Paul says that there is only one body of Christ (Eph 4:4), which is “the ecclesia of living God, the pillar and ground of the truth(1 Tim 3:15). Christ’s ecclesia is the brotherhood world-wide, yet each segment of the ecclesia, in whatever locality it may be found throughout the world, ought to reflect the principles of the one body as a whole.

How do we evaluate the ecclesia? What does it mean to us and our families? Paul’s evaluation quoted above is high indeed, for the Greek words themselves indicate just how important the apostle rated the collective worship of the brethren and sisters of Jesus Christ.

The word “pillar” has the meaning of “to stiffen”, “to support” (Strong); the word is used to describe the stabilising influence of the apostles (Gal 2:9) and also the solidarity and permanence of the saints in immortality as they worship in the future Temple (Rev 3:12). The same word is used to describe the feet of the Rainbowed Angel (our Lord Jesus Christ) as they are placed firmly astride the world in supreme control (Rev 10:1).

The word “ground” comes from a root meaning “to settle”, “to be immovable”. This is the only occurrence of this particular Greek word, whilst the root from which it comes is rendered “stedfast” (1 Cor 15:58) and “settled” (Col 1:23).

Both meanings are captured in the rendering of the RSV: “The pillar and bulwark of the truth”.

 Here then is the value of the ecclesia. It is a haven for ourselves and our children and should provide support, engender confidence, give a sense of solidarity and provide a fortress against the assaults of the world. Consider the thoughts dispersed through Psalm 147: “He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel” (v2); “For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee” (v13); “He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel” (v19).

The Purpose of Ecclesial Life

 Is not this our experience within our ecclesias? “Called out” from the world, we endeavour to lock ourselves away from those evil influences without, whilst within the peaceful confines of the ecclesia we study the Word, teaching our children those principles of solidarity for which the ecclesia stands. Read what Brother Roberts had to say on this matter in The Ecclesial Guide under the heading “Objects of Ecclesial Work”, page 11:

“The objects of ecclesial operations are two-fold: 1 The edification (or refreshment, encouragement, strengthening, or building up) of its individual constituents in the faith — “the edifying of itself in love” (Eph 4:16); and

2 The exhibition of the light of truth to “those that are without”. In this two-fold capacity, the ecclesia is “the pillar (that which upholds) and ground (that which gives standing room) of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). These two objects will always be carefully pursued by enlightened and earnest men. Neither is to be lost sight of, and neither sacrificed to the other.”

There is another lovely figure of speech that leaves us in no doubt as to Yahweh’s attitude towards our gathering together in one. That figure is found in Psalm 87:2, where by a contrast, His preference is clearly shown:“Yahweh loveth the gates of Zion (the place where all gather) more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (our private houses). Note the deliberate contrast: “gates” as against “dwellings”; “Zion” as against “Jacob.

 We need then to re-assess our values from time to time, to understand our own need and to contemplate just how much the ecclesia has contributed in the bringing up of our children.

To assemble ourselves together is more than a command; it is at once a privilege and a necessity. Hence Paul’s advice: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together… ” (Heb 10:25). The expression “the assembling of ourselves together” is really one Greek word “episunagoge”, meaning “a complete gathering”, as opposed to the Jewish “synagogue” meaning a mere “gathering”! Such is the “completeness” of our gathering together as an ecclesia, that we find there is only one other occurrence of “episunagoge”: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him” (2 Thess 2:1). In that day there will truly be a complete gathering, the culmination and glorification of that for which we strive together in our ecclesia now.

The Three Essential Meetings

 It would seem that in this modern, highly organised society, we need to not only re-assess the value of our ecclesia, but to re-define its basic functions. Everywhere today the anguished cry of “Apathy!” is heard, and for those who have lived long enough to make the comparison with former days there is truth in that observation. However non-attendance at the basic meetings of the ecclesia is not only the result of apathy, but can be the result of over-organisation in ecclesial life, the stretching of our ecclesial resources beyond its ability to support.

What then are the “basic meetings of the ecclesia”? Again we refer to the wise counsel of Brother Roberts in The Ecclesial Guide. On page 39 under the heading “A System of Rules Embodying the Foregoing Suggestions”, under point 4 he states the following:

“That we meet on the morning of every first day of the week for the breaking of bread, worship and exhortation; and in the evening, for the exhibition of the truth in its invitation to the alien to become fellow-heirs of the hope of the gospel; also on the evening of one day in the week for the study of the holy oracles…. ”

 This is sound advice, for whatever else we may consider to be vital for our ecclesia it is essential, that in the course of the week we should worship together, preach together, and study together! There is nothing more stimulating than to see the ecclesial hall filled for these basic meetings, the memorial meeting, the lecture, and the study class. Have we not at times felt the thrill of those gatherings where this happens?

Our Personal Commitment

 When every member makes these meetings a priority, then whatever else can be done to assist with separate needs of the body will always be appreciated. However the proliferation of meetings which detract from the essentials in ecclesial life are really counter-productive in the long term. Look what we have added to the basics of ecclesial life! Listening to our recording brother make the announcements at the conclusion of the memorial meeting, one cannot help but wonder how the ecclesia is ever going to cope with the programme and when Sunday and Wednesday evenings come we see that it does not cope!

In speaking to brethren responsible for their ecclesial functions, it seems that this is a universal problem among us and one which has created much thoughtful discussion. There seems to be a growing perception that some rationalisation is needed, but where do we start?

Each separate committee responsible for its particular function sees it as critical to the wellbeing of the meeting, and indeed nearly all the effort extended is accomplishing much good in the area in which it is directed. The really vital question is where does it fit into the scheme of things and does it detract from those basic meetings which are designed for the good of the body as a whole?

Sometimes creating special functions for specific people can in turn develop special groups in the ecclesia. It is doubtless true that we do have brethren and sisters who need particular attention to overcome their inhibitions, but everything should be done to finally assimilate them as valuable members of the collective body of the saints.

How often do we see brethren perceiving a particular need, in their opinion not catered for, going off with the highest possible motive to “organise” something, and often doing so without considering what other activities may have been organised by the ecclesia. In the past this has happened at the busiest times, sometimes before a combined activity of some proportion, which only causes consternation and disappointment among the majority.

It is difficult to give specific answers to what is seen by many to be a real problem. It seems that what is required is to get back to the basics of ecclesial life and to strengthen the core activities. In a word, we need to stiffen the pillars and increase the solidarity of the ecclesial base, engender a confidence at the centre of activities, from which individual needs can then be met without upsetting the necessary balance in ecclesial life.