The question posed in the title of this article may seem a little strange at first, but I would like you to ask yourself the question. Do you believe in the ecclesia? Your initial response will probably be, of course I do, I belong to the ecclesia, I work in the ecclesia, the ecclesia is an important part of my life. The question however is, do you believe in the ecclesia?

If you were to make up a list of the doctrines that you believe in, the things that make up your faith, your own personal statement of faith, you would probably include things like, I believe in God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth; I believe in the Bible the inspired Word of God; I believe in His Son, and so on. But, would you include on that list, I believe in the ecclesia?

Well, you might be interested to know that the first Christians included it on their list. The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest creed (credo is a Latin word meaning ‘I believe’) or statement of faith ever discovered. It is dated at approximately 180 AD. Like our Statement of Faith it contains no reference to the trinity, immortal soul or heaven going, but gives us a straight forward outline of what the early Christians did believe. It also contains a number of articles which give us an insight into the way the first Christians viewed the ecclesia. Included towards the end of the creed are the following articles (translated from Greek to Latin to English):

  • I believe in the catholic (universal or worldwide) church (ecclesia)
  • I believe in the communion (fellowship) of the saints.
    These are items which may not have made it onto our own personal list, and yet to the early Christians they were very precious indeed.

In this article we want to pause and think about the uniqueness of the ecclesia.

Firstly, the ecclesia is like a living organism. It is over 2000 years old, world-wide, and it is growing, both numerically and in maturity (Eph 4:15–16). Secondly, the ecclesia is God’s idea. It was not something invented by Brother Roberts or any man-made committee, for that matter.

Theoretically, God may have done things differently. God may have said, develop your faith individually; He may have said, stay within your existing social or religious groups such as the Jewish synagogue or the Pagan temple and develop your faith there.

But no, rather, God called His believers into a separate dynamic community, to be His people. God may have used different models; for example, in ancient Corinth, God could have said, let the Jewish believers form their own group, they have their own needs and challenges, together they could better support each other. He may have said, let the Gentile believers form their own group, let the slaves form their own group, and in another part of the city let the wealthy believers meet together. But no, God has thrown us all in together, young and old, rich or poor – the only thing binding us together is the gospel.

The ecclesia is a miracle, and like all miracles we have faith in the power of God to perform. Our ecclesia has no headquarters, no inspired leadership group, no formal organisational structure, no synods or regional management. Yet we are held together by our love of God, His Son and the gospel message.

The correct attitude towards the ecclesia is summed up in 1 Peter 2:17, “Love the brotherhood”. Here, the word “love” is the incredible and profound Greek word agapao. This love is the greatest thing we can attain to in this life (1 Cor 13), and the love of the brotherhood is presented to us in this verse as a commandment, an imperative, not an option.

Sometimes a Christadelphian may be asked, “When did the ecclesia begin?” and sometimes we may be at a loss to know where to start. We mumble something about Dr Thomas and the American Civil War, but our perspective really needs to go back further than that.

The ecclesia, which you are part of, started exactly fifty days after the death of Jesus Christ on a Jewish feast day called Pentecost (called “Firstfruits” in the Old Testament) as recorded in the book of Acts. Here were gathered about 120 followers of Jesus Christ in the city of Jerusalem, during the time of the Roman Empire. They were together in a large room when woosh! … the sound of a rushing mighty wind was heard and fiery torches appeared above their heads as the presence of God filled the room and the miraculous power of God came upon those present to enable them and empower them to take the message of joy and hope (the gospel) to the rest of the world. This was our beginning!

This incredible manifestation of God’s power initiated the ecclesia and validated it as a special community, an organisation unique and different from any other human group – these were God’s people, God’s community. I believe in this miracle – I believe in the ecclesia!

God’s community came into existence in a remarkably similar way to that of God’s special people in the Old Testament – the nation of Israel. God had taken the Hebrews out of Egypt following Passover and in the third month (Exod 19:1). Fifty days later, on the selfsame day, they came to Sinai. Here, just like the day of Pentecost in Acts, they saw and heard the manifestation of God’s power. The thunders, the lightning and smoke inaugurated this group of slaves into a nation – God’s own people – a miracle indeed:

“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exod 19:5–6).

Even though this was a one-off inaugural event, it was as if God had personally spoken with every Israelite born from then on, as from now on all those born into this community were God’s people. Much later Moses was to say to the next generation. “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day” (Deut 5:2,3).

In reality, by this time, the generation who made the original covenant at Sinai had all died in the wilderness, yet Moses spake as if the existing subsequent generations were actually there. The same principle applies to us. We were not at Pentecost yet we, too, trace our origin back to that miracle by which God inaugurated His people then.

The words applied to God’s special people at Sinai now apply to us: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ … But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Pet 2:5–9).

God’s community in the Old Testament grew in size as children were born into it and educated in divine ways. The community today grows as people of all nations respond to His call. The method of growth recorded in Acts 2 is exactly the same way the community of God grows today:

The Call: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (v40)

The Response: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (v41)

The Result: “the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (v41).

And once they were added to the ecclesia, “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (v42).

These wonderful words define for us those who make up the community of God. They continue in the original doctrine once delivered to the saints by the apostles themselves (cp Jude 3), and are bound together in a special bond called fellowship and share together the intimate experience of breaking bread and prayer. What an incredible privilege to be part of God’s community on earth.

“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (v47).

Here we are reminded that the process of salvation is not achieved in isolation but involves fellowship and becoming an active part of the ecclesia of God.

The metaphors used to describe the ecclesia also emphasise the corporate or multitudinous nature of the ecclesia: these include a body made up of many parts, a building made up of many stones, a temple with many pillars, and a bride formed from a multitude of people.

The very word chosen by God to describe His community also tells us quite a lot. Ekklesia is made up of two root words: ek, “out” and klesis, “to invite or call”. Together they describe a world-wide community of people who have responded to the invitation or call of God and separated themselves to be His people.

The word ecclesia was already used in Greek society and described the Greek political assemblies that existed in the ancient Greek city-states like Sparta and Athens. A herald would run through the city calling the free citizens to attend the ecclesia or general assembly and those who responded to the call would come out of the general community and assemble themselves for this special purpose (cp Acts 19:32,41). It is hard to imagine a more fitting word.

James describes this process at the Jerusalem conference. “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts 15:14).

Never let us forget the fact that the ecclesia is a divine miracle. You have been called by God to be part of that miracle. Do you believe in the ecclesia?