WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CHURCH?
BY BEN WALL
What does it mean to be church?
The word church comes from the Greek New Testament word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia), translated through Latin (ecclēsia) into English as ecclesia. Essentially, this means there’s nothing really that hipster (if you were a young adult in the 40’s, think “hepcat”) about churches naming their churches “church.” In fact, it’s in-essentially unessential and needlessly unneeded, not to mention superfluously redundant, if you ask me.
Actually, the term “church”— ekklēsia — means “to be called out.” Ekklēsia is derived from ekkaleo, which consists of two parts: The first part is ek, which is a preposition meaning “from,” “out of.” In composition, ek
implies “origin,” “removal,” “publicity,” “unfolding,” and often carries with it the idea of “intensive force.” The second part is the stem/root of the word: kaleo, which means “to call,” “to summon,” “to name,” “to appoint or select” for an office. So then, the meaning of church entails being called out “of” something and being publicly summoned “for,” selected and appointed “to,” some unfolding purpose.
So, what is the “something” of, for, and to which the church is called? Since the church is ek-klesia, the church is “called out” of the world and sent back into the world for the life of the world through her public witness. This
is what theologians call the church’s ex-centric identity, posture, and positioning within the world. Now that we have established what it means to be church, I think it is vital to note a few things being church does not entail.
Being church does not mean that the church is the starting point and/or final goal of the mission of God. Let’s not overlook the obvious; namely, that God is the One who has called the church into being. The church is “called
out” of and for the world by God. “By God” is of the greatest significance here. Why? Because this means that the church did not call herself into being. What is being implied here is that God’s mission precedes and
determines the church. That is to say, the church exists in her being called out and being sent. In the same way the church did not call herself into being, the church is not the sender. Rather, the church is sent by God. Once again, “by God” is of the greatest significance here. On this account, the church, in essence, participates in the mission of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In addition, mission is not secondary to the being of the church. Rather, the church exists in her being called and sent. Therefore, the church, and its local expression here at COTR, ought to seek to build itself for the sake of the mission of God. This means that COTR ought not strive to be a church-centered mission, but rather a mission-centered church with a deep acknowledgement to the truth that church without mission and/or a
mission without the church are both contradictions because we are missional/missionary in our being called and sent. Being missional is not optional.
Because “God is a missionary God, the church is missionary people.”