WHO’S CONTROLLING THIS EKKLESIA ANYWAY? by Doug Krieger
“I will build My EKKLESIA and the Gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) FIRST, in a Series on: What Does an Ekklesia Look Like? Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that Ekklesia is somehow tied to “crushing Satan’s head?” Well, it’s either this or someone else is in control . . . let me explain. I know, the title to this article sounds negative—it is in a “positive sounding way!” However, when you or your little group of controllers (forgive me if I sound like I’m using a 2X4 to get your attention—I mean well) tries to manipulate a gathering of God’s people who are desiring to have a free and open fellowship—all the while Satan is having a “heyday!” How’s that? IF SOMEONE(S) DOESN’T CONTROL what’s going down in this meeting—it’ll all become confused and wolves (aka, flock-less shepherds) will come in and try to “take over” the meeting in any event, right? And, that’s why we need to “control this thing!” So, casually but intentionally, you come together in someone’s home or business or public building (e.g., social hall, dorm lounge, etc.) to pray, read God’s Word together, worship through song and praise, and share testimonies about your experiences with Christ—but someone HAS TO LEAD the meeting, otherwise, it will go awry or will be prone for someone to rise up and dominate the conversation, the exchange. Have you ever been in an Ekklesia-style gathering where 1 Corinthians 11-14 is actually practiced—I mean, without the Pastor’s notes, or some pre-ordained program (aka, the infamous AGENDA—going down “item by item” ‘til all is covered)? And, FORBID, if all the saints present don’t share at least something! I mean, really, why come to a “participatory meeting” and then just sit there like you’re in some “church pew” stuffing yourself with another sermon . . . most of us, at best, are just used to some minimal participation (like praise and worship) and then we sit there and take it all in . . . so, this is just the same but on a smaller scale, right?
It’s all good to get everyone “in on the action” but how does that look? I’ve been in some gatherings in which a strong personality type (usually a man) will so dominate the conversation—either talking about his own experiences, or trying to get everyone to “function” the way he sees fit—that in actuality the entire gathering turns into “his ministry.” Now follow me here . . . I’m not against someone having a ministry or even a time of ministry somewhere during an “ekklesia-style” gathering where, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord . . . there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” . . . and where there are “the manifestation(s) of the Spirit . . . given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:4-7) but, again, what does that look like? In 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 it is abundantly clear: EACH OF YOU HAS . . . something to build up the Body of Christ; to wit: “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the EKKLESIA (not “church”) and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For YOU CAN ALL PROPHESY ONE BY ONE, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches (again, “ekklesia” plural form) of the saints (1 Cor. 14:26-33).
Consequently, it appears that such a gathering of God’s people—and, by the way, 1 Corinthians 11-14 is nigh the only detailed account of what goes on in an “ekklesia-style gathering”—is immensely participatory, extremely engaging . . . as YOU COME TO JOIN IN and contribute your portion whatever is your gifting. It’s a CONTRIBUTING environment. Yes, there’s undoubtedly some “give and take” but it’s mostly giving, not taking. Who’s Really In Control? But who’s in control of such an environment? The only folks who seem to be involved in any form of “control” are known as those “who are approved” or those considered “genuine” (1 Cor. 11:19): “For there must also be factions among you (viz., “it is NECESSARY there must also be factions among you”), that THOSE WHO ARE GENUINE may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). Obviously, these “genuine ones” are not factious (although factions are required, expected, even some would say, mandatory—this “grouping” of saints is NOT homogeneous—there are differences among them, most certainly) nor divisive (although there are divisions among the saints) – so these brethren “manifest” when these factions become “factious” and those in various “divided camps” become divisive in a gathering. In other words, these folks are mature enough to “keep the peace” among diverse brethren – they practice what Paul said: “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible states: “The apostle guards them against this, and shows them that they should intensely labor (for so the word σπουδαζειν implies) to promote and preserve peace and unity. By the unity of the Spirit we are to understand, not only a spiritual unity, but also a unity of sentiments, desires, and affections, such as is worthy of and springs from the Spirit of God. By the bond of peace we are to understand a peace or union, where the interests of all parties are concentrated, cemented, and sealed; the Spirit of God being the seal upon this knot.” Hosting An Ekklesia We find in Romans 16:23 . . . a chapter in which Paul calls out around 36 saints who are encouraged to “meet and greet” one another (not optional, by the way, but mandatory if you wish to practice true ekklesia in a community) . . . but Paul draws attention to brother Gaius: “My host and the host of the whole ekklesia.” Here, the word “host” is the same term used elsewhere but interpreted as “entertaining strangers” with “host” being associated more with “strangers” or someone with whom the “host” is unfamiliar (xenos or ξένος – Strong’s G#3581 – also translated as “alien” – “guest” – “strange” or “strangers”). However, in Romans 16:23 we find that the only time the word xenos is translated as “host” or “hosting” is used here. Thus, by implication, the host is entertaining strangers. So, having strangers over to one’s home—the person who is “hosting”—is the norm . . . the “more strangers, the merrier.” The “Controlling” Host There’s no such thing as a “controlling host” if you wish to host an ekklesia. NO – not when it comes to the ekklesia. In a way, it may be that the stranger coming into the host’s habitat has no idea who is hosting the gathering. I’ve seen some hosts who are so “in the background” that you’d never know they were hosting the ekklesia—so gracious are they! Finally, folks start asking where the utensils are located—ah, yes, this must be this guy’s place because he/she knows where everything is located (but, even then, you’re not certain who is hosting). Meanwhile, Mr. Controller, is apt to call the meeting to order—even though he’s not even hosting the ekklesia; as in: “O.K. – It’s time to pray over this meal – So-and-so – You pray, but make it short, we’re all hungry around here!” This, of course, can be “manifested” in any number of ways—the idea is: “I’m in control of this affair and you need to know this from the get-go!” This is especially true if the person hosting is likewise controlling!
No one wants to offend a controlling host, however, this makes it all the more difficult, for true “Spirit spontaneity” in the gathering. Is it the same one who leads off in prayer, praise and worship, some form of speaking every time? Even with the best of intentions, the “controller” can become the “control freak” of the gathering—telling and/or even commanding people to share, pray, or whatever the “expression” takes – in sum and substance, it becomes “his/her meeting” – but NOT the meeting of the ekklesia, the gathering of the saints. In essence, it’s really NOT an ekklesia, it’s the “controller’s ministry.” Listen up, I’m not talking about someone leading a Bible Study group—that’s an entirely different environment - sure, we’re all members of the Lord’s Ekklesia; however, having an “ekklesia-style gathering” is totally different than someone conducting a Bible study! The Difference Between Ekklesia and Ministry I know, this is a “biggie” – because most “churches” today are, in the main, expressions, not of ekklesia, but of sundry “ministries” where one normally is NOT interrupted – but in an ekklesia, “If anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent” – sure sounds like someone is being interrupted and all the more when Paul substantiates that remark by the following verse: “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (1 Cor. 14:31). But, it doesn’t sound like the person interrupting is being “enlightened” by the “controller” – as in, “Wait, before Alice finishes sharing, maybe Joyce has a word to share.” I’ve seen “controllers” – again, with all good intentions – interrupt someone in a “teaching-style prayer” (You know: “Dear Lord, we know that we’re not all that loving but we should be, so keep speaking to us out of 1 Corinthians 13 and telling us that the greatest of these is LOVE or we are going to miss the mark altogether, etc.”) by saying: “Brother, try not to preach when praying, just talk to the Lord – He doesn’t need to hear your preaching, and neither do we—we need to hear your prayer.” No kidding . . . and there’s more; as in someone sharing a testimony which kinda drones on until the “controller” speaks forth: “So, brother XYZ, what’s the point, get to the point, we don’t have all day around here” – perhaps said in jest, but “words matter” don’t they? Hopefully, the “peace makers” manifest here—but it won’t be easy, when folks who are trying to practice ekklesia “participate” in this fashion with a “controlling overlord.” Or, how about this one: “We’ve heard from everyone in the room except Bill – Bill, isn’t it time for you to spill the beans—like, what’s really going on in your life, Bill?” This is when the controller, unbeknownst to himself and perhaps most in the gathering, has turned the “session” into a “recovery group” therapy or counseling session with everyone (especially, the controller) giving “sound advice” on what to do and not to do for Bill. Now, Bill, Sue or Joyce may need a little “fellowship” (aka, sound advice) but is the ekklesia the normative place where such advice and/or fellowship is given? 1 Corinthians 11-14 doesn’t give great detail to such “counseling sessions” during an ekklesia but it does give wide leeway to the saints CONTRIBUTING spiritual experiences either in song, psalms, prophesying, testimony, prayer, worship, praise, etc.
Ministers – in the “ekklesia” (and that is the operative word used in 1 Corinthians 12:28) who are “God-appointed”: “First apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” are apt to “take over” a gathering because they are “apt to teach” or “preach” on occasion—because that’s who they are! And, that is precisely why in an “ekklesia environment” 1 Corinthians 13—the chapter on LOVE—is so desperately needed – indeed, Paul sums up after his exquisite chapter on love with 1 Corinthians 14:32-33: “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the ekklesia of the saints.” Frankly, by “controllers” doing “their thing” is nothing more than CONFUSION and “not of peace.” Yes, there is a pseudo-peace when someone(s) is/are in control but the “spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” and NOT subject to the controller(s). Unless and until we can cultivate an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit, working with the “spirits of the prophets” is in control, there will be no real ekklesia among the saints.
It is plain: “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” But if all are under the control of the controller—even when all are participating—they are still NOT prophetically engaged . . . manipulated, but not prophetically engaged! Gifted apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists (even) – those ordained and/or “God-given” to the ekklesia on a “spiritual plain” – and even those who on a “natural plain” (e.g., school teachers, administrators, entrepreneurs, managers, etc.) have God-given and/or natural tendencies to “take charge” of an ekklesia – yes, everyone may be participating – but there is NO FREEDOM OF THE SPIRIT – you may have a ministry “going down” but you don’t have an ekklesia going up! One more thing – a “controlling environment” may not be so overt – but the same results endure. The “controlling authority” is simply more clever at controlling how the “meeting” goes down; and, normally, it’s in accordance with the particular gifting of the controller. For example, if the “controller” has the gift of prophecy, he’ll normally lead the gathering in that vein of thinking—with everyone, eventually, either awaiting a prophecy (aka, a “prophetic word” or “word of wisdom”) or “speaking into one another’s life” the way the “prophetic controller” who’s setting up the environment wants the saints in that meeting to practice. Let’s say we come together and those “take charge” brethren (who may or may not be hosting) find the grace to “restrain” their instincts with just a “little encouragement” for the group; and then, wait to see how things go. They know that they are capable of “controlling the environment” and, therefore, realize they need to take “a low profile” in order for the saints to become more activated, spontaneous. So, what I’m suggesting is this: Indeed, the controlling brother(s) or sister(s) may ignite the gathering, but then once it’s up and running—and the saints know it’s normative to “function” or “prophesy” – then, the “take charge” person simply needs to become just another member of the group and allow the Holy Spirit to take charge of His people! If during the course of a gathering someone becomes factious or overbearing or “out of order” (droning on forever types) – then the “take charge” brother or sister may have to step in to encourage the person to allow others to participate—however, it would be better if others actually “do the honors” – that way, the “controller” allows others to participate when something “gets out of control” – then, those attending are not just “pew sitters” but actual “stake holders” in the gathering. Summing Up This is the first in a series of WHAT DOES AN EKKLESIA LOOK LIKE? . . . you can imagine, there are so many different environments where ekklesia-style gatherings enthusiastically “takeoff” and then degenerate into the same individuals showing up week after week with no new people coming to the gathering – thus, a “group mentality” evolves, “comfort sets in” and then everything turns stale. Hosting “strangers” is the norm—it’s difficult to keep that in view! Finally, should we abandon any and all efforts at “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace” - or EXCLUDE from our gathering such controlling influences/individuals? No, we should endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace – that’s precisely why Paul said: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). And, that’s why, 1 Corinthians 13 is smack dab in the middle of this “ekklesia experience” – for without “the greatest of these” – which is love – there will be no ekklesia coming together to uplift our Lord Jesus Christ! Know this, Satan hates the Ekklesia our Lord is building. Why? Because the “gates of Hades will not prevail against it” and “the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 16:20) – and that’s why this “hill” is worth fighting over! Don’t despair—this is what the Lord, the Holy Spirit, desires for His people!