Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Two
The Ecclesia Will Never Be Irrelevant
Good morning Prayer Team!
In the last reflection, we discussed the meaning of the word “ecclesia.” The understanding of this word in particular will change our entire understanding of the Christian life. When we translate “ecclesia” as “church”, we use phrases like “I go to church” and we mean “I go to a building,” as opposed to “I go to gather with a group of people to worship.” The problem with saying “I go to a building” is that the building is always there. Miss a Sunday, and you can go next Sunday, to the same building. To say “I go to gather with a group of people to worship” denotes a responsibility to be with the group when the group gathers to worship.
There are at least two other challenges (I’m sure you can think of more) with thinking of “church” as a place we go. The first challenge is that many times in our Christian life, we are “checking boxes.” I went to church, check. I offered a prayer, check. This makes church something we do, rather than making it something we are. Being part of the “ecclesia” is not merely a job or a role but an identity. We don’t go to church. We are the church. Meaning, we are the“ecclesia”, the gathering of people called out by God for a holy purpose. The second challenge in our modern world is that we are “going” to increasingly fewer places. With the internet, it is possible to not go anywhere. We can have food delivered, movies downloaded, and look up facts on our computers that we used to only be able to find in libraries, among other things. In fact, we don’t have to “go to church.” There are plenty of on-line “worship” options in all denominations, where you can sit on a couch and watch.
Except that when we belong to the “ecclesia,” there is an expectation of gathering with a group of people, not only to worship, but to work and to support. We can “go to church” on line. We can even “go to church” physically, and leave after the service. In either case, we are not really part of the “ecclesia”because the “ecclesia” is much more than just going. It is about belonging.
I recently read a book entitled Didn’t See It Coming by Carey Nieuwhof which examines seven challenges that no one expects but everyone experiences. One of those challenges is irrelevance. Nieuwhof writes “Theologically, God never changes, and for sure, God’s values are timeless. But your willingness to change gives you the ability to communicate timeless truths in a way that has meaning to those who come after you.” (p. 98) He writes that when the culture outside of an organization changes faster than an organization changes, the organization become irrelevant. So, there is pressure for organizations, including churches, to keep pace with contemporary culture. Nieuwhof argues, however, that the goal is not necessarily to change the culture, or even change the organization, but to “understand the culture well enough that you are able to speak into it.” (p. 92)
There is no question that church attendance has been in decline across all denominations of Christianity for many years. As I mentioned before, “going” to church is becoming irrelevant when you can just “go” online to do it, without any commitment, without even getting out of bed. Morality has shifted and many have criticized the churches which haven’t shifted in response. With a bigger menu of choices of things to do on Sundays, churches are losing to sports and leisure activities.
The “ecclesia” however, is not irrelevant. It never will be. Because the “ecclesia” has always been a gathering of people who worshiped, but who also helped one another and who helped the greater community in which they were living. And the need for help will never go out of style or be irrelevant. When churches primarily resemble places of commerce (festivals, raffles, bake sales, etc.) or places of argument (parish meetings), not only do they lose the attention of people and become irrelevant, but they do not reflect the “ecclesia” that Christ formed when He told Peter “on this rock, I will build my church (ecclesia).” (Matthew 6:18)
The other thing that will never be irrelevant is the need for hope. The “ecclesia” exists to bring the message of Christ—the hope for everlasting life—to all people. So, while “church” might be an increasingly irrelevant (or at least very challenged) term, the “ecclesia” done properly, will never be irrelevant.
So, how do we do “church/ecclesia” right? One very powerful answer is to go to the Book of Acts and start there, which is where we will go in the next series of reflections.
In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; for lo, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do”? The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test, the children of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence. On the wicked He will rain coals of fire and brimstone; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face. Psalm 11
The “Ecclesia” will never be irrelevant!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Photo Credit: Leuenberg
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