Posted by: rogermitchell | May 12, 2011

How I view Jesus’ ecclesia

As I see it, full discipleship involves actual participation in the life of the risen Jesus by the Holy Spirit and shares in the trinitarian life of God. In consequence it is an expression of the ongoing body of Christ on earth and thereby continues the incarnation. A two-way transaction between the disciple and God at the point of revelation that Jesus is God in the flesh, initiates this participation and is what Matthew’s gospel describes as the primary building block of the ecclesia (Mtt 16:18) and the Johannine testimony refers to as a new birth (Jn 1:12-13; 3:6). This seems to me the irreducible initial component of Jesus’ ecclesia.

From this starting point an intersecting network of relationships is distributed throughout the earth, built on Jesus’ own life, death and resurrection, by the Holy Spirit. The gospels describe the intended purpose of this incarnational network of recreated humans as blessing the poor in body and spirit, initiating personal transformation, overcoming demonic structures and seeking to manifest God’s way of unconditional love before anything else (Mtt 16:15-19, Lk 4:18). To prepare his disciples for this task, Jesus spent forty days with them after his resurrection explaining the kingdom that he had embodied and secured forever by his life death and resurrection (Acts 1:3). Then at Pentecost he baptised them in the Holy Spirit who having been in partnership with him throughout his incarnation now carried the undefeatable way of life that had overcome everything against it at the cross (Rom 1:4).

Jesus then returned in his resurrected human body to live in the transcendent realm as the evidence and hope of the ultimate indestructibility of his life-politics, leaving his disciples as his immanent bodily dwelling place on earth, his ecclesia, inhabited by his Spirit, and intended to mature into what the apostle Paul describes as “the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23). The ecclesia understood in these terms is dynamic, organic and not to be confused with membership of any institution or organisation. Ecclesia is what a disciple of Jesus generically is as a result of revelation, new birth and baptism in the Holy Spirit, together with all those other disciples of like experience. Together we are Christ’s ongoing body on the earth through new creation.

This emphatically does not mean that we the ecclesia are an exclusive network of people deliberately or unintentionally excluding those who do not share our experience, because the purpose of our existence is to seek the kingdom of God, about which Jesus stated unequivocally that it belongs to children, the poor and the sons and daughters of peace who are not yet his disciples (Mtt 18:3-4, Lk 6:20, Lk 10:6). Far from setting himself apart  from these, Jesus clearly and deliberately positioned himself and therefore his ecclesia to be poured out among them in their cause and for their blessing. As the ecclesia embraces his kenotic life in this way, then it is true of us as Paul puts it “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1Co 12:27).

All this is what makes the ecclesia so important for me and why I find its institutionalisation and colonisation by the interests and structures of empire so profoundly disturbing. The ecclesia,  once it is invaded by the domination systems of this world, tells what I term a ‘true’ lie. That is to say, because the ecclesia is intended to be the truth about God and his way in the earth, when it points to the law, the nation state and temple organisation instead of the will of God, it is communicating a lie about God and his desire for the planet. It suggests that his purpose for the multitude is their subjugation and domination, not their blessing and welfare.

This is the horrible situation which Jesus and his disciples face today, but which I firmly believe that three generations of Holy Spirit visitation are intended to culminate a time of recovery from. The implications of all this are far-reaching, and involve conclusions that I am aware may fly in the face of popular assumptions both modern and postmodern. The theology and politics behind these conclusions is, at least in part, contained in the recent posts on kenarchy and katargesis and are backed up by the thesis I have been working on over the last six years and which awaits its academic defence. While I won’t attempt to develop this thesis in detail within these posts on the ecclesia, it will be available for general contemplation in due course.



  1. there is a lot to chew on here roger. I like the list of folks who are part of the Kingdom – children, the poor, and sons and daughters of peace (even if they don’t know Jesus. . . yet). I think that’s what I’ve come to – seeking out and encouraging folks with a Kingdom desire in their hearts, who are trying to live it some way in their context. So often, unfortunately, that appears to put me and them at odds with the institutional church. I will be interested in future posts on the implications of all of this as I am always a practical, feet-on-the-ground, person.

  2. I agree with Cheryl, Roger, you are going deep. I’m coming to the same place she is in terms of encouaging those with a Kingdom desire or men of peace trying to live it out.

    I’m struck by your suggestion/theory that a ‘true lie’ is being told by the ‘church’ (I deliberately use that word) as we know it now to perpetuate itself as an institution or organisation, wittingly or unwittingly, and what that lie is linked to – empire, law, nation state and temple organisation.

    It’s so easy to end up serving an institution – and conversely, where deep and lengthy relationship is present, it’s possible to end up serving that. I suggest both these are inappropriate when taken to an extreme. Given these tendencies, however, does this assume that even as new creations we remain sinners because we get it wrong in the extremes of the outworking?

    Generally, I feel a resonance with these thoughts and acknowledge a Godly fear and trembling at this perspective of our deep responsibilities.

  3. You said
    The ecclesia, once it is invaded by the domination systems of this world, tells what I term a ‘true’ lie. That is to say, because the ecclesia is intended to be the truth about God and his way in the earth, when it points to the law, the nation state and temple organisation instead of the will of God, it is communicating a lie about God and his desire for the planet.

    Can you be a bit clearer on how the true lie you talk about is presented to us?

  4. This is partly what I was attempting in the recent posts dealing with Paul’s use of the word katargesis in connection with the law and then applying it to the sovereign state and the temple. To give examples of each, I would argue as follows. (i) When the church argues that being “subject to the powers that be” (Rom 13:1, 1 Pet 2:13) means that we simply obey the law, without first of all exposing its own subjection to the antichrist empire system like Jesus did in his demonstration in the temple, we tell a lie about God. The lie is that God is for or behind the system, or at least OK with it. He is not. (ii) When the church prays for “those that have the rule” over us, beginning with the head of state (1 Tim 2:1-2), without recognising the way that Jesus deliberately confronts authority, we tell a lie about God. The lie is that God’s sovereignty is expressed in a top-down hierarchy, it is not. (iii) When we interpret the injunction “don’t neglect to meet together as the manner of some is” (Heb 10:25) in terms of a regular temple-type gathering involving some kind of prescribed service or liturgy presided over or mediated by hierarchically operating religious specialists or offices in a particular building or house, we tell a lie about God. Meeting together with Jesus’ body on earth moves us beyond that to release and empower every disciple to express the kingdom way throughout the whole of creation.

  5. That reminds me of the interpretation of Paul in his letter to Philemon about Onesimus. Many people see that as Pauline support for slavery but it is really just the opposite. In the book Philemon is exhorted to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. That relationship is radically different from owner with slave. It means that Onesimus is now a sibling in a family. Instead of demonstrating that God loves hierarchy and even slavery (some Christians in the USA are using these kinds of passages to say that Jesus hates workers’ unions and minimum wages) it shows how God explodes those assumptions with the Kingdom.

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