Question: What Does Ekklésia Have To Do With Consensus?


The Act of “Consensus” – Part III

Nowhere in the New Testament are strict guidelines given on how to form and run Church government. All agree that Jesus is the head of the Church and that “the government shall be upon his shoulders”, but how that works practicality is debatable? 

 In the United States of America, the Church as a whole finds it hard to understand how to govern collectively. Under the old European system, traditional orthodoxy was led by strong hierarchal structures that created Bishops, Cardinals, and a Pope. Secular kings and dictators aligned themselves with church movements: Henry VIII of England created the Anglican Church in protest against the Roman Catholic Church. Germany aligned themselves with Luther and the “Protestant” movement. Even Hitler made sure he appeared to be aligned to the Lutheran Church of his day. When the United States formed its new government, they made sure there would to be a separation between church and State.

Democracy became a vertebra in the backbone of American politics and government. In a country with a two party political system, government gridlock is the norm; having an “unanimous” decision on anything seems impossible and only happens rarely. 51%, a majority, brings “agreement”, although 49% can be in opposition. Biblically, there is no support for democracy as a form of church government; the Bible clearly does not support majority rule.

Ordained Old Testament government was a theocracy, headed by God. Although it started with strong leadership from Moses, it yielded to judges, then kings, and even established a high priest and a Levitical priesthood to set the religious bounds for Israel.

 All that changed when Jesus became the “messiah” and “king” establishing his “kingdom of God.” “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)  The Old Temple system of worship would be abolished. God’s Spirit would indwell in any and every man or woman who believed in Jesus Christ. “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (I Corinthians 6:19)  Animal sacrifices were now archaic since Jesus had become the sacrificial lamb. Even the Levitical priesthood demolished. A new priesthood, a royal priesthood was birthed. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you ay proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” This priesthood of believers would form what would become known as the Church.

Those operating under this new kingdom differed from those under the Old Testament style of government. They governed by “consensus”.  The Bible uses the term “with one accord”. Told to tarry in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would come, they obediently “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14) “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1)  The promise of the Holy Spirit came, and this spirit of consensus continued. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” (Acts 2:46)

Steve Atkerson’s article “Building Congregational Consensus” shares an insight into the word ekklésia. “The Greek word ekklésia never refers to a building or place of worship, and it can refer to much more than just a meeting, assembly, or gathering.  Our understanding of Christ’s church will be much impoverished if we fail to factor in the dynamics of the original Greek word. With so much emphasis today on the separation of church and state, the last thing people associate church with is government. Yet, this was exactly the original meaning of ekklésia.

During the time of Jesus, ekklésia was used outside the New Testament to refer to a political assembly that was regularly convened for the purpose of making decisions. In the secular ekklésia, every citizen had “the right to speak and to propose matters for discussion.” [1]

Why did Jesus choose such a politically loaded word (ekklésia) to describe His people and their meetings?[Matthew 16:13-20 & 18:15-20.] Had Jesus merely wanted to describe a gathering with political connotations, he could have used sunagogé, thiasos or eranos. Perhaps Jesus intended His people, the Church, to function together with a purpose somehow parallel to that of the political government. If so, believers have the responsibility to propose matters for discussion, decide things together, make joint decisions and experience the consensus process.

God’s people have a decision-making mandate. A church is fundamentally a body of Kingdom citizens who are authorized (and expected) to weigh major issues, make decisions, and pass judgments on major issues. Though decision making will not occur at most church meetings (there aren’t usually issues to resolve), an understanding that the church corporately has the authority and obligation to settle things is important. Churches where the congregation never grapples corporately with problems or resolves issues may be failing to fulfill their full purpose as an ekklésia.”

Atkerson continues, “An important caveat is that the church, in its decision making role, should be judicial rather than legislative. Christians are subject to the Law of Christ. The church’s job is not to create law – only God can rightly do that. This is one point where the ekklésia of God’s people would differ in function from the ekklésia of the Greek city-states. Our responsibility as believers within Christ’s ekklésia is to correctly apply and enforce the law of Christ as contained in the New Covenant (Mt 18:15-20). Church members are to be like citizen-judiciaries who meet together when necessary to deliberate and decide issues or to render judgments. This form of government works tolerably well in a smaller church where people love each other enough to work through their disagreements. It is virtually impossible to operate this way in a large church setting.”

Atkerson concludes, “Not all occurrences of the word ekklésia in the New Testament involve a decision making body.  The word ekklésia is actually used several different ways in the New Testament. Yet its most fundamental usage remains that of a group of people gathered for the purpose of making decisions. In this sense, the ekklésia is not merely the coming together of God’s people.  It is also what occurs when God’s people come together. The church is authorized by the Lord to make decisions about the correct application of Scripture. It is expected to enforce the law of Christ (within the family of God) and to deal with issues as they arise. There will not always be issues to resolve, but God’s people must ever bear in mind their obligation to function as an ekklésia when necessary.”

[1] Lothan Coenen, “Church,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, Colin Brown, General Editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), 291.