Are you part of a nation or a denomination? Are you a Christian or a kingdom citizen? Why ask the question? Does it even matter?
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Are you defined by the characteristics of the church you go to or the King you serve? Why ask the question? Does it even matter?
The Old Testament provides us with a rich history about how God calls out a people for himself. The Torah, commonly known as the first five books of the Bible, records a journey that starts with a promise to the Patriarchs and ends with the fruition of that promise in the form of a nation. In the middle is a story of how a family grows into twelve tribes. How the tribes become slaves and how God delivers and builds them into a nation.
Following the nation’s occupation of Canaan, the rest of the Old Testament records how this nation struggled to maintain power among other nations. It records the ups and downs of the nation as they progressively forfeit their unique position and power with God and with the nations of the earth.
Why is this important? Because it serves to provide a context for why we have the New Testament. The New Testament begins with two major events. The birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus the Christ.
The first chosen to call Israel out of the old and obsolete kingdom to prepare for the new living Kingdom. The second to establish this new living kingdom and expand it beyond Israel's geographical borders to all men. In short, the Old Kingdom was to be dissolved, and a new kingdom introduced.
After the death of John the Baptist, the message and power of the new kingdom became the central theme. This was reflected in Jesus preaching, discussions, debates and arguments with those around him. Even his disciples struggled to understand this, even going so far as to resisting his willingness to die for it.
Matthew 16: 13 records the event where Peter declares the revelation of Jesus sovereignty and divinity. In response, Jesus identifies where the revelation comes from, the price he must pay and what he intends to build which will reflect this.
Peter isn't alone in misunderstanding the revelation of Christ's authority and identity. When it comes to Christ, and the role of the 'church' this text has become a stumbling point for many saints throughout history. Some have struggled with Peter's place within the 'church' whilst others have said this points to the age of the 'church' before Christ's millennial reign.
Today I hear many differing views when it comes to the question of what is the church? Some say it's a religious body. Others, its a building. Some even say its a hospital for sinners! All in all, what these views highlight is our inability like, Peter to grasp how Jesus will establish a living kingdom amongst men.
When I am asked; What is the church? I prefer to rephrase the question to; what is Christ building, which will manifest His sovereignty and divinity? It is a question, which focuses on His agenda rather than ours.
To answer this question we must address the translation of the word 'church'. This is an Anglo-Saxon word and was used to replace the original word 'ekklesia'. Ekklesia is a Greek word which occurs over one hundred times in the New Testament. The word comes from two words: ek (‘out of’) and kale¯o (‘called’).
The two words occur separately in the following quotation: “Out of Egypt have I called My son” (Mt. 2:15).
An ekklesia is a group of people who have been ‘called out’. Usually the word is used of the believers in Christ who have been called out from the world to be a people for their God, but it is also used of Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) and of the “assembly” of Diana worshippers in Ephesus who gathered at the theatre (19:32,39,41). Ekklesia can refer to groups of citizens in specific locations: “the ekklesia which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1); “the ekklesia that is in their house” (Rom. 16:5); “the ekklesia of the Laodiceans” (Col. 4:16); “the ekklesia of the Thessalonians” (1 Thess. 1:1).
Ekklesia can also refer to the citizens of God's kingdom as a whole: “upon this rock I will build my ekklesia” (Mt. 16:18); “I persecuted the ekklesia of God” (1 Cor. 15:9); “concerning Christ and the ekklesia” (Eph. 5:32). The ekklesia was the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens during its Golden Age (480–404 BCE). It was the popular assembly, opened to all male citizens over the age of 30 by Solon in 594 BC meaning that all classes of citizens in Athens were able to participate, even the thetes. The ekklesia opened the doors for all citizens, regardless of class, to nominate and vote for magistrates, have the final decision on legislation, war and peace, and have the right to call magistrates to account after their year of office.
The ekklesia was a people called out to take responsibility for ensuring the culture and civil life of the people were maintained by perpetuating its philosophy throughout all areas of life. The assembly was responsible for declaring war, military strategy, and electing strategoi and other officials.
In stark contrast to the Greek ekklesia built on democracy, the ekklesia that Christ is building is founded upon a theocracy and was established to expand the kings dominion beyond the borders of Israel.
A prophecy in Isaiah 9:7 provides further evidence of Christ's intentions to do this; 'Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.'
How should this understanding impact our current thinking?
It is commonly understood by believers that most people who accept Christ are saved and as a result must devote themselves to Christ and the church. For many believers the expression of their devotion is through the main community congregating regularly.
Their life looks like this:
- (saved into the) Church
- (with an abstract understanding of) Kingdom.
The expression of salvation through their lives is connected to the central place of worship, religious duties, the location and the community’s activities within that allotted space and time. The Ekklesia does not look like this and nor is it structured in the same way.
In the Ekklesia the believer takes this route:
- Born Again
- (into the) Kingdom
- Ekklesia (Discipled into maturity with a full understanding of citizenship)
How will I know if the church I am in is cultivating this understanding?
Many churches today are beginning to wake up to the idea of the kingdom and the ekklesia. These terms are being used more and more within mainstream advertising to present the idea of progress and success.
Unfortunately, rather than allowing these understandings to change the church’s thinking and provide the courage to restructure the church into a living, breathing ekklesia, many are simply adding the understanding to what they are familiar with without changing.
As a citizen, the following questions will help you to identify whether a church is really migrating into an ekklesia.
- What is the church's understanding of the ekklesia and citizenship?
- What does your local community do most often when it meets?
- What education does the church provide on kingdom citizenship?
- What criteria does the church use to measure success?
- What is the vision for impacting the broader community?
For King and for country...