The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament described the Israelites with the word 'ekklesia.' However, the word over time began to change. This began to happen with the rise to power of Constantine, a Roman emperor. Constantine declared himself to be a Christian though many would say he did this only to rally people around him to begin to conquer the world in the name of Christ, not for their spiritual benefit, but for his political power. Nonetheless, he came to power and suddenly, Christianity, which had been persecuted since the time of Jesus' ascension was now in power. Before, Christians would have to sneak around to meet and they kept their beliefs under wraps. But once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity became the religion of the elite roman society people. They used their power to build large and ornate buildings for people to come and worship. It was during this time that the word for Christians changed from 'ekklesia' to 'church.' It marked a drastic shift in Christianity that still affects us today.
The words are similar, yet very different. The word church came from the German word kirche. And it means 'house of the Lord.' This seems to be ok since in the Old Testament we have the Temple which was built, the house of the Lord. Yet, even after the building of the Temple, the people were still referred to as 'ekklesia' not 'house of the Lord,' not 'kirche,' and not our English translation of 'church.'
The word 'ekklesia' means a gathering of people united by a common goal and common purpose. The word church also means a gathering but the meaning is a gathering of people to a specific place because it means 'house.' Don't get me wrong. It is not bad to refer to the church as the house of the Lord and as David said, "It is good for us to go into the House of the Lord.' But the 'church' stopped being a movement united with the common purpose of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to a place where people gathered to worship. The concept of Christianity stopped being a movement and became a ritual, a habit.
We still see this today. Most Christians live out their faith not as if they are part of a movement, They live out their faith as if once a week, they have a meeting to go to. The United States of America is not much different from Constantine's empire. Christianity has been the leading religion of our culture. And we have constructed monumental buildings, some quite ornate, but Christianity in America is no longer of movement spreading like wildfire. It has been reduced to a once a week, if that often, meeting we need to attend.
What if the church returned to its roots? What if we began to think of ourselves as a people chosen by God to carry the torch of Jesus Christ everywhere we go. I am not saying we should not meet together. We are urged in the New Testament to never stop meeting together. But what if our gathering was characterized by a zeal to do the works of God and not simply a place to go. People would walk into the church excited about worship. They would not want to miss the gathering of the saints of God. The conversations in the foyer before and after church would not be about work, but about how we witnessed to our neighbors or saw a miracle of healing, or prayer.
What if we stopped going to church and started gathering to ekklesia? Let's be a church on fire!