the weblog of Alan Knox


The ekklesia that actually gathers in a location

Posted by on Oct 10, 2012 in books, definition, scripture | 6 comments

Yesterday, I mentioned that I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite academic books on the church: Paul’s Idea of Community by Robert Banks (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004). As you can imagine, Banks includes an extended discussion of Paul’s use of the Greek term ekklesia (usually translated “church” in English translations). In fact, two chapters focus on how Paul uses that term: “Church As Household Gathering” and “Church as Heavenly Reality.”

In the first chapter (“Church As Household Gathering”), he examines how Paul uses the term ekklesia in his earlier (chronologically) letters: 1-2 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, and Romans. In these letters, Banks concludes that Paul only uses the term ekklesia to refer to groups of believers who actually gather together in a locality.

What is Paul’s early usage of the term ekklesia, church? He first uses the term in his greeting to the Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:1). Here he is using it in the same way as in Greek and Jewish circles and yet is consciously distinguishing the “assembly” to which he is writing from others in the city. It is clear from the closing remarks of the letter that Paul has in mind either an actual gathering of the Thessalonian Christians or the Thessalonian Christians as a regularly gathering community…

Elsewhere in these letters [1-2 Thessalonians] we have reference to other Christian gatherings only in the plural, viz., to “the churches of God” generally and to “the churches of God” in Judea specifically (2 Thess 1:4; 1 Thess 2:14). This suggests that the term is applied only to an actual gathering of people or to the group that gathers as a regularly constituted meeting and not, as today’s usage, to a number of local assemblies conceived as part of a larger unit. (pp 29-30)

Banks offers other evidence, such as Paul’s reference to the plural “churches in Galatia,” “churches of Asia,” and “the churches of Macedonia.” (Gal 1:2, 1 Cor 16:1, 1 Cor 16:19, 2 Cor 8:1) Similarly, he discusses Paul’s reference to “the whole church” in Corinth – indicating that the believers in Corinth did all gather together at some point, thus they could be referred to as “the church in Corinth,” and also indicating that believers in Corinth gathered together in smaller groups which would also be referred to as “church” (otherwise the term “whole” would be unnecessary).

On the other hand, since Paul does not refer to “the church in Rome,” but instead only refers to individual gatherings in Romans 16, then this indicates that the believers in Rome did not all gather together at one time.

Concerning the various groups in Rome, Banks writes:

This probability is confirmed by Paul’s comments in Romans 16 about various Christian groups in the capital. There is no suggestion that Christians ever met as a whole in one place [in Rome]. (Indeed, as much as a century later, Justin remarks that this is still the case!) Presumably this is due to the size of the city. (pg 32)

So, if I understand what Banks is saying, Paul could refer to “the church in Thessalonica,” “the church in Corinth,” etc. because the believers in those cities actually gathered together at some point. In the same way, he could refer to “the church that meets in [Priscilla and Aquila’s] house” (in Rome – Romans 16:5) because those believers actually gathered together at some point.

However, Paul would not have referred to the believers in Rome or Galatia or Judea as “the church” in those locations because the believers in those locations did not all gather together at some point.

In my post tomorrow, I’m going to introduce another way that Paul used the term ekklesia in his later letters (according to Banks).

But, for now, what do you think of Banks suggestion that Paul would only use the term ekklesia when referring to believers who actually gather together? (Remember, Banks is only examining Paul’s use of that term in 1-2 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, and Romans at this point.)

Replay: The trans-congregational church

Posted by on Sep 1, 2012 in community, definition, fellowship, unity | 27 comments

Three and a half years ago, I wrote a post called “The trans-congregational church.” I wrote the post in a response to an article in which the author used the term “trans-congregational church.” In some ways, I think the author was onto something. But, in other ways, the term and the article point to problems among groups of Christians today that prohibit (or at list hinder) the kind of “trans-congregational” relationships that we read about in Scripture. What do you think?


The trans-congregational church

In a recent study concern community development in the New Testament, I came across an article called “The Trans-Congregational Church in the New Testament” by Jefrey Kloha (Concordia Journal 34 no 3, July 2008, 172-190).

In this article, Kloha suggests that the term “ekklesia” was used for local congregations that generally met in houses, and more generally for the church-at-large – the heavenly assembly – the “universal church” – the una sancta. But, Kloha says there is a third usage of the term “ekklesia” in the New Testament, which he calls “the trans-congregational church”. He says this “trans-congregational church” consisted of “several (or many) local congregations conceived of corporately”. (173)

Kloha suggests several examples of “the trans-congregational church” in the New Testament. For example, he says that the “church in Jerusalem” could not have met in one place – even the temple courts – so, they must have met in many locations. However, they were considered a single “church”. Also, Kloha says the singular use of “ekklesia” in Acts 9:31 indicates that the individual congregations of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria were considered one church. (Yes, he does discuss the plural variant in this passage, albeit briefly.)

Also, Kloha suggests that the trans-congregational church is demonstrated in the relationships between churches. For example, there is a close connection between the church of Jerusalem and the church of Antioch. Kloha recalls that Paul told the church in Collosae to read his letter to the Laodiceans, and vice versa, indicating a relational connection between the congregations – or multiple congregations – in each city. Paul recognizes the relationships between the various churches in Rome as well (Romans 16).

I think that Kloha has pointed out something that may be missing among the church today. The church has become so exclusive and independent that we often miss the fact that we are united with other brothers and sisters in Christ as well – not only with the ones that meet with us from day-to-day or week-to-week. Kloha offers this concern at the end of his article as well:

By ignoring the NT understanding of the trans-congregational nature of the church we have weakened the bonds of fellowship, mutual concern and support, and unity in doctrine and practice which should inform and indeed define our life together as church. By turning again to the New Testament we might sharpen our understanding of church and apply that understanding to our structure. (191)

I think Kloha has inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) pointed to one of the problem – structure. Many churches have structured themselves in a way that precludes trans-congregational relationships.

In the life of our community, we have seen this in action. We often encourage our brothers and sisters to meet with other churches. In fact, our elders have met with other churches. Of course, we have to explain that we are not unhappy with our church, nor are we interested in “joining” their church. We simply want to build relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

When we talk about the possibility of other “church members” or leadership meeting with us to further build relationships, this seems strange and odd to them – like they would be unfaithful to their church or their pastor.

Our view of church has become so exclusive and structured that we have a hard time recognizing our relationship to those in “other churches”. So, I agree with Kloha that we have (for the most part) lost this idea of “the trans-congregational church”.

What do you think? Is it important for believers to have “trans-congregational” relationships? Why or why not?

More people writing about how we use the word CHURCH

Posted by on Aug 20, 2012 in blog links, definition | Comments Off on More people writing about how we use the word CHURCH

Two of my favorite bloggers are writing about how we use the word “church”:

Miguel at “God Directed Deviations” wrote a post called “‘Where do you get fed?” And by that, ‘I mean where do you go to church?’

And Jon at “Jon’s Journey” wrote a post called “What Do You Mean By Church?

Each post asks a different – but important – question, and each one shows the importance of thinking about how we use words, especially the word “church.” (Although, we could include many different words in these kinds of discussions.)

I would encourage you to read both posts and respond in the comments at their respective sites.

How others use the word CHURCH… according to Google

Posted by on Aug 16, 2012 in definition | 20 comments

In yesterday’s post, I answered the question, “What do I mean when I use the word CHURCH?” I said that I used the word “church” to refer to a gathering of God’s people.

But, how do other people use the word “church”? There are many ways to answer that question. If you check a dictionary, you’ll find that there are several different meanings to the English word “church,” and the word is used with even more referents (i.e., what the word “points to”).

I thought I would ask Google. So, I did a Google search on the phrase “what is church.” The top 8 results are listed below. (By the way, your results might be a bit different, because Google searches are relative to location, user, etc.)

1. According to the article “What is the Church?” on

The word “church” as rendered in the New Testament comes from the Greek term ekklesia which is formed from two Greek words meaning “an assembly” and “to call out” or “called out ones.” In summary, the New Testament church is a body of believers who have been called out from the world by God to live as his people under the authority of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23).

2. According to Mark D. Roberts in his article “What is a Church?“: (Note: this is a very long article, and probably worth additional study…)

If an ekklesia is an actual meeting of people, then a “church” exists when Christians gather together. The physical meeting of believers is essential to a right understanding of church.

3. According to the article “What is the church?” by CARM:

The word “church” comes from the Greek “ekklesia” which means “gathering” or “assembly.” Therefore, the church is the gathering of the believers who come together to participate in fellowship with one another as they worship God and hear from His Word, the Bible.

4. According to the article “What is the church?“:

Many people today understand the church as a building. This is not a biblical understanding of the church. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building, but of people.

5. According to “What is church?” by Felicity Dale at “Simply Church”:

The New Testament uses a number of different pictures of church: church is Christ’s body (Rom 12:5); it is a temple built with living stones (I Pet 2:5), it is a family (Eph 2:19)… Similarly, church is relationships, but the difference between church and any other set of relationships is the presence of Jesus.

6. In the article “What is a church?” the author doesn’t offer a definition (unless I missed it). However, there are many links on the page, so perhaps the answer is buried there somewhere.

7. The Wikipedia article “Churches of Christ” begins with this: (It’s not really a definition, but it gives us an idea of how the word “church” is being used.)

Churches of Christ are autonomous Christian congregations associated with one another through common beliefs and practices. They seek to base doctrine and practice on the Bible alone, and seek to be New Testament congregations as originally established by the authority of Christ.

8. In the article “What is a local church?” by Jonathan at the 9 Marks Blog:

A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ’s name to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.

Interestingly, after the top 8, most of the posts are actually different questions like, “What is church X,” where X could refer to many different things. Those articles do not define the term “church” either.

So, what do you think about these definitions? What does this tell us about the way people are using the English term “church” today?

What do I mean when I use the word CHURCH?

Posted by on Aug 15, 2012 in definition | 46 comments

Occasionally, I write posts to explain what I mean when I use certain terms. I’ll even write multiple posts over time about the same word or phrases for a couple of reasons: 1) my understanding and usage of the term/terms may have changed, or 2) new readers and commenters come to the blog.

Obviously, since I usually write about the church, the word “church” is a term that I use regularly. People mean many different things when they use the word “church,” and they refer to many different things when they use the word “church.” (Stay tuned for another post tomorrow when I examine some of these different usages and references…) (By the way, there is a difference between “meaning” and “referent.” That difference is an interesting study on its own if you have time to dig into it…)

As most of us know, the authors of the New Testament used the Greek term “ekklesia” to refer to gatherings of God’s children. This is what I mean when I use the English term “church.”

Now, the Greek term “ekklesia” itself does not refer to a gathering of God’s people. The term “ekklesia” means a “gathering” or “assembly” or any time. Around the time that the New Testament was written, “ekklesia” could refer to a political/civic gathering, religious assemblies, a military gathering, an unruly mob, even a group of animals. Even in the New Testament we find several of those different usages of the term “ekklesia.” I do not translate all of those as “church.”

Instead, I only use the English term “church” when the New Testament authors was referring specifically to a gathering of God’s people. Sometimes they would specify that they were talking about the “ekklesia of God” or the “ekklesia of Christ,” but sometimes they simply used the term “ekklesia” in the general context of God’s people. In each of those cases, I would use the term “church.”

So, today, when I use the term “church,” I do so only when I’m referring to a gathering of people who are God’s children (i.e., followers of Jesus Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit). And, when I’m referring to multiple gatherings, I will use the plural “churches,” just as the New Testament authors used the plural “ekklisiae” when referring to multiple gatherings. (For example, see Galatians 1:2, in which Paul addressed several gatherings in different cities in the region of Galatia.)

Now, I understand that people mean different things when they use the term “church.” So, I am very careful when I use the term, and often I will clarify exactly what I mean when I first use the term around a person or group. If there is confusion, then I will use another term such as “gathering,” “assembly,” “group,” etc… something that conveys the same idea.

I also understand that some people do not like to use the word “church” because of the baggage associated with that term. I appreciate their decision, and I empathize with them. If I’m around people who prefer not to use the term church to refer to a gathering of God’s children (and if I know of their preference), then I refrain from using it as well and instead use one of the other terms above.

So, hopefully, this helps you and others understand what I mean when I use the term “church” on my blog.

Tomorrow, I’m going to look at how other people use the term “church”… with a little help from Google.

Replay: The Interconnected Church

Posted by on Jul 14, 2012 in community, definition, fellowship, members | 5 comments

Five and a half years ago (in January 2007), I published a post called “The Interconnected Church.” In the post, I used blog connections as a metaphor for the relational connectivity of the church in the New Testament. Today, unfortunately, the connections are more organizational, which reduces the unity and fellowship among brothers and sisters in Christ. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this form of relational connectivity among the church.


The Interconnected Church

There is a list of blogs that I frequent on the right side of this web page. If I go to most of those blogs, they will also include a list of blogs that the author visits regularly. If you navigate through those links, you will find other lists of blogs. And the cycle continues indefinitely… well, not indefinitely, but for many, many links.

There are a few people who frequent my blog. They interact with me through comments. I occasionally visit other blogs and interact with them through comments.

Could it be that this is a metaphor for the church in the New Testament?

Consider a believer in the New Testament. Let’s call him Joe. Joe knows several other believers. He interacts with them through normal relationships: family relationships, neighborhood relationships, work relationships, civic relationships, etc. Since these people are believers, they also gather regularly. Now, they may not all gather together at the same time. Perhaps some gather regularly at Joe’s house. Others gather regularly at Sally’s house. Joe occasionally meets with those at Sally’s house because he knows most of the people there. Also gathering at Sally’s house is the Smith family. They do not gather with the people at Joe’s house regularly, because the Smith family does not know them well. However, since they love Joe, and want to interact with him more, they will meet at his house on occasion. Meanwhile, once in a while, Joe will meet with another group with the Smith family. In this way, the interconnectivity is strengthened and grows.

In this scenario, there is interconnectivity among the church based on relationships. There is the church in Joe’s house, and the church in Sally’s house, and a few other churches; but they all recognize that they are the church in their city – because of the interconnectivity of relationships. They also recognize that they are somehow connected to groups outside their city, also through the interconnectivity of relationships.

If this is a valid view of the church in the New Testament, then could we be missing something today? Usually, when we talk about churches being connected to one another, we speak in terms of leadership networks, associations, etc. In other words, those in leadership from one church are connected to those in leadership from another church. This connection is not based on natural relationships, but on associations intentionally created to make connections. Meanwhile, many people in each church (specifically, those not in leadership) may find that they have very little connections with those outside their group, even with other churches with whom their leaders “associate”. Why? Because instead of being interconnected, the churches consider themselves mutually exclusive.

Are there any scriptural indications that an interconnected view of the church is valid, or that this view is not valid? What are some problems that might be caused by taking this view of the church?

A Scholar’s Convictions Concerning the Church

Posted by on Jul 10, 2012 in blog links, definition | 26 comments

Some of you know that I’m a PhD student in biblical theology (or if you didn’t know, you can just read the little blurb about me in the right-hand sidebar). Some of you also know that I’m studying under David Alan Black. If you don’t know him, check out his blog and search for his name on

He has written books covering many areas of New Testament and Greek studies. And, these are the kinds of books that anyone can pick up and read and instantly use. He has a knack for explaining difficult concepts in a way that anyone can understand.

So, what does this New Testament scholar think about the church? Well, he shared some of his “convictions” yesterday on his blog (Monday, July 9, 2012 at 4:02 p.m.):

  • I am convinced that the house church rather than the sanctuary church was the New Testament norm.
  • I am convinced of the normalcy of tent making leadership.
  • I am convinced that the church exists in part to equip all of its members for ministry.
  • I am convinced that the leadership of the church should be shared for the health of the congregation.
  • I am convinced that top-down structures of leadership are unquestionably more efficient — efficient in doing almost everything than equipping, which is the primary task of leadership.
  • I am convinced that the process of appointing new elders is best done on the basis of recognizing who is already serving as an elder in the church.
  • I am convinced that any local church that takes seriously Jesus as the Senior Pastor will not permit one man to become the titular head of the church.
  • I am convinced that the essential qualifications for ministry in the church have little or nothing to do with formal education and everything to do with spiritual maturity.
  • I am convinced that the church is a multigenerational family, and hence one of the things that makes the church the church is the presence of children, parents, and other adults.
  • I am convinced that because every local church has all the spiritual gifts it needs to be complete in Christ, believers should be exposed to the full expression of the charisms (grace-gifts) when they gather, in contrast to specialized ministries that center around singularly gifted people.
  • I am convinced that the local church is the scriptural locus for growing to maturity in Christ, and that no other training agency is absolutely needed.
  • I am convinced that the local church ought to be the best Bible school going.
  • I am convinced that Paul’s letters were not intended to be studied by ordinands in a theological college but were intended to be read and studied in the midst of the noisy life of the church.
  • I am convinced that the church is a theocracy directly under its Head (Jesus Christ), and that the will of the Head is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all His subjects.
  • I am convinced that the goal of leadership is not to make people dependent upon its leaders but dependent upon the Head.
  • I am convinced that since all believers are “joints” in the body, ministry is every believer’s task.
  • I am convinced that pastor-teachers, as precious gifts of Christ to His church, are to tend the flock of God by both personal care and biblical instruction, equipping God’s people for works of service both in the church and in the world.
  • I am convinced that the role of pastor-teacher is a settled ministry in a local congregation.
  • I am convinced that leaders should communicate that every part of the body is interrelated to the other parts and indispensable; every member will be appreciated, every charism will be treasured.
  • I am convinced that the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for ministry. The fundamental premise upon which I operate is that each believer in the church needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world. If the church is to become what God intended it to be, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ. The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God.

I truly appreciate Dave sharing his “convictions” with us. I also appreciate that these convictions come out of years of study and life serving others around the world in the name of Jesus Christ. But, more than all that, I appreciate that he continues to work with, to serve, and to co-labor with brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with his convictions.

Church in the fullest sense of the word

Posted by on Jun 14, 2012 in blog links, definition | 13 comments

Felicity at “Simply Church” has written a very good post called “What is church?” I love that her posts are usually very short and to the point, and this one is as well.

In this post, she briefly talks about three scriptural metaphors for the church: temple, living stones, and family. She spends a little more time fleshing out the familial metaphor.

Then, at the end of her post, she includes this very good quote:

When two or three true, born-again believers come together in His name, Jesus is in the midst. Jesus in the midst is church! It is a different experience than Jesus within. We cannot experience Jesus in the midst when we are alone. We can only experience Jesus in the midst when we are in company with others–at least one or two others.

But is it church in the fullest sense of the word? Yes, it is a church in the fullest sense of the word. It is the basic church. You can have more than two or three and it is still a church, but it does not become “more church” because there are more than two or three. It only becomes bigger church.

This is a pretty good explanation. The number of people gathered together does not make a group “more” or “less” church.

When I left the church for good…

Posted by on May 16, 2012 in blog links, books, definition | 44 comments

This post is part of a short series based on Jeremy Myer’s (from “Till He Comes“) book project “Finding Church.” Jeremy asked for contributions in the categories of Changing Church, Leaving Church, Reforming Church, and Returning to Church. As I worked through my own contribution, I realized that my story could fit into any of the categories. So, I’m writing a post based on each category.

This post describes when I “left church.” This is how Jeremy describes this category: “These are stories of people who felt that ‘going to church’ was inhibiting their walk with Jesus, and so left the institutional church to follow and serve Jesus in other ways.”

Of course, I already told most of this story in my previous post about “changing church.” But, in this post, I’m able to point out what I’ve “left.” Because, as I explained in that previous post, I didn’t leave the church – it’s impossible to leave the church that God is putting together once he places someone among his family.

However, I did leave “the church” – that organizational, institutional, locational version. This is the entity or location that people refer to when they ask questions like, “Where do you go to church?” or “What did you do in church today?” or “Have you joined our church yet?”

I’ve left the programs and the hierarchies and the vocations and the positions and offices.

The church is not a place that someone can go to, nor is it an event that someone can attend, nor is it an organization that someone can choose to join or not.

The church is the family of God, the body of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. I’m still part of that church, and I always will be. If you are in Christ, then you are part of that church with me.

It’s the other “church” that I left. And, guess what? There are people who remain part of that “church” who are also part of the church with me. Even if they never leave “the church,” they remain part of the church of God by identity, in the same way that I’ve always been part of that church and will always be part of that church.

So, I’ve left “the church.” But, in a way, my heart remains tied (through mutual relationship with God) to the hearts of those who are still part of “the church” – in the same way that my heart is tied to all who are part of God’s family.

When I changed churches…

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in blog links, books, definition | 9 comments

This post is part of a short series based on Jeremy Myer’s (from “Till He Comes“) book project “Finding Church.” Jeremy asked for contributions in the categories of Changing Church, Leaving Church, Reforming Church, and Returning to Church. As I worked through my own contribution, I realized that my story could fit into any of the categories. So, I’m writing a post based on each category.

This post describes when I “changed church.” This is how Jeremy describes this category: “These are stories of people who, for numerous different reasons, left one church to join another.”

Now, I grew up as part of various different “churches.” In reality, each of these was a organization, not the church. Don’t misunderstand me… the church was there – the people of God were present – but what I understood as “church” was actually the organization, not the people.

During that time, I “changed churches” many times and for different reasons. Usually, we “changed churches” because we moved. Only a few times we “changed churches” even though we stayed in the same city. Interestingly, we never “changed churches” because of problems with leadership.

In reality, I was really changing organizations. I was leaving one organization to be part of another organization. Of course, I was also breaking relationships with part of God’s family and inserting myself and my family into the lives of other people who are part of God’s family. But, I didn’t really see either one was the church.

But, a few years ago, I changed “church” for the last time. Why? Because my understanding of what the church is changed. It’s not an organization that can be joined or left. Church is the people of God, saved by faith in Jesus Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and gathered together by God according to his grace and purposes.

When I’m with the people of God, I’m part of the church with them. And, in fact, we are members together of the body of Christ whether we realize it or accept it or not. Our relationship with one another and our identity as the church of God does not depend upon our decision. Instead, it depends completely on God. We simply interact with one another as directed by the Spirit to help one another grow and mature in our walk with Jesus Christ.

So, a few years ago, I changed to a different church for the last time. I changed from “church” as an organization to church as the people of God. Actually, I have always been part of this church, even though I didn’t understand it. And, I will always be part of that church.

What about you? Have you changed churches?