by Lynette Woods
Moses is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness.... He received living truths to give to us. (Acts 7:38 ISV)
It is quite common these days to buy something
that says "Assembly Required" on the box. Some
see this as an enjoyable challenge, while others
view it as a necessary evil! The process of
assembly can go very smoothly if instructions
are followed AND, very importantly, if all the
parts are present. However, it can also be very
frustrating if there are no instructions or if
there are parts missing.
In contrast to that, the assembly of God's people are being gathered and assembled together into an unseen structure, unseen company, and unseen family by our unseen Father - what is spiritual and heavenly is not immediately visible to the earthly. It is very important that all the parts for this assembling are present and accounted for. Every single person/part is essential for this assembly. And there is a Greek word in the New Testament that means "assembly". This word is: "ekklesia".
The Greek word "ekklesia" is mistranslated as "church" in most English Bibles. Several years ago I wrote about leaving the word "church" (see Leaving Church). However, I felt at the time that simply replacing the word "church" with the word "ekklesia" was not ideal for a number of reasons:
On a recent trip to Samoa we saw these
There were so many churches/ekalesiae in Samoa, even on the remote island that we were on. They were quite large, ornate buildings in stark contrast to the thatched fales/houses that were often without walls. It was clear that these buildings are important to the people and therefore lots of money is spent on them. As my son wrote, "Fales (Samoan thatched houses) and elaborate churches. That was about all the buildings you would see. Lots of churches, and even more fales. Tourism was a miniscule business compared to religion it appeared…"
Whether we like it or not, the Greek word "ekklesia" is tainted with religion and with the business of religion. Instead of being translated, the word was transliterated into Latin as "ecclesia" and from there became an ecclesiastical word, associated with religion and the church. And although the word "ekklesia" is the Greek translation of the original Hebrew word "qahal", "ekklesia" is translated in most English Bibles as "church" even though the original word "qahal" is not once translated as "church" in the Old Testament. Instead "qahal" is translated as congregation, assembly and company.
William Tyndale's translation of the Bible
into English he translated the word "ekklesia"
as "congregation" even though there were
churches around when Tyndale was alive. William
Tyndale did use the word "church"
twice in his translation; in relation to pagans
and their places of worship. This is
what he wrote (in old English): "Then Iupiters
Preste which dwelt before their cite brought
oxe and garlondes vnto the churche porche and
wolde have done sacrifise with the people."
(Acts 14:13 in modern English reads, "And the
priest of Zeus, whose temple was at
the entrance to the city, brought oxen and
garlands to the gates and wanted to offer
sacrifice with the crowds"). The second
instance was: "For ye have brought hyther
these me whiche are nether robbers of churches
nor yet despisers of youre goddes." (Acts
19:37 now reads, "For you have brought here
these men, who are neither robbers of temples,
nor yet blasphemers of your goddess").
completed his translation in 1525 (86 years
before the King James version) and he
associated a church with idolatry and pagan
religions (some of us would say that is still
the case). Not once did Tyndale interpret
either "qahal" or "ekklesia" as a building or
Many of us believe that this word "ekklesia"
means "called out ones". It is true that the
word "ekklesia" is a composite noun made up of
two Greek words: "ek" meaning "out of" or "away
from", and "kaleo" meaning "called", and as a
result, many conclude that "ekklesia" means
"called out ones". However, I've had a niggling
sense for some time that this was not entirely
correct; language is more complicated than
simply seeing the root words and thinking that
is what a composite word means. Just as
composite nouns in English cannot be broken
apart but instead make up a new word
with a new meaning, so it is in the
The meaning of a composite word is changed
from the individual parts of the word, into a
new composite word with a new meaning
and definition. Some assembly is required in
order to become a new word! You cannot take
apart the new word. For instance, we can't take
the word "outcome" in English and take it to
mean "come out" - the composite word does not
mean that. In the same way we can't take
"ekklesia" - out called - and say that it means
"called out" because it did not mean that in
the Greek, so it is rather disingenuous
for us to suggest that it did.
If we say that
"ekklesia" means "called out ones", it loses
some of its emphasis because it is not just
a matter of being called out (although that
is a very important aspect) but it
is also vital to recognize that we are called
into being gathered together. We are
not called out to be individual "ones"
isolated and alone; we are called out to be
together in a heavenly company
and community that is being assembled
and gathered together in Christ.
Being Assembled Together
At this point you may be remembering the "not forsaking assembling together" verse. This verse is usually completely misunderstood and is often misused for trying to convince people that attending church meetings is essential and Biblical: "Let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up to love and helpful deeds, not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together as is the habit of some people, but admonishing, warning, urging and encouraging one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:24,25 TAB).
the word commonly translated as "church" is not
even in this verse, even though some
Bibles would have us believe that it is. For
instance The Living Bible interprets this
verse as: "Let us not neglect our church
meetings, as some people do..." But that is
nothing like what the original Greek says.
If, as many people do, you take those verses in Hebrews to apply to a literal, physical assembly or church meeting, then how is it possible for us all to be physically episynogoge - gathered together in one place - when we are scattered all over the world? The answer is that it is very clearly NOT speaking physically, but spiritually: we ARE being gathered and assembled together in One Place: CHRIST! This is not about attending a place physically here on earth, but being gathered in One Place (Christ) spiritually. This is the "new and living Way" that the writer of Hebrews had just mentioned.
Another interesting thing in this verse is the word translated as "manner" or "habit": "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is" or "as is the habit of some people". That word in the Greek is "ethos" and it means "a custom, rite, or institute that is prescribed by law". Now, does that sound like what God is building, or what man is building? Does that sound like something spiritual, or something religious? Could it be that this verse has been interpreted as the exact opposite of what it really means? Perhaps the author was saying, "We are not abandoning our being gathered together in one Place (Christ) even as is the custom and rite of some (in their institutions and religions that take the place of Christ) but..." and then there is another interesting word: parakaleo, translated in the KJV as "exhorting".
how "ekklesia" is made of two Greek words:
ek and kaleo, this word is also made of two
words: para (near, beside) and kaleo. The
first meaning of the word is "to call to
your side, to summons". The secondary
meaning is "to call upon in entreaty,
comfort, and instruction". Remember that the
author of the book to the Hebrews was
challenging everything that the
Hebrews had known and believed was right in
their religion and was instead emphasising
the spiritual and not the physical; just
reading chapter 9 brings all that is in
chapter 10 into this spiritual context. In
that context, it makes sense that this verse
could be interpreted as: "We are not
abandoning our being gathered together in
one Place (Christ) even as is the custom and
rite of some (in their institutions and
religions here on earth) but instead
we're calling one another alongside us (with
Christ in the heavenly places) and
encouraging others even more as we see the
all those who are being assembled together
in Jesus Christ in the heavenlies,
regardless of whether they go to any
meetings on earth or not, are the ones who
are truly "not forsaking the assembly"!
What Are We Called?
the very beginning, God's
intention has been a collective,
a family, a company of people.
He promised Jacob, "A nation and
a community (qahal/ekklesia) of
nations will come from you"
(Gen. 35:11). In Isaac's
blessing to Jacob he said, "May
God Almighty bless you, make you
fertile, and increase the number
of your descendants so that you
will become a community
(qahal/ekklesia) of people"
(Gen. 28:3). Most of us have an
innate desire for community,
family, friendship, fellowship,
but most of us fulfill that
desire through going to one
another instead of gathering in
One Place: Christ.
is a fact that when we are being
assembled in Him, we are also
being assembled together with
all the others who are in Him.
Will that be expressed through
us physically on this earth?
Yes! But it must be an
assembling, a gathering together
that is brought about by, and
for, Christ and as such may not
look like what we would expect.
have already been given quite a number
of word pictures of what God is
assembling that express and explain
who we are and what we are called without
needing to use a Hebrew, Greek, or
Latin word. The danger with using a
foreign word that is not part
of our language is not only of
misunderstanding the word, but also of
creating a "special" religious and
ecclesiastical term that is exclusive and used only
by those "in the know"; in short, it
becomes a thing of pride
and is a religious buzzword.
of the word pictures that have already been
given to us in the Scriptures,
besides an Assembly, are: Christ's
Body, Kingdom, Family, Wife/Bride,
Household, Temple, Grapevine,
Light, Salt, Bread, a City, and
Nation. Each of these express an
element of truth about this unseen
construction that Christ is
building/assembling and we can use
any one of them to describe who we
pictures are packed full of
meaning... and while not one image
contains the whole picture, and in
some ways may even be a paradox
when compared with the other
images, if we take the primary
elements of each, we begin to see
what this Community
of God's people
is about. What I have extracted
and shared here is obviously
incomplete, there is so much more
to be gleaned from these
Body (1 Cor. 12:12-27) we
are intimately part of one another
and Him - we simply cannot be
separate units. My fingers are
either part of my body, or they
are not; if they are no longer
joined to my body, then they are
no longer part of me and do not
function as part of me. All of my
body works together being directed
by my head without even realizing
it or thinking about it; we are
one. So it is with Christ! It does
not matter whether you are
physically with another part of
Him here on earth, because IN
Christ you simply are
with every other part of
Him, whether you are with them
physically or not, because this is
a spiritual and heavenly Body!
As loyal subjects
of the King and His Kingdom
(Col. 1:13) we know and love our
King and we live for Him in a
community known as a kingdom. He
is the One we worship and serve,
not ourselves. He is the One who
rules, not us. He is the One who governs,
member of God's Family (1
John 3:9) we are conceived and
born into this very large Family.
We are born from above, of heaven,
and as such, we do not belong down
here on this earth, our real life
is above: with Christ, seated in
the heavenlies. We
have only one Father and
many, many siblings. No
matter how large a
family gets, each child
and part of the whole.
children, we trust our Father and
know Him as our Provider,
Protector, Comforter, Teacher and
so much more. As children we carry
our Father's Name, character,
and likeness wherever we go. We
are also His
heirs and we treasure our
the Wife and Bride of Christ
(Rev. 21:9) the imagery is of two
becoming one unit. Christ is, and
always will be, separate from us
in His Deity just as a husband
retains his identity and personality
apart from his wife, and vice
versa. But we are joined with Him
through choosing to be married,
the two becoming One in love and
commitment to one another.
Companionship and friendship is an
important part of this
relationship. And the ultimate
goal of marriage in God's plan was
reproduction, and it is the same
in His spiritual plan also. He
desires to see His Son reproduced
through us and others...
the Household of God (1
Pet. 4:17) we live in His House.
and its occupants are one unit.
protects and contains all that is
needed for the inhabitants. The
people living there are viewed as
one household. This is where they
eat, work, rest,
sleep and live...
the Temple of God (1 Cor.
3:16,17) we are being built and joined together
as living stones; not bricks (for
conformity) but individual stones
formed and fitted together with
one another by the
Architect/Builder. A temple is a
place of worship, and historically
was a place made for God to live
in. He now lives in us as His Temple and
we worship Him in our spirit, in
the holiest place...
branches of the Grapevine
(John 15:5) we bear fruit without
even trying, simply because of the
Life that flows through us. As the
Light of the world (Matt.
5:14) we are joined with the One
Fire that illuminates, exposes,
and cannot be hidden. As He is, so
are we in this world.
Our flame is fed by the oil of the
Spirit. As Salt (Matt.
5:13) we are used to preserve,
purify and add flavour in this
world. As Bread (1 Cor.
10:17) we are part of one Loaf (Christ) for
others to feed from and gain
strength and energy for their
the City of God (Heb.
12:22) we are many houses united
as one City. Houses in a city are
there permanently; they don't
suddenly lift themselves off their
foundations and move to another
city! A thriving city is
constantly being built, constantly
expanding. It is also a place that
visitors will come to and either
choose to remain, or leave.
citizens of God's Nation
(1 Pet. 2:9) we are literally:
"one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all" and I am not for
one moment thinking of the USA - I
am not an American citizen. As
citizens of this new Israel, this
new Nation, we leave behind all
other national loyalties and
citizenship. We defend and fight
for this Nation. We are
patriots of this Nation.
We are many individuals who have
left our countries and loyalties
and are now formed into a new
Nation, but not one that can be
seen on this earth....
rock I will build and establish My
"Here there is no question of a partial or narrowly local Ecclesia. The congregation of God, which held so conspicuous a place in the ancient Scriptures, is assuredly what the disciples could not fail to understand as the foundation of the meaning of a sentence which was indeed for the present mysterious. If we may venture for a moment to substitute the name Israel, and read the words as 'on this rock I will build my Israel,' we gain an impression which supplies at least an approximation to the probable sense. The Ecclesia of the ancient Israel was the Ecclesia of God; and now, having been confessed to be God's Messiah, nay His Son, He could to such hearers without risk of grave misunderstanding claim that Ecclesia as His own."We do require assembling, we are part of one another, and we are being assembled into the City and Nation that God as our Architect is building and assembling. Regardless of those we see or do not see physically around us, we are being gathered together and assembled in Christ - we are placed in Him and we are seated with Him in heavenly places! Let's endeavour to recognize this assembling work of God among us, and co-operate with Him in it, and delight in our being gathered together into Him!
You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God's firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. (Heb. 12:22,23 NLT)