I was thinking through Tyndale's translation of the Greek New Testament word, “ecclesia.” Tyndale translated this word in his translation of the Bible as, “congregation”. An, “ecclesia,” was a political assembly of citizens of ancient Greek states, especially the Athenian. It included the citizen’s periodic meeting for conducting public business and considering the council's affairs.
Noting that Tyndale only uses the word, “church,” twice in his translation and both are in reference to temples for such as Zeus (The Tyndale New Testament (1525) uses the word "church" twice, in the New Testament. Acts 14:13, 19:37. On both verses the word is representing heathen, idolatrous temples.)
Along with Martin Scott, I have been looking at alternative views of people such as Judas and Peter. I wonder if we should have an alternative idea of what Paul was seeking to do as he went from City to City, establishing, “Ecclesia.”
In our modern times, we think of that word “Ecclesia” as “Church”, whatever we mean by Church! However,, an Ecclesia was the “called out ones” organizing a city. Was Paul thinking in terms of an alternative City organization with particular regards to “The Alternative Kingdom”, which, as I see, it is here and is also coming.
To enlarge on that concept, it seems to me that when Jesus put things right that were wrong, he often implied that, “The Kingdom of God is amongst you”, or, it “has come.” So, when there is a lack of Justice, we can turn that around and bring in Justice. When that takes place the Kingdom of God has come, perhaps not in its fullest sense, but it has arrived nevertheless. Likewise, when we bring Healing, Rightness, Peace etc., It becomes the Kingdom of God right here and now in our time-space world.
So, my question is: What did Paul see as he planted Ecclesia in the different Cities? Did he also have in mind a political level of change in the City? This is extremely unlike the “church” model that we now have, which really, it seems to me, is very much made in the image of the synagogue structure with its building and meeting places. Also, we probably need to note that the forms must have changed and become more ridged and religious after 312 and the reign of Constantine the Great.
Before that, it is evident that Christians had a powerful changing effect on the Cities and their culture, practice and habits. We can see, that by the empty temples and the problems of what to do, as seen by Pliny the Younger, who wrote to Caesar for advice, with some entirely complimentary remarks about the Christians, wanting to know if they should be killed.
He writes: "…the practices of Christians are that they meet on a certain day before light, where they gather and sing hymns to Christ as to a god. Binding themselves by oath, not to commit some crimes. Rather, they pledge not to commit any crimes such as fraud, theft, or adultery. Subsequently they share a meal of, "ordinary and innocent food". The apparent abandonment of the pagan temples by Christians was a threat to the pax deorum, the harmony or accord between the divine and humans, and political subversion by new religious groups was feared. This was treated as a potential crime.
Pliny ended the letter by saying that Christianity is endangering people of every age and rank and has spread not only through the cities but also through the rural villages as well. He attempted to assure Caesar that he will put it right and that it would be possible to check it. He argues his procedure is working and tells Trajan that the temples and religious festivals, which had been deserted before, are now flourishing again. There is a rising demand for sacrificial animals once more. Is that an economic desire? Maybe he was right, or perhaps he was positively hopeful.
Recently I watched a short commentary on TV talking about the rise of Methodism in Cornwall, UK. The interviewer asked, "Why, historically was the Methodist religion so acceptable and so followed in Cornwall?" The couple being interviewed said that once Methodism had hit the area and Wesley had preached, things changed. The Employers started paying better wages, and started treating working people better, as well as with respect. The whole area became more prosperous and settled. Is that a political implication of the Ecclesia applied to a place or City.?
We have talked ad nauseam in specific areas concerning church structure. Maybe we should look again; but this time with radical questions, in the same manner in which we looked at Judas and Peter differently, what about Paul? What was he thinking and doing?
My thesis is, that even where you have 'bad' Christianity, if you place a Map of the world down, those “bad” places still seem better in treating people, increasing equality and other “good” Kingdom things than areas that lack such influence.
My own little story is this. I was in Africa at the wedding of a couple. I had just married them. A couple of guys were also at the reception. Seeing me, they came over to chat and started by asking, “Do you remember us?” I did. They went on; “You changed our lives. We came to hear you the first time you came to this country.” I laughed, to which they responded, “Don't laugh! Not only did you change us, but you also changed our village/town, and now we have changed the next village and town.” I was at a loss to understand what they were talking about.
It seems that the first time I was there, I had been to their village, and they were suffering from famine and lack of water. Ladies were walking miles to get some, usually dirty, water. My response was, “This is terrible. I don't know what to do, but let me send a couple of friends here.”
My friends went, installed water tanks, encouraged them to open businesses, expanded a “Joseph principle” to them of storing their food goods in the times of plenty. It seemed that at the time of this wedding, they were again in a shortage of rain and famine. However, they went on to tell me, “It doesn't matter. We are prospering. We have water. We have grain, and we are feeding the next village as well as our own people.”
Is that a political change? Is it an economic one? It seemed to me that the “ecclesia” were the ones who were leading the town, officially or not. And it certainly seemed to me to be some of that Kingdom had come.
20th February 2021