlike the Greeks, the Christian ekklesia is not an occasional meeting or brief political gathering. For the Christian, being called to Ekklesia Living is actually a personal revolution. This is the radical difference we must understand.
CALLED OUT BY WHO AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE?
We must also thoroughly understand that there is an essential difference in purpose between those called out to partake in a Greek ekklesia and those called to Ekklesia Living as a part of the Body of Christ. Naturally the purpose is determined by the one doing the calling. Among the Greeks the call was clearly from human to human. In God's ekklesia we find living proof of the wonderful truth that God calls people unto Himself. Of course we know that God’s desire would be to see all humanity come to the glorious revelation of free and full salvation through Christ. Yet God also calls people on an individual level to carry out specific tasks connected with His Kingdom and the ongoing war to liberate the souls of men. It only makes sense: the creator calling the created; the Divine calling the human created in His image. In order to make that call unmistakably clear God instituted a plan. Over two-thousand years ago God decided to come and live among his creation. What a mystery. God was born on earth and lived in a human body. The scripture tells us that, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14). Jesus was the embodiment, or manifestation, of God's call to all mankind. He was the living example of what life is meant to be like when we are one with our creator. In fact His death opened the door, long closed by sin, through which we can now come boldly into the presence of God Almighty. And, like every true Ekklesian, Jesus lived with His people. Therefore, the purpose of the ekklesia pattern that Jesus began is to manifest, through living examples, the true nature and incredible beauty of life in Christ when He is given total lordship over the lives of His people. The idea being that God can use this example of life in Christ as both a blessing for His obedient people and to attract the unsaved unto Himself. What a high and holy calling! What a noble ideal worthy of any amount of hardship, suffering or sacrifice.
On the other hand, as the Greek political climate fluctuated, eventually their ekklesias also changed and may have at times become unnecessary altogether. Yet God’s ekklesia, or the Body of Christ, will never change or become obsolete. Yes, we have a big job to do. As true disciples, it is up to us to manifest to the world the divine nature of Christ in our daily lives. Jesus wants to make us into living examples of what it's like when He dwells in and among a people. In other words, it's up to us to demonstrate how God's people are supposed to live. As we obey the commands of the Spirit, the miraculous and supernatural will surely follow. The divine wisdom manifested in Ekklesia Living is a powerful force that will grab the attention of anyone truly seeking the truth. The Ekklesian's life is filled with the purpose of God. Yet only those who truly submit to God know the peace of His direction over their lives. The security that a young child feels in the strong, protective embrace of loving parents accurately describes Ekklesia Living. There are scores of communities, groups, and organizations of every stripe and flavor, yet regardless of how well-intentioned they may be, or the lofty ideals they hold, unless they belong to Jesus they lack that Divine purpose that only the Body of Christ can claim. It is that divine purpose that makes all the difference.
1. THE CALL—WHAT IS IT? Ekklesia Living is God's pattern for life. It was established by God through the apostles and it hasn't changed, for God hasn't changed. The offer of salvation and new life in Christ is the same as the call to Ekklesia Living. Being born again is your certificate of citizenship in God's Kingdom. God's offer of protection, provision, and peace are all included in the call to Ekklesia Living.
2. HOW DOES IT WORK? The call to Ekklesia Living is a spiritual thing. The Lord finds the hungry hearts and leads them into contact with an operating ekklesia. Once contact is made, the Spirit of God impresses the call upon the heart. Then it's time to choose.
3. WHO IS CALLED? Just as Jesus died to redeem all mankind, the call to Ekklesia Living is available to everyone everywhere without respect of persons.
4. CALLED OUT OF WHAT? Those called to Ekklesia Living are called out of the societies and civilizations of this world. Unlike the Greeks of ancient times, they can't go back. They are called to a revolutionary new way of life which means permanent changes.
5. CALLED OUT BY WHO? Ultimately, God is the one calling all men to salvation, and thusly God is the one calling us to live according to His ekklesia pattern. In the Christian ekklesia God is in charge. Everything points back to the One who issued the call.
6. CALLED OUT FOR WHAT PURPOSE? God longs for a people He can call His own. Ekklesia Living satisfies that desire. The Christian ekklesia is meant to be a living example, a working model, a miraculous testimony of how life in close communion with God should be lived. In a world of ever-increasing darkness, destruction, and death, the ekklesia is meant to shine brightly, illuminating the path that leads to victorious Christian living.
Undoubtedly, the call to Ekklesia Living is a serious matter not to be taken lightly. How someone responds to the call will radically alter the course of their life. If they receive the call with an open heart, realizing that it comes from the Spirit of God, they will in essence be aligning themselves with the will of God. Good days are ahead for that fortunate soul. If the call is rejected then the most valuable opportunity of their lives has passed them by. What a tragedy! Whether it is accepted or rejected, the fact that the call was issued cannot be reversed. God's extended hand of mercy to man will stand throughout eternity as a testimony of His love. Just knowing that God desires to instruct and guide our lives into His way should greatly humble us. How can we not embrace such a merciful offering of divine love? Yet lives smothered in selfishness and immersed in idolatry find it all too easy to turn away. Little do they realize what they are missing. It may dawn on them one day, but by then it will be too late.