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13 @Ekklesia and Church


Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.

(1Cor.1:1-2)


This is the opening part of Paul's first Corinthian letter. Here Paul calls the addressee "the church of God that is in Corinth." In the original Greek, Paul wrote "to the 'ekklesia' of God that is in Corinth." This Greek word 'ekklesia' has been translated as 'church' in English, and this translation has caused much trouble and confusion in our New Testament interpretation. 'Ekklesia' in Greek and 'church' in English are two different terms that point to different realities from one another.

In his epistles Paul always uses the term 'ekklesia' to designate a gathering or a group of believers at a specific place; for example 'ekklesia' in someone's house (e.g.Rom.16:5), 'ekklesia' at Cenchreae(Rom.16:1), 'ekklesia' of the Thessalonians(Thes.1:1), 'ekklesiai'(pl.) of Asia(1Cor.16:19), and so forth. He sometimes uses the term 'ekklesia' to mean religious activities in the gathering of believers(1Cor.11:18).

In his letter to Corinthians, Paul calls the addressee 'ekklesia of God.' This expression was used as a self-designating name of Jerusalem Community of Jesus-believers. They believed that they were chosen out of all the people of Israel(the people of God) and formed a separated community at the last time when God did His final saving work in His people. Therefore Paul, one of typical Jews, persecuted the 'ekklesia' of God who proclaimed themselves to be the chosen and separated community at the last time. He says, "I persecuted 'ekklesia' of God" (1Cor.15:9) when he was an ardent Pharisee Jew.

In the Colossian and Ephesian letters that were written by Paul's successors one generation later, the term 'ekklesia' is always used in the singular form with the definite article to designate all the people chosen to be God's saints, the separated to God's purpose. It is never used to point to the individual congregation except in the greeting. Paul's expression in his letter, 'ekklesia of God' might have been the beginning of this usage. Anyhow, in the New Testament 'ekklesia' is used to designate the congregation of believers in Christ Jesus, those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.

On the other hand, the term 'church' began to appear in English translations of the New Testament. From the King James Version to the most recent translation, New Revised Standard Version, the New Testament term 'ekklesia' has been translated to 'church' in all of the English Bibles. The English term 'church,' however, has always expressed the specific contents different from 'ekklesia' of New Testament in the religious documents. When the Bible began to be translated into English, Christian churches had already existed in England.

In the early period, the Christian Churches in England belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. Then in the epoch of Henry the Eighth it separated itself from the Catholic Church, and later became an independent church of England, the Anglican Church governed by the king. Moreover, in the 17th century the puritans separated from the Anglican Church and formed many sectarian churches. Throughout these periods Christian churches existed in England and, in their Bibles 'ekklesia' in the New Testament was always translated as 'church.'

The English term 'church,' therefore, always conveyed the aspects of the existing churches. 'Church' surely means a congregation of Christian believers, but it contains many more aspects; rites such as baptism and the Lord's supper, the clergy, dogmas and creeds, buildings with the cross, and systems or organizations of those Christian churches. When we read English Bibles and find the term 'church' in the New Testament, we think there were Christian churches with these aspects in the New Testament times.

But in the New Testament times there were not any 'churches.' There were some 'ekklesiai'(plural) in some districts, but they were not churches yet as the English term 'church' means. They were surely congregations of believers practicing baptisms and the Lord's suppers as symbols for confessing their Christ-faith. But they were not 'churches' yet as the English term signifies.

In the course of the history, 'ekklesia' gradually became 'church'. The congregation of believers became a system of religious activities, such as rites of baptisms and the Lord's suppers, the clergy who execute those rites effectively, and dogmas and creeds that all the members should confess. Those activities formed a religion called 'Christianity.' This process that began in the second century reached its climax when Cyprianus declared proudly in the midst of the third century, "there is no salvation outside of the church." It means "there is no salvation outside of Christianity," for the integral observance of the religious activities of the church is Christianity. Christianity became the necessary condition for a man to be saved.

Before Christianity became the necessary condition for a man to be saved, the same situation occurred with Judaism, the Jewish religion, when Jesus and his apostles proclaimed God`s salvation. The representatives of Judaism declared that man should belong to Judaism and obey all of its religious regulations, 'The Law', to be saved. But Jesus said to those who could not fulfill the religious demands of Judaism, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.hPaul repeatedly declared in his epistles,gMan is saved through faith in Christ, not by the practices of Torah, the Jewish religion.hThey did not make the observant practices of Judaism the necessary condition for a man to be saved.

Now with Paul we have to say,gMan is saved through faith in Christ, not by the practices of Christianity.hChristianity is a religion that has its own rituals, baptism and Lord's supper, its doctrines and its own clergy systems. It demands us to practice its rituals given by the church clergy and to confess its creeds. It claims to be the only one true religion in which man can be saved. Surely Christianity is a very precious religion as far as it includes and proclaims the gospel of Christ. But Christianity is not an absolutely necessary condition for a man to be saved. We can be saved inside Christianity and outside Christianity as far as we believe in Christ.

'Ekklesia', the people called out of the world by God in the last days, can exist inside Christianity and outside Christianity. This 'ekklesia' outside Christianity will perform
an increasingly important role in the history of the present secularized world(Message no.7). In this secularized world we have to proclaim more urgently the gospel of Christ, the gracious work of God in Christ, and see how God would work in His people who believe in Christ. God who works in history will surely work out His plan(mysterion) on earth. We, 'ekklesia' both inside Christianity and outside Christianity, pray, gThy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.h