How did we get it wrong? How do we get it right?
Eκκλησία - Ecclesia
Preparing lectures on the subject of Politics and doing a certain amount of research and study on the subject set me questioning and thinking … hopefully pushing further than I have considered before.
The course I have designed with lectures and presentations on politics is all from a Judeo-Christian ethical perspective.
The more I look at the New Testament part of the Bible and note both the words of Jesus and the practice of Paul as he goes from City to City, ending up in Rome, I have to ask something significant. Noting the original Greek language used, I cannot help but wonder if we have got it wrong in the definition and meaning of the word "church".
The language used was highly political in its delivery in the historical times of the New Testament. I cannot believe that Paul, the clever guy that he was, did not understand the political language that he was using and the political effect that it would have.
So, "King of Kings?" Jesus? As far as people in the Roman world were concerned, of course, Caesar was "King of Kings," and woe betide you if you publicly disagreed. Then, Jesus was apostolically proclaimed as the "Prince of Peace." Indeed, Paul would have known that Caesar was self-proclaimed as "the Prince of Peace" and that he was living in the days of "Pax Romana" (the Peace of Rome). Pax Romana, of course, was brought about by conquest, violence, tyranny and force of arms.
Other political titles and attributes ascribed to Jesus the Christ were officially and infamously attributed to Caesar. Cesar was proclaimed "Lord of Lords". Caesar was the "Saviour". Caesar was also, of course, declared to be a "god," and nowhere was it permissible for this Jesus of Nazareth to say that he is the "I am", i.e. God. Even the resurrection was a political statement. Death is supposed to be the ultimate victor. Jesus was being proclaimed as the conqueror of death.
"Jesus? The Saviour of the world? No! That is Caesar!" Caesar was held as the Saviour.
By Roman Law, all this meant that what Paul taught was blasphemy against Caesar and by roman law was illegal, punishable by death. Paul was teaching that Christ was higher than the emperor. This was interfering with and contradicting much of Roman political norms.
Jesus, of course, constantly refers to the Kingdom of God; This certainly was not to be perceived as the Kingdom of Rome or confused with the rulers of the world. Take note; however, the introduction of another Kingdom would definitely be seen as sedition.
On top of all this, interestingly, what Paul was planting in the various cities that he visited on his journeys and continued to write letters to, were not "church's", but εκκλησία, i.e., Ecclesia. The thing to note is that every City would already have had an acknowledged "Ecclesia." The Ecclesia was the governing body of the City, the called-out ones, the ones to organise the City. The ultimate town authority was commonly referred to as "the Ecclesia".
It is also interesting to note that William Tyndale (1494 – 1536), the first translator of the Bible into common everyday English, never uses the word "church" in his translation, apart from the reference to the temple of the god Zeus in Acts chapter 14 and verse 13. At all other times, he translates the Greek εκκλησία (Ecclesia) as "congregation", much to the annoyance of King James 70 years later. Hence, the 1611 KJV of the Bible emphasises (i) "Bishops". (ii) "Church," as it is now commonly perceived, and of course, (iii) the "Divine Right of Kings." All big problems to Tyndale.
I cannot believe that the intelligent Paul did not understand the political ramifications of his language, using words like Kingdom, Saviour, Lord, Peace, God, and εκκλησία -Ecclesia. So, what was he doing?
It seems to me that what "church" has created is, in many places, a "bless me club", an exclusive, "Meet me in the building," holy huddle; A total opposite to the instruction of Jesus, which is, "Go into the world at large. I am leaving you in the world". Was Paul planting city-changing leadership, i.e., εκκλησία?
So it often seems that these "church clubs" are simply competing with each other for the most fans, much like a football club?
For a lot of my lifetime, especially in my younger years, people have asked me, "What is it you want to do?" My answer hasn't changed much, even up to today: "I want to change the world." I still do!
So, how could that εκκλησία – ecclesia work in a real-world situation? Or better still, how should it have worked?
I know that people like the ex-vice present of the USA. Mike Pence subscribed to "The seven mountains theory" and perhaps wanted to see the approach put into practice. The Basic thesis is that the church (i.e., Christians) should take Dominion over the seven mountains of society/culture, establishing a Theocracy. "The way to achieve Dominion is … to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: 1. Religion, 2. Family, 3. Education, 4. Government,5. Media, 6. Arts & Entertainment, and 7. Business. In this way, they could use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God could permeate all areas of society. (*2)
My big problem with the above is a complete understanding (or misunderstanding) of Dominion, which is the idea that Christians rule, dictate and use power to make the culture comply. That seems to me to be counter to the revelation of a servant King, a God who washes people's feet.
I have long believed that we should be persuading, as per The Bible, 2 Corinthians chapter five and verse 11. We (i.e., followers of Jesus) are in the influencing and persuading work. Not the ruling, dominating and strong-arm power people. To do that, we need to affect the cultural leaders, the cultural moulders, politics, Business, Education, and Arts Entertainment areas. (*3)
Yet, it is true that if we want to change the world, we must be responsive and, as Jesus said, be "in the world". "In the world" as salt, protecting that which is good is what salt does. "In the world" also as Light. Shining a way to new values, the new Kingdom principles, a better way of living – now; This is not something that happens when you die. We need to be 'in' the world, which means 'in' all of those levers of culture that make the world what it is.
Of course, we need to acknowledge that the early first-century εκκλησία (Ecclesia as referring to followers of Jesus, not members of the Roman Town council) did change the world. We can see this as Pliny the younger (61 AD to 113 Ad) writes to Emperor Trajan, worried that the Temples to the Roman gods were emptying. This phenomenon was caused, he says, because of the Christians. He then outlines to Trajan the values of these εκκλησία (i.e., the groups of followers of Jesus.).
Here is what Pliny wrote to Trajan: "They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not to falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and assemble again to partake of food and ordinary and innocent food.
Do we need to become the εκκλησία again; Salting and Lighting our culture and changing the world with the new Kingdom values?
We also need to remember that we live in Babylon. The Kingdom of God can be brought down to our time-space world, but we do not live in that Kingdom geographically. That is why we need to know when to compromise with Babylon, and as best we can pray blessings on it. Babylon is where we have to live for now.
*1. Martins Scott's studies in Theology
*2 David Woodfield Dissertation Thesis April 2017
*3 Dr Donald Howard Educator