If the Ekklesia Exists Today, Where Is It?

If we wanted to go on a search for the true ekklesia that Jesus started nearly 2,000 years ago, what would we be looking for?  Well, the original ekklesia had many features for which we might search today, and we can determine those features by reading the Bible and noting certain facts as we go.  In this article, I intend to demonstrate that some of the facts in the Bible regarding the ekklesia are impossible to replicate today, however.  Please consider the following carefully.

The original ekklesia of Jesus had:

  • Members (and particularly apostles) who had met and known Jesus personally
  • Jesus-appointed, living apostles—with whom Jesus stayed in constant contact via the Holy Spirit, guiding and informing them
  • Contemporary epistles from the apostles regarding current issues of the day
  • Access to the apostles so that questions could be asked and answered
  • Living prophets
  • Apostle-appointed evangelists
  • Evangelist-appointed elders
  • Many members with various miraculous gifts.  (healings, tongues, prophecy, knowledge, etc.)
  • Support from holy angels
  • God-initiated discipline/punishment.  (Ananias and Sapphira, Simon the Sorcerer, or Jezebel, e.g.)

With these features in mind, let us consider Paul’s words about the ekklesia to the believers in Ephesus.  Note especially the sentence highlighted in red font:

Ephesians 1:22 And God placed all things under his [Jesus’] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church [EKKLESIA], 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. …2:15 … His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. …19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

By examining the context of Paul’s letter, we see that “the church” (ekklesia) was considered to be a “body” and a “building”.  And with these metaphors in play, we note that Paul had that “building” on a “foundation” that consisted of three things:

  1. Apostles
  2. Prophets
  3. Cornerstone of Jesus

Interestingly, he does not refer to Jesus himself as the primary foundation, but to the apostles and prophets as such.  At the time of this epistle, Jesus had already removed himself from the earth and was no longer present as he had been before.  He maintained direct contact with the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit, and in this present passage, we have one of those apostles (Paul) telling us something about the nature of the ekklesia—that its very foundation was the apostles and prophets–who themselves were anchored to Jesus.

Upon this foundation, and only this foundation, was the ekklesia being built at that time.  There is no example in the Bible of the ekklesia existing without apostles and prophets; this is the only picture given.  So with this in mind, let us consider once again some of the items from the list from above, which I have picked out and copied below for your convenience:

  • Members (and particularly apostles) who had met and known Jesus personally
  • Jesus-appointed, living apostles—with whom Jesus stayed in constant contact via the Holy Spirit, guiding and informing them
  • Contemporary epistles from the apostles regarding current issues of the day
  • Access to the apostles so that questions could be asked and answered
  • Living prophets
  • Apostle-appointed evangelists, Evangelist-appointed elders

Consider what it would have been like to be a member in such a “body”.  How could the ekklesia exist today without this foundational support?  And don’t forget, but the following items are also unavailable today:

  • Many members with various miraculous gifts.  (healings, tongues, prophecy, knowledge, etc.)
  • Support from holy angels
  • God-initiated discipline/punishment.  (Ananias and Sapphira, Simon the Sorcerer, or Jezebel, e.g.)

The only ekklesia mentioned in the Bible had all these supports.  So how could any church today claim to be the original ekklesia?

Many claim (erroneously) that the way this works is that the “apostles and prophets” are now embodied in the inspired writings of the New Testament—that the Bible has taken the place of these people in the modern day church.  This argument is convincing to many, but not to those who actually take the time to study it thoroughly.  And even if there were something to it, the people promoting this argument have no answer as to how the following (previously-mentioned) supports are replaced:

  • Support from holy angels
  • God-initiated discipline/punishment.  (Ananias and Sapphira, Simon the Sorcerer, or Jezebel, e.g.)

Some will insist that it simply does not matter, and that the ekklesia was to continue in altered fashion from then to now, and that somehow, the things that cannot be emulated today will prove to be dispensable after all.  I often tell them, “I’d feel a lot better about that idea if you could show me a place in the Bible where God or one of his authorized representatives said this was going to happen.”  (There is no such place.)

In no place does the Bible list what all was to change for believers from then to now.  So how are we to identify the real ekklesia in this generation?  Are we simply to take people’s word for what was supposed to have changed?  Are we merely to guess?

Or ought we have some loyalty to the Bible texts in this matter?  That is, do the original features of the ekklesia matter anymore?  If so, then how many of those features shall we insist upon for the modern church?  100%?  1%  Somewhere in between?  And who will tell us what is the right answer to this question?  No passage in the Bible directly addresses such a question.

There are certainly some things in the emulation of the ekklesia that are a matter of choice.  For example, I know of no denomination today that exercises these things:

  • Communal living
  • The widow’s list
  • Expulsion of unrepentant members following strictly the model mentioned and alluded to in Matthew 18:15-17

Even so, any denomination could exercise these things if it wanted to.  (See a further discussion here.) But how could a denomination today choose to exercise the following features of the original ekklesia when they are not longer facilitated by God, as they were in the beginning?  Here are those features again:

  • Members (and particularly apostles) who had met and known Jesus personally
  • Jesus-appointed, living apostles—with whom Jesus stayed in constant contact via the Holy Spirit, guiding and informing them
  • Contemporary epistles from the apostles regarding current issues of the day
  • Access to the apostles so that questions could be asked and answered
  • Living prophets
  • Apostle-appointed evangelists, Evangelist-appointed elders

As great as the Bible is, it cannot answer letters.  It can only say what it says, and no more.  It does not expound beyond its current contents when asked to do so.  Nor does it proactively spring into action, as did the apostles, when bad things are going on in the church and need to be corrected.  The Bible, therefore, is simply not an equal substitute for the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

God was calling out to that generation through his apostles and prophets.  The message went out through them, new congregations were begun through them, behavior was monitored and maintained through them, and unmet needs were met through them.  This, and nothing else, was the nature of Jesus’ ekklesia.

So, if the ekklesia exists today, where is it?

And if Jesus intended for the ekklesia to change from from then to now, where is the written prescription for the changes?  The facts are consistent with a model in which the ekklesia was never intended to become a perpetual institution upon the earth.

It is fascinating how very many people, when faced with these questions, will opine that they need not be answered.  Many will acknowledge (however reluctantly) the difficulty in identifying an ekklesia today that is like the original, yet hardly anyone seems to get a handle on the grand significance of this fact.  Even those who claim that their own denominations are the modern-day embodiment of “the one true church” cannot explain the gaps in the “chain of custody” from the First Century until now.  One such church began in 1979 and insists that they are the one true church, being guided by none other than Jesus himself, but they cannot even begin to give a reason as to why Jesus’ ekklesia would have disappeared from the planet for several centuries, to be re-initiated in 1979.   Indeed, there is no prophecy of a stop-and-go ekklesia in scripture.  Nor is there any hint of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t.

Even the Roman Catholic Church did not begin until many generations after Jesus was here.  How, then, can they explain the gap between Constantine and Peter?  Were Jesus and his ekklesia on a sabbatical?

Though most have likely never considered such matters for more than a minute at a time, I’ve considered them for years and I simply cannot imagine any rational argument in support of an ongoing ekklesia—and especially one that appears and disappears throughout time.  But I’m always open to the idea that I might be mistaken.  So if the ekklesia exists today, would someone please produce it?

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