Now let’s get specific and let’s root ourselves securely in the Scriptures. When we say “community,” “church,” “fellowship” or the like, what do we mean?
The ecclesia (Church) is a participatory community of the followers of Jesus Christ, built upon the proclamation of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom, nurtured under leadership of those called by God, situated in a particular time and place, demonstrating the power of God, for the glory of God and the salvation of many.
the ecclesia (church)
For a long time scholars and practitioners alike have debated the nature of the church using the dichotomy of “organisation or organism”. Is the church a formalised institution (organisation) or is it more simply any gathering of Christians (organic)? In other words, when Christ commissioned the Church upon his ascension (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:8)) and established it by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), was it his plan to establish an organisational, hierarchical leadership structure or, rather generally, a decentralised movement of individuals connected only by their common Father, Saviour, Holy Spirit and mission?
A clue in the answer we seek lies in the Greek word used throughout the New Testament, “ecclesia”. Ecclesia literally means a gathering of people, an assembly, brought together for a specific purpose. A herald would call people together and upon their assembly they would be the “ecclesia”. Peter wrote to the church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light,” (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis mine).
This is not, however, an “either/or” question; either an organisation or an organism. The church (ecclesia) is an assembly of people “called out of darkness and into his (Christ’s) marvellous light.” So in that sense, the Church is the people. Yet we see just as clearly that God has mandated a flow of authority rooted in mutual love, service and dependence (Ephesians 4:11-14, Hebrews 13:17). So is the church an organisation or an organism? Scripture’s answer to that question is “Yes. It’s both.” The ecclesia is an organised organism. Like a tree, planted against a stake that provides support to it as it grows, so is the church supported by its leaders “for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)