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ECCLESIOLOGY: Faith, Family, Fellowship, Food, Fasting, Fun, Favor

Ecclesiology comes from the Greek ekklesia meaning assembly. It is a compound of the Greek preposition ek (out from) and the verb kaleo (to call). In the New Testament ekklesia is used by Paul when he addresses the church in Rome, the church in Corinth, the church in Thessalonica and the church in Philipi. Therefore, ekklesia is applicable to an assembly of believers in a specific locality. Church, ekklesia, also refers to the collective group of believers around the world. It consists of all who have been called out of atheism and other religions, but more precisely, all who have been called out of sin and who have received Jesus Christ as Savior. They are now THE CHURCH regardless of color, race, standing, or denominational label. The apostle Paul wrote about the universal church in the following words about God’s exaltation of Christ: “Christ was seated far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself “ (Eph. 1:21-23, NLT). There are several analogies for ekklesia, the Church, one of which is The Body—as referenced in the above scripture. Another is The Bride (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:9) for which reason much theological literature references the Church with the feminine pronoun: she, her. In the English language, for the most part, the word “Church” is capitalized when referring to collective believers around the world, and is not capitalized when referring to a local “church”—a specific assembly of believers.

How would you describe your church? What does it believe? What does it teach? What does it practice? The answers are some of the components of its ecclesiology.

FAITH

IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN ECCLESIOLOGY

Throughout the centuries, the word faith has been used and abused, dissected and debated, owned and disowned, yet it remains an essential element in ecclesiology. In fact, Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith.” The writer also describes the essence of faith: “Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” as He rewarded Abel, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab and others named in Hebrews 11. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Heb. 11:1, NLT).  The obvious idea here (I repeat) is that faith is believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Isn’t it interesting how we in the western world have faith in a light switch? We believe that electricity exists and that if we flip the switch we’ll be rewarded with light.

An even more current example is our cell phone. Even though we do not see any wires, and most of us have no comprehension of how sound can be carried from our little instrument to that of a friend thousands of miles away, we still have faith in it, and dial the number. We don’t stop and think whether it will work, how it will work, or what if it doesn’t work. We have the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. Our faith in the cell phone gives us assurance that it will work even though we can’t see how it works.

Biblical faith believes that God exists and that the Bible is true. The rest will take care of itself. That’s what faith is. How do we get it?

Faith comes by hearing God’s Word—the gospel (Rom. 10:17). That’s why we need to read the Bible everyday. Reading it out loud helps us hear it. We also hear it in church services, on TV programs, radio programs, CD’s, DVD’s, mp3’s, podcasts, etc. Romans 10 presents the need to hear in order to have faith to be saved: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (vs.13-15).

Many churches set forth in writing their “Statement,” or “Articles” of faith.  They extract certain principles from the Bible that we can expect to be emphasized in their particular local ekklesia: these are specific things they hope for and believe will actually happen.

FAMILY

IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN ECCLESIOLOGY

Another essential element in ecclesiology is the concept of family. “But to all who believed him[Jesus] and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Eph. 1:5, NLT). If God brings us into His family through believing in Jesus Christ, then we need to function as a family. Families pray together, grow together, eat together, learn together, and follow the rules laid down by the parents. Since God is our Father, He lays down the rules by which we live in His family. Therefore, in an analogical way, the local church, ekklesia, is a family.

This concept became very real to me over the years in pastoral ministry as my husband and I lived hundreds of miles away from our families. Our children were closer to church members than their own relatives. Thank God there were people of all ages to act as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was an interactive family. Of course, it’s true that you can find community in many social groups, but the church family ministers to one another on a spiritual level that cannot be received elsewhere because we are all children of one Father, God. Therefore, we rejoice to say with the Apostle Paul, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15, NKJV).

We should find a church home that preaches salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God. Unless it’s impossible because of poor health or some other valid reason, it is important to be part of the family of a Bible-believing local church, ekklesia, whether large or small, and regardless where it meets. The faithful preaching of the Word, along with the fellowship of other believers, can do wonders for our spiritual lives. It’s a place to bare our souls, find encouragement, comfort, and exhortation for daily tasks—both simple and complex, both easy and difficult. The older brothers and sisters in Christ share their many experiences with the younger ones—helping them, teaching them, and sometimes carrying them through the valleys and over the mountains of life. Ekklesia has at its root more than just an assembly; it is an assembly of believers that bond together as a family.

FELLOWSHIP

IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN ECCLESIOLOGY

This “family of God” experiences fellowship when they come together. The disciples passed on their experiences with Jesus saying, “What we have seen and [ourselves] heard, we are also telling you, so that you too may realize and enjoy fellowship as partners and partakers with us. And [this] fellowship that we have [which is a distinguishing mark of Christians] is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (the Messiah)” (1 John 1:2-4, Amp). Fellowship is an essential element in ecclesiology.

Our fellowship in Christ is celebrated at the Lord’s table: “The cup of blessing [of wine at the Lord’s Supper] upon which we ask God’s blessing, does it not mean that in drinking it we participate in and share a fellowship (a communion) in the blood of Christ, the Messiah? The bread which we break, does it not mean that in eating it we participate in and share a fellowship, a communion, in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16, Amp).

To “give the right hand of fellowship” is a symbol of honor or authority—a symbol whereby the church leaders acknowledged their equality with other believers. “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me” (Gal. 2:9, NIV).

Fellowship comes from a popular Greek word, koinōnia, which means association, community, communion, joint participation. It implies a partnership, comrades, and companions in like ventures. John says there is an essential glue required for being part of such spiritual fellowship: “But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7. NLT). If there are those who are not living in the light of God’s Word, Paul says this glue is absent and we cannot have koinōnia with them (2 Cor. 6:14, KJV).

Someone has asked “What is fellowship?” Another answers: “Two fellows in a ship.” While that’s a clever answer, there’s so much more than that. The two people have fellowship if they are bonded in Christ, sharing in the grace made available to them by Him, and pursuing His agenda for their lives. “I thank my God for your fellowship. your sympathetic cooperation and contributions and partnership, in advancing the good news (the Gospel) from the first day you heard it until now (Phil. 1:5, Amp).

FOOD

IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN ECCLESIOLOGY

Who over the age of fifty among us evangelical Christians doesn’t remember Sunday “dinner on the ground.” Everybody brought a dish and the food was spread out under the shade of the trees, blessed, and enjoyed by all. No doubt there were many confessions of gluttony as the sun went down. But what a joyous time of celebration it was. Celebration of what? Ekklesia. Church. Family. Koinōnia. Fellowship. The sharing of a mutual Faith.

Over time the practice changed when many churches began to build extra rooms onto their church facilities and called them fellowship halls. But the concept remained the same: groups of believers sharing their joy by partaking of food. Some churches now offer doughnuts and coffee before service on Sunday morning (a continental breakfast for late risers?). Some serve refreshments after the service as an opportunity for newcomers to meet with staff and fellow worshippers. Whenever a group from the church gets together at any time or location, it seems like food is an important ingredient of the event.

This is not surprising since this is exactly what the apostles did after the day of Pentecost: “...shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved: (Acts 2:46c,47, NLT).

The Apostle Jude also took note of believers sharing food together and how sometimes outsiders came in merely to disrupt or even destroy the Koinōnia—the fellowship: “When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots” (Jude 12).

The warning here is that not all people who participate in the Lords’ Supper or a Fellowship Meal are “living in the Light of Christ,” and sharing the joy of sins forgiven and the grace of sharing it with others. That doesn’t mean we should abandon the practice of eating a meal together, but it does cause us to remember that “the devil, like a roaring lion, is seeking whom he may devour.”

FASTING

IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN ECCLESIOLOGY

Jesus implies that as believers we will put the practice of fasting into our lives for He said, “When you fast” don’t let it be known that’s what you’re doing. Wash your face. Anoint your head. Fast in secret. Don’t boast about it (See Matthew 6:15-18).  However, no where in scripture does Jesus command His people to fast. In fact, John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus and asked Him: “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but your disciples keep on eating and drinking?” Jesus answered that the time would come when He would be taken away, and then His disciples would fast! (See Luke 5:33-36).

As we read the book of Acts, we cannot help but be reminded that Jesus began His ministry with forty days and nights of fasting (Matt. 5:2). No doubt modeling after Jesus, the early Church spent time in fasting and prayer after which they anointed and ordained Paul and Silas and sent them out to evangelize (Acts 13:2-3). After great success in winning souls in many cities, they fasted, then appointed pastors to oversee the discipleship of these new converts. And herein we see that fasting along with prayer is an essential element in ecclesiology.

In addition to fasting for ministers to be sent forth from the Church, Paul urges married couples to fast and pray for an unspecified period of time (1 Cor. 7). Although he does not say why they should fast and pray, the context lends itself to enriching the marital relationship—perhaps to sharpen discernment on how to deal with issues confronting the marriage?

In the New Testament, no specified length of time is given for a fast, nor is there given criteria for what kind of fast one should do. Therefore I believe it is a personal matter. Some people fast one day with water only; others fast for three days. Some fast one meal a day for a specified length of time. I know couples who fast one day a week, water-only, for their children. Several of my friends have done 40-day fasts. I personally have done several 21-day water-only fasts and many 10 day fasts. The Old Testament speaks of Daniel’s fast which consists of eating only vegetables and drinking only water for twenty-one days (Daniel 1:8-14). There are numerous variations.

One thing is sure, fasting must be accompanied by prayer; it is done for a specific purpose, and we do not call attention to the fact when we are fasting (although obviously we don’t deny it if confronted with “why aren’t you eating?”)

When our pastor calls a church-wide fast for a specific purpose, we should do everything within our power to honor that fast—remember, that’s what the Church did in Acts. We will also reap personal rewards from that time of sacrifice.

FUN

IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN ECCLESIOLOGY

King David’s son, Solomon, who prayed for wisdom, is believed to be the author of Ecclesiastes (which in Hebrew is Koheleth, translated to Greek Ecclesiastes meaning Preacher).  The Preacher then, said: “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun” (Ecc. 8:15). The Psalmist confirms this: “You will enjoy the fruit of your labor.

How joyful and prosperous you will be” (Psa. 128:2). And the prophet Isaiah further emphasizes: “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds” (Isa. 3:10).

I sincerely appreciate the prayer of the Psalmist: “May you live to enjoy your grandchildren (Psa. 128:6). I thank God for answering that prayer in this stage of my life. That’s why I moved from the unpredictable climate of Michigan to the hot desert of Nevada to the somewhat neutral climate of South Carolina to enjoy my grandchildren. How thankful I am for the privilege of enjoying them.

Oh, I love to have fun! And I’ve been blessed with wonderful family, friends, and church family with whom to enjoy fellowship and fun on many different levels. And in enjoying all aspects of life, we remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Romans: “Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!”(Rom. 12:16). This doesn’t spoil our fun, it just maximizes it. To enjoy God and life, having fun, is an essential element in ecclesiology.

FAVOR

IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN ECCLESIOLOGY

We have already found favor with God in that He gave His life for us. “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent, and is not willing that anyone should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).

“In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8 NLT).

Show favor to all by deferring to them in your opinions and welcoming them to share theirs remembering that it is not necessary to agree. We share how God’s favor is upon us because He gave His Son to die for us–not because of anything we have done, are doing, or will do. And we should offer the same favor to others. The choice is ours–whether to serve God and each other or to remain focused on ourselves and lose the joy of community.

SUMMARY

Let’s be diligent to participate in all practices that make up ecclesiology: faith, family, fellowship, food, fasting, fun, and favor. Life takes on a fuller meaning and causes us to look on the needs of others and count our blessings–even if they may seem few at the time. “And our own completeness is now found in him. We are completely filled with God as Christ’s fullness overflows within us. He is the Head of every kingdom and authority in the universe!” (Colossians 2:10 TPT).

 

 

(c) THE ALABASTER BOX #07-2008; updated 03-2019.

C. Yvonne Karl, yvonnekarl@gmail.com

Highly Favored

Favor is a positive word until we hear someone say, “Would you do me a favor?” At that question, most of us bristle because we don’t have a servant’s heart and have no desire to be in the business of favor distribution. I cannot begin to count the times my fervent prayer has been for favor—with God and man, for others and for myself. In our limited thinking, being a recipient of favor is synonymous with success. However, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at her home in Nazareth to announce that she had received God’s favor—probably without asking for it.. The mere appearance of the angel was enough to startle her, but the message he gave her was even more astounding. “Do not be afraid, Mary…You are highly favored.” He explained that God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son, and that He was to be named Jesus because He would save the people from their sins. Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you; so the baby born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God.’…Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever He wants. May everything you said come true.’

We think we would like being favored, but just ask children how it feels when a brother or sister has more favor with parents than they. For example, the prodigal son’s older brother was envious and bitter because he felt his younger, deviant brother was more favored than he. On the job, other employees often begin to play pranks or set up situations to ensnare their fellow-worker whom they feel is favored by the boss. Being selected for favor may be exciting for the moment, but in the end it often separates friends and brings scorn and rejection. Imagine Mary, a very young girl, living among her friends and relatives pregnant and unwed and telling them that it’s because she is highly favored. Imagine her telling Joseph, her fiancé, that she is pregnant by the Most High God because she is highly favored.

What does favor mean? According to dictionaries in English as well as Hebrew and Greek, it means “grace.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word chen is translated thirty-seven times as grace and twenty-seven times as favor. In the New Testament the Greek word charis is translated one hundred twenty-six times as grace and six times as favor. To get a better understanding of what favor is, we read passages of Scripture that contain the word and interchange the translation grace with favor and favor with grace. For example, Paul wrote, you are not under the law but under grace [favor]; and by the grace [favor] of God, I am what I am…not I but the grace [favor] of God which was with me.

When the angel said, You are highly favored, he spoke a message from God to Mary. The reason she had found grace in the sight of the Lord can be seen in the following acrostic. She was…

F – faithful

A – able

V – virgin

O – obedient

R – righteous

E – efficacious

D – dedicated

By favor, we usually mean singled out for distinctive treatment. Most of the time people want to be favored or exalted without having to accept any responsibility for earning the gift. They wish to be somebody special in the eyes of others. Unfortunately, the opposite is usually true. Anyone who has ever experienced being singled out for favor understands well the consequences that ensue.

Years ago, I was a classroom teacher when my principal approached me and asked if I would accept the position as counselor for the next school year. I agreed to the appointment, but much to my chagrin some of my fellow staff members felt they had been passed over for the post. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the by-produce of enjoying favor with the boss was enemies. The animosity toward me seemed to subside after a couple of years, but I never again enjoyed the bond of friendship I had prior to being favored. When I left that job to move to another state, I was still enjoying favor from the principal, but few blessings from the staff. They threw a going-away party for me, but I think it was their celebration of my leaving.

On the other hand, in all fairness, I must say there were some co-workers who were genuinely supportive of me during my tenure as counselor and that eased the pain of being favored. The actual job was most enjoyable. Working with the young people in problem-solving situations opened my eyes to many injustices as well as to teen expectations and character strengths. In retrospect, I’m still glad I consented to be “favored.” However, in another district when the unsolicited invitation came to be the school counselor, I quickly turned it down. My tenure there would be short, and I preferred it to be sweet.

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was a godly woman and had been given a prophetic word to confirm for Mary that her favor was indeed from the Living God and she would bring forth from her womb the Messiah. Mary’s response involved all three realms of her being: She consented to let the Holy Spirit overshadow her; she yielded her body to be the temple for the Holy Child Jesus; and she said, My soul (mind, will, emotions) magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name.

Like Mary, we are highly favored and have been chosen to bear in our bodies the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like Noah who found grace in the eyes of the Lord and he and his family were saved from the flood, we have found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Now if we receive it and act upon it, we will be saved from hell and live eternally with Jesus. Others may not understand this favor bestowed upon us. Jesus warned us that in this world we will have persecution, but He told us not to fear for He has overcome the world. Our enemy does not want us to walk in the favor given us by our Heavenly Father. He wants to steal it from us. He will ridicule us and try to make us think we are not worthy of it. However, Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected that we might receive favor. Does that mean that things will always go well for us here on earth? No, but it does mean that we are each singled out by God as vessels in which His Son may live by the Spirit.

Everyday is Christmas for the follower of Jesus Christ. Congratulations! We are highly favored.

 

(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 7.

This book is out of stock and out of print but is occasionally offered as a used book on amazon.com, alibris.com, and abebooks.com.

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