by Austin Maxheimer
The name given to the conversation we’ve been fostering is “Refresh the Church.” But what I am finding in my context is that while refreshing the church is well and good, there is a vital need to introduce the church in the first place. There is a decidedly low ecclesiology in our culture both among Christians and Skeptics alike. The infamous “they” are calling our nation post-Christian, but at the very least, we are definitely post-Church.
After a season of ranting and raving about people’s poor ecclesiology and how it is ruining the local church, and then a calmer reflection on why our ecclesiology is so poor, I realized that I have to stop using the word ecclesiology.
Here is what I mean by that—most people I interact with simply do not know the why and what of the local church. We spent generations assuming people understood church, would know what to do if we actually got them to come to our church, and how to behave as a church member once they joined. These assumptions are huge misses in our current cultural reality.
So I feel challenged to return to square one and communicate—over and over again—the absolute basics of who and what the church is. Assume nothing. That journey took me back to the beautiful word ekklesia. If you are reading this, you’re probably a church or ministry leader, a Bible college grad and/or hold a Seminary degree. Nothing in this content will be new to you. However, it is still for you. The people you lead, and the people they lead, and the people they interact with, need to be introduced to and experience who and what the church is in the simplest of ways that communicate the beauty, hope, and wonder of the Bride of Christ.
Mental Exercise: When you hear the word “CHURCH” what mental image comes to mind?
I have a sneaking suspicion this is what is in your mind’s eye:
A white steepled church, with some religious symbols in view, and maybe a person doing some religious rituals. We automatically think of a place—we are going TO church. This is nothing more than cultural baggage. Let’s see if we can unload that baggage.
When the original Christians would have received their Epistles from the Apostle Paul, they would have heard the word ekklesia—which literally means “The Called Out Ones.” In the ancient world there were governing authorities that you pledged allegiance and paid taxes to; however, travel was much more difficult and took a lot more time. For most day-to-day important decisions, the town/village/city would call an ekklesia, or an assembly, who would be called out of their normal routine in order to shape the formative behavior and actions of the community.
So when the original recipients of the New Testament would have heard “ekklesia,” this may be a better image of what was called to their minds:
The question before us is why the earliest Christ-followers adopted and appropriated this word. Here is the briefest of introductions to the Church, the ekklesia, the Called Out Ones:
Those Called Out OF the World
Jesus famously said you are to be in the world but not of it. To understand this fully from a biblical worldview, we have to affirm God’s own words that His creation is very good. The world and everything in it is not evil. God loves His created possession. So why do we need to be called out of it? Because the result of our rebellion fills up the world our loving Father wants to rescue us from. We are called out of darkness into light, from sin to holiness, flesh to spirit, death to life. This is the Good News! We have been saved from the destruction that awaits the consequences of our lives. We are still in the world, so we can and will struggle. Yet we are not of it, which means our lives should be marked by joy, peace, contentment, and love above all else.
- Special note: If you are saying, “I try to follow Jesus and my life is not like that,” then I have two quick thoughts for you: (1) It’s OK! Relax and live in the journey. It is a slow one, but keep pressing into your relationship with God and you will look back and the small incremental steps will seem like a huge leap. (2) You may need to surrender something. The Christian way of life is not about trying harder, but surrendering to what you already have.
Those Called Out INTO Community
For the basis of this point, look no further than the Trinity. Christian doctrine declares that the ground of all reality, existence itself, comes from God who lives in eternal community: Father, Son, and Spirit in perfect unity. As such, we should expect to find our greatest fulfillment in life in community with others. Beyond this heady doctrine, if we say we are following Jesus, we see that he invited 12 men into his life and lived it out with them in community. Christian community should be where we experience (albeit imperfectly) the biblical definition of love—an act of life sacrifice—as opposed to the cultural understanding that is fleeting and ever-changing. A community of sacrificial love is the sustaining force of creation. When we live with others in community, we mirror God and show Him to the world.
Those Called Out FOR Mission
The Father sends the Son, the Father and Son send the Spirit, and the Spirit sends the Church. Because we are rescued out of the world and then placed into a sacrificially loving community, we then get to join God in His redemptive plan for the world. We are ministers of reconciliation, bringing God’s justice, beauty, and wholeness to all the peoples of the world. We get to help bring the Kingdom of God into the present reality. We can restore our pocket of creation where God has placed us to do whatever God has called us together for who He would have us be. And we do not do this as lone rangers, but as the Church.
We, the Church, are the Called Out Ones. Called out OF the world, INTO community, and FOR mission. Let’s start there. World, meet the Church.