Saturday, December 25, 2004

Elders for Everyone!

Being an American, it is hard for me to imagine 'church' as being anything but a one-man show in which I minimally participate (oddly enough, though, my home church isn't like that--behold the power of an acultured imagination) and which the church, not to mention those outside, minimally benefit. Part of the problem (especially being a language nerd) is that I really have no idea what 'church' (qua word) really means. However, I did some snooping and here's what I found:

'Church' comes (ultimately) from 'kuriakon' which means "Lord's house"--since post-apostolic fathers time it has been used for the idea of ekklesia, which is the word translated in our Bibles as 'church'. This could also be why since about that time, churches have been modeled after, and functioned like, little temples. The Lord's house, Old Testament style, was the Temple in Jerusalem (interesting side-note, the Hebrew word for temple also means 'palace'). However, since the people of God are the building blocks of the Temple, with Jesus as the Temple itself (see my first post ever), calling the ekklesia the temple is missing something: Jesus. The ekklesia isn't the temple, it is the building blocks with Jesus as the cornerstone. That may seem like semantics, but to say that the church is the temple is wrong, since Jesus is not part of the church (never are the two equated or combined in Scripture to my knowledge). So already we are working with a massive, largely ignored (which is important, but not for my polemic) misnomer. What, though, is an ekklesia?

An ekklesia, which you will see if you read the above article (which I don't endorse whole-heartedly, but it has some good stuff) is the ruling class of the basileia/kingdom. It is the King's council, if you will. However, unlike the ancient Greek system, it isn't a democracy. There is a hierarchy of authority in the ekklesia: elders, then the people. Every man should strive to be an elder or a deacon. The question is (and many local ekklesia get bogged down in this): what is an elder and what is a deacon? I Timothy obviously gives the qualifications of such, but what are they to do? To find out, we must return to the Hebrew Bible, to Exodus 18: here we find that elders adjudicate the disputes of the assembly (a better translation of ekklesia). They are, in a sense, a series of appellate court judges that apply the word of God to all of life, while still extending considerable freedom to their charges (I Corinthians 6). In other words, an elder is not a ruler, in the Greek sense (see the quote from the last blog), but he is a servant that is working to make the community work. He is a judge, but also (in that same function) a teacher, comforter, and exhorter. He is the wise man around town, a sort of Christian rabbi, if you will allow. Almost like a Levite of old (I'll tantalizingly let that stand and not develop it). Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg, but what if we adopted this model? What might change in our communities? Our ekklesias?

How about the diaconate? Firstly, I think that it is important to say that the Greek word means "servant". Whether or not it is a Biblical 'office' is still in debate and probably will be for quite some time. If we look at the Hebrew Bible context, we might see that a servant is someone who is a courtier of the King: his advisors, his errand runners, etc. It might apply to the Temple also, since priests and Levites were known as servants--maybe the two combine when we realize that the Temple was a Palace. I'm not so sure on this right now.

What, though, is to be the chief end of these individuals (may the whole ekklesia be full of them)? Maturity. In Paul's words:

And he himself gave some to be royal heralds, some covenant lawyers, some 'good-news'ers, and some as shepherd-teachers; for the equipping of the holy ones for the work of service, for the building up of the body of the Messiah, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the covenant loyalty of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Messiah; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, we may grow up in all thing into him who is the head--the Messiah--from whom the wohle body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord: that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk...(Russ' expanded version)

Growing up. Maturing. Leaving behind old ways. That is what the ekklesia, in all its diverse parts is to be about. A light to the nations. If we are mature, we will not need to worry about what the State does because we will be self-governing, learning under our elders (of whom we try to emulate as they emulate the Messiah), and approaching life with the basis of Torah and the wisdom of God as the guiding principle through the Spirit.

The ekklesia, then, is to be a counter-imperial (counter-State, in other words) body that fights its wars with prayer and proclamation, wins through service of hospitality and self-sacrifice, and rules through love and humility. No empire can stand against that: against such things there is no law. Yes, the empire, threatened by this new Lord, may respond with violence or (worse) tax-increases, but we believe in the justice of God against theft (State-sponsored or not) and we believe in resurrection, that the last enemy, Death (which is the power of Caesar) may be swallowed up in life through the Messiah Jesus.

Iesous Xristos Kurious estin
Baruch hu' beshem YHWH

(Jesus Messiah is Lord...Blessed be he in the name of YHWH)

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