THE EKKLESIA'S MANY FACES
N o matter how you look at it, the ekklesia is a beautiful thing. All the power, wisdom, beauty and love found in Jesus can be found in varying degrees in the ekklesia, for the ekklesia is another name for local segments of the Body of Christ on earth. Every body has a face, and when you think about someone you can generally picture them in your mind. It's the face that comes up. When you're looking for someone in a crowd, it's the face you look for.
True, the Body of Christ has only one head, yet it has many faces. The more years you spend dedicated to Ekklesia Living, the clearer the different aspects of the ekklesia become. At first you enjoy the tremendous love of the ekklesia as your new family—a love the world doesn’t have. As you make progress and cooperate with the Lord you soon realize that you've joined an army. You see yourself as a soldier, part of a war machine, fighting for your own soul and the souls of others. As time goes by and the many details of your life work themselves out you are astonished at the wisdom of the Lord embodied in Ekklesia Living and how closely the ekklesia resembles a human body, the most magnificent, crowning glory of all creation. In the remaining segments of our series we will look more closely at these different faces, or aspects, by which an ekklesia can be recognized.
Hopefully, as the years pass your love for God will grow deeper and stronger. The life of Jesus flows through you as you submit your life to the ekklesia pattern. There is no substitute for Jesus, and nothing can compare with the joy, peace, strength and love we experience as we allow Him to control our lives and shape us into the image He desires. Ekklesia Living is the ultimate pattern for life and it can be ours if we will die to ourselves, pick up our cross and follow the footsteps of the One who went before us. With Jesus in the lead we have nothing to fear. Let us press onward and upward into true discipleship—the fruit of Ekklesia Living.
MORE ON DISCIPLESHIP - THE MARK OF BELONGING
Discipleship in Jesus is the great plumb line that divides all humanity into two camps. Every person on earth is either a disciple of Jesus (a small minority) or is not (the vast majority). Don't be confused at this point, for there are multitudes of people caught up in religious systems who have had an experience with Jesus, who fully understand who He was and what He did, yet they are not His disciples. He may be on their lips but He doesn't reign in their hearts. They don’t love Him enough to allow their lives to be brought into subjection to His rule. Jesus plainly lists the qualifications or requirements of true discipleship in Matt. 16:24. Listen closely to the words of Jesus: "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Concerning the study at hand, the crucial point that must be emphasized is that you cannot be a genuine member of the ekklesia, or Body of Christ, unless you submit your life to His control and become a true disciple.
Undoubtedly, people can attach themselves to the ekklesia who are only pretending to be disciples. Many only let discipleship have a limited work in their lives; just enough so it doesn’t hurt too much and everybody stays happy. Eventually they will be flung off, for they are not grafted into the Vine. If you are not a true disciple the tremendous forces which the enemy brings to bear against the ekklesia will knock you off and out. Only those who have a deep-seated loving relationship with Jesus will be able to endure the many trials and tribulations that accompany a life of soldiering for the Lord. It is these who will reap the many benefits Ekklesia Living offers; whose lives will be well-pleasing to the Lord and who will emerge purified in the end.
True discipleship is the common bond, the cohesive force, that unifies and binds together the members of the Christian ekklesia. No matter what part of the world you hail from, if you are a disciple of Jesus you share common ground with every other disciple of Jesus regardless of race, color, nationality, culture or language. In fact, you are related by blood—the blood of Jesus. It can be said of all true disciples that they live by the same set of rules, the same code of conduct. They have the same values and priorities. They worship the same God. Jesus is their common denominator. And because they have given their lives to Him, they all share in the promises of His supernatural presence, power, direction, and protection. What valuable assets to build your life upon!
EkkLESIA -THE BODY OF CHRIST IN LITTLE PARTS
Remember, ekklesias, in the New Testament sense, are individual units that make up the Body of Christ internationally. When you consider the fact that the Kingdom of God spans the entire globe, no matter what continent or country you are in it is likely that you can find little parts of the Body of Christ, or ekklesias, that is if you know what you're looking for and the Spirit of God is leading you. Jesus’ command to "go ye into all the world" is still binding. Souls are perishing without the knowledge of Christ. It is our duty, our sacred obligation, to take Jesus to all the world, lifting Him up that He may draw all men unto Himself. Wherever the ambassadors of Christ's Kingdom land and gain a foothold, they soon set about establishing communities of believers. Unfortunately, since the truth of Ekklesia Living has been buried so long and so well-covered-up, most of these communities, or groups of converts, settle into church routines of varying strengths and stripes. It is our hope that as God's Spirit continues to call and raise up leaders around the world that a greater number will take up the banner of Ekklesia Living and become real-life examples, demonstrating to the world how beautiful and fulfilling life can be when God is given the preeminence in all things.
Though they may seem small and insignificant, every true ekklesia has within it all the information necessary, the genetic code so to speak, with which God can build another healthy segment of the Body of Christ. Just as every cell in the human body contains the genetic information needed to construct the entire body, from the nose to the toes, so each ekklesia contains the lifeforce, or living substance, of the Body of Christ. How? The Holy Spirit of the Living God delights to make His abode and dwell in the midst of an obedient people. When the Spirit of God lives in your midst you have all you need. Every true ekklesia will be first of all created, then animated, regulated, motivated, governed and directed by the Spirit of the Living God. That Spirit, being omniscient and omnipresent, will lead and guide the ekklesia into all truth, a great deal of which has to do with how we, as God's people, should live on a daily basis.
LIVING ORGANISM OR DEAD SHELL
Yes, the ekklesia is alive! It is a living organism made up of individual people connected in and by the Spirit to each other and to Jesus, their head. The Holy Spirit weaves together the lives of those whose hearts are drawn to Ekklesia Living, creating a living fabric that shines with the delicate beauty of sacrificial love, yet whose strength and durability bravely withstand the enemy's most vicious attacks. How? The ekklesia lives, moves, and has its being in the Spirit of The Living God. Seeking God and seeking to please God top the ekklesia's priority list. God recognizes this and acts on our behalf. Yes, God still speaks to a people who will purpose themselves to sit at His feet and listen. And more than that, He abundantly blesses those who will quickly move to obey any commands or directions they receive.
Contrast this with the typically dead, religious existence called church. Churches are like dead shells. They may have an outward appearance of something claiming to belong to God, but inside is spiritual death; religious stiffs who show up once a week for their dose of self-assurance and cheap entertainment that makes them feel pleased with themselves. They love the warm and fuzzy feelings sipping Babylon wine brings. Yet The depth of true Spirit life is greatly limited. Why? Because from the pastor to the people in the pews, virtually all refuse to let God have total control of their lives. False doctrine, humanism, idolatry: these elements effectively alienate and separate them from God. Yet they have their man-made rituals and routines in which they trust. Churches are tragic mockeries of what God desires; seemingly close to God in word, yet so far from Him in true spirit-filled living.
As we begin to look at the different faces of ekklesia, we will see so much life, true Spirit life, that all we can do is praise God for His infinite wisdom and His tender mercies. Initially, our carnal understanding and our pampered flesh may balk at the self-denial and sacrifice that Ekklesia Living demands, yet eventually our spirit will rejoice as we continue to surrender our lives in greater measure, begging God to make His abode with us—and He does!
THE EkkLESIA AS A BODY
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." 1 Cor 12:12-13
"And he is the head of the body, the church [ekklesia]: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." Col 1:18
The first aspect of the ekklesia we will look at is that of a body. The ekklesia bears a remarkable resemblance to the human body in many ways; so much so that the apostle Paul alludes to this amazing analogy in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. In fact, Paul's comparison of the ekklesia to the human body is one of the strongest arguments in favor of Ekklesia Living found in scripture.
Starting at the top: every body has only one head. In the same way every true ekklesia will have only one head—Jesus! Does this mean that there is no one in charge of the ekklesia in the human sense? Absolutely not! The chain of command, including leadership and submission, is a very real part of the ekklesia (more on this when we look at the ekklesia as an army). Due to the fact that everyone is not at the same level in their spiritual growth and cannot always hear from the Lord clearly, Jesus, in His mercy, appoints and anoints leaders whom He can trust to faithfully carry out His commands and sincerely care for His people. Yet if you ask these leaders who is ultimately in charge they will quickly tell you Jesus is their head and He is given the final say so in everything. They make no secret of the fact that they rely upon Him for guidance and wisdom in everything. That’s why they’ve been appointed leaders. Truthfully, without Jesus they couldn't do their job. In fact, without Jesus they wouldn’t even have a job.
In both the human body and the ekklesia the head plays an extremely important part. It's one part that can't be amputated or replaced with a transplant. The messages that control the actions and reactions of the body come from the head. The messages of pain that alert the body to danger as well as the sensations that cause it to enjoy pleasure are received by the head. They are then transmitted throughout the body. In the same way, the messages that control the Body of Christ are supposed to flow from the head, which is Jesus, out to the rest of the body. Yet how can the messages be transmitted if the parts live separated from each other? "But doesn't every Christian have access to Jesus?" counters the church crowd. Yes, they may have access, but they may not know how or be spiritually mature enough to use it. Consider the young, the weak, the new converts. Many may not be aware of the privileges they have in Christ. Many are bound by fear. Many of them have not grown enough or are not experienced enough to hear from the Lord. How about the many who come to Christ crippled by deep sin and full of demonic forces? Two hours a week at church won't even begin to do the clean-up operation needed to ensure their survival. Thankfully Jesus has a beautiful way of dealing with these problems. In the ekklesia He is able to communicate with His people through His appointed leaders. Those who need help receiving direction and cleansing from the Lord (don’t we all?) live with the very ones who can help them. This is the beauty of Ekklesia Living. The survival rate of new Christians is much higher in the ekklesia than in a typical church. This should be enough to convince anyone who cares about souls that Christians should live together under God’s command.
Undoubtedly, there are times when even the best human leaders make mistakes. Even though they may be appointed by God and sincerely trying their best, no one is immune. Repentance and humility as taught in scripture and practiced by true disciples will always take care of these problems. We must never give up the fight because we make mistakes. Souls are perishing and we are commissioned to reach them. The truly beautiful thing is how God in His mercy can use every mistake as an opportunity to teach us new lessons and increase us in His wisdom. As the scriptures tell us, God can make all things work together for the good of those that love Him.ALL THE PARTS NEED EACH OTHER
"Under his (Christ's) direction the whole body is fitted together perfectly, and each part in its own special way helps the other parts, so that the whole body is healthy and growing..." Eph. 4:16 LB
As you study the human body, you realize that it is an amazing composite made up of many individual parts. The question posed by those who hold the theory of evolution as to whether the body was intelligently designed or randomly evolved becomes absurd when you behold the incredible complexity of the different body parts and how they interact with and compliment each other. Each part is important and plays a unique role in the overall functioning of the body. And more than that, virtually all the parts are interdependent, needing each other in so many special ways. The body is the interface where the many parts and systems connect. This was no accident. The parts without the body are useless. The body without the parts is no body. If even one part is removed the body becomes crippled and unable to function to its full capacity. If the parts are separated from the body they won’t work at all. Just cut off your hand and see how well it works. The fact that so many parts compliment each other and work together so smoothly, supplying each others needs, is ample evidence of intelligent design. It also presents a strong argument in favor of the idea that the parts of the Body of Christ must be closely connected, or in other words, Ekklesia Living.
The ekklesia most definitely resembles the human body in the sense that the Body of Christ is also an amazingly complex, living organism made up of many individual parts. In the ekklesia those parts are people, and every person God joins to the ekklesia will have a role to play. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that each part is important. He points out that even the seemingly ugly, common, or hidden parts are very much needed for the body to function properly (I Cor. 12:22-24). God's people need each other, and more than that, they need to live with each other in order for each member to play its part in the body, benefitting from the other parts and sharing what they have to offer as well. Just as in the physical body, God has designed His spiritual body on earth in such a way that each part supplies a needed skill, talent, or resource. How can the body benefit from what the parts have to offer if they live separated and isolated from each other? It can't work. It doesn't work. Yes, people can function and survive as Christians with very little contact from other Christians, yet this is only accomplished by the mercy of God. When a Christian is cut off or separated from the body, in most cases they will languish and die. God's optimum plan is that the parts live in close proximity to each other, just as they do in the human body. The ekklesia becomes the interface where all the parts connect. As a Christian you need to be connected to a body with Jesus Christ as the head. There are many areas of your life that God wants to cleanse, strengthen, refine, and perfect, and because we are human, He moves by His Spirit through other human members of His body to do it. A Christian that lives separated from the Body of Christ except for a couple hours a week in church is at best spiritually retarded and at worst like part of a human body cut off—a dead thing.
THE BODY'S MANY SYSTEMS
"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." 1 Cor 12:28
Besides being a collection of parts, those parts continually interact to support, regulate, and protect each other. When a number of parts work together to meet a specific need we call that a system. The human body has many important systems which must continually function smoothly if the body is to survive. Consider the nervous system, the circulatory and respiratory systems. The immune system and digestive tract are wonders to behold. More amazing still is how the different systems interact with each other. This interaction is so complex that humans will probably never fully understand it all. When functioning properly, the human body is easily one of the strongest, most rugged and durable machines on earth. At the same time it can be so delicate and sensitive that fragile operations of extreme complexity are performed with ease. Its versatility and adaptability are truly amazing. The same things are true about that divinely inspired organism called the Body of Christ. Surely this is the handiwork of an intelligent creator—the Living God!
Being a body, the ekklesia also has many similar systems working within it that are found in the human body. Space won't allow us to develop the analogy in detail, yet we can look at a couple of the major systems that have counterparts in the ekklesia. Consider the nervous system. In the human body we find a system so complete, so complex, so well-designed, that the most brilliant electrical engineers are awed. In the ekklesia Jesus is the head, or the brain, of the body. Beneath Him is a network of mature men and women whom He has hand-picked by His Spirit and placed in position according to His wisdom. This arrangement is like the spinal cord: a major communication pathway that reaches throughout the entire body. All other members are connected to this network which is in turn connected to the head. Of course we know that at the same time each member is personally connected to Jesus, yet when it comes to the ekklesia, God uses His leaders to keep things working smoothly and in order. Again, it's the young, the weak, the new converts that especially benefit from this highly efficient communication system. It's not so much in the praise and worship aspects of our spirit life where this system is needed. That's the easy part. But when it comes to other important issues like correction, instruction, discipline and direction, that's when the beauty and wisdom of the downward flow of information through mature leaders becomes apparent.
BEING CONNECTED IS THE KEY
Naturally it is the head's responsibility to communicate with the rest of the body in order to direct and control it. But if the parts are not regularly connected, as in your typical church system, then the messages cannot reach their destinations and the head loses control. The inevitable result is that confusion enters, sin is not kept in check and the body inevitably becomes contaminated. All this can be traced back to lack of communication and control between the head and the members. No doubt you don't have to live in an ekklesia to hear from the Lord and have Jesus direct your life. Yet consider how much more difficult it can be to maintain vital, unbroken fellowship and communication with Jesus when someone is on their own without support. When you are joined to an ekklesia it is no longer just you against the world. You've become part of a body that is connected and controlled by the head, Jesus Christ. You've got help and support from a group of others who are of the same mind and spirit. Plus, you’re plugged into the different systems of the body and life in the Spirit becomes a whole new thing.
In the ekklesia the Spirit of God is able to communicate with the members through the leadership on a regular basis because the members are all living together. When all the members live in different parts of town, as in a church system, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the leadership to communicate with them. Some say, "Our church meets together twice a week. Isn't that good enough?" NO! When you consider how complex life can become and the seemingly endless decisions we must make, the honest Christian will admit they need help. We need the Spirit's guidance on a daily basis. The incredible strength and durability of the ekklesia is greatly due to the fact that the members enjoy virtually unbroken communication with each other and with their head, Jesus Christ. Daily guidance is there because Jesus is in control.
As parts of the Body of Christ, we have obligations to the other members. We are exhorted to pray for one another, bear each other's burdens, confess our faults one to another, teach our children, as well as new believers, and to rejoice with one another in the Lord. How can all this wonderful interaction take place if the parts are living separated from each other? Yes, these obligations mentioned do happen in church systems, but only at a sickly fraction of what God's people really need. What a shame. The Bible tells us that the world will know we are Christians by our love; our love towards them, yes, but especially our love towards each other. This is one characteristic which the Romans who lived with the early Christians particularly noticed: how they lived, loved, and cared for one another in the face of persecution and hardship. How did they do it? Their lives were drawn together and connected to each other under the headship of Christ. The result was the divinely designed social fabric called Ekklesia Living. As the world beheld this beautiful new creation it dawned on them that these Christians had something they didn't have. No matter what you did to them, how cruelly you treated them, they could love and forgive. They didn't fight back with the carnal weapons of the world. Their lives weren't ruled by fear and superstition. The ancient world took notice and many joined their side. The reason modern Christians are so weak? The reason so many ministries are plagued with sin? They are not controlled by the head. Carnal reasoning runs the show. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. Ekklesia Living is the only way these problems can truly be dealt with. We will finish looking at the ekklesia as a body in part 5.