In our most recent Main Blog: 21st Century Reformation, we discussed the impact of the information age on hierarchy and institutional authority structures. Our conclusion is that due to the explosion of information and new ways to access it, we are living in an era of the empowerment of the individual, resulting in institutions of all kinds being threatened. What does this mean for the church of Jesus Christ or institutional religion in general? Church redefined?
Before we can even attempt to answer this, it is important to properly frame the question. For example, what if the church was never intended to be an institution? If the answer to this fundamental question is no, that changes everything when we examine the impact of the explosion of information and empowerment of the individual on the church and institutional religion.
A common misconception is that the word “church” comes from the Greek word “ecclesia”. The truth is that the word “ecclesia” is better translated as “called out ones or assembly”. It was used to describe those who were “called out” to assemble as a unique group or “civil body politic”. The term is used in the New Testament 115 times and is intended to communicate that Christians were “called out” of the Roman culture of the day as a unique group of people that followed a king other than Caesar (Jesus). For example, hear how Paul and Silas were described in Acts 17:
“But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ ” Acts 17: 6-7
This was a radical calling out that had nothing to do with Paul and Silas calling people to attend a meeting of Christians in an institutional building. It was a declaration of a different culture, aligned to another king. Hence the violent response here and elsewhere. It was only during the early translation of the bible into the King James version in the 16th century that the word “ecclesia” was translated as “church”. Interestingly this occurred at a time when the church institutional hierarchy was well established.
So to tie all of this together, the explosion of access to information in the 21st century does not threaten the true “ecclesia” but in fact empowers it. Where the church of Jesus Christ is functioning as an institutional hierarchy, it is threatened by the reformation that is occurring in the 21st century (along with other institutional religions). This begins to explain the rapid decline in membership within major religious organizations. Check out this article from a church leadership publication.
The true ecclesia is alive and well and thriving in the exciting times we are living in. At Back to Eden Group we are excited about the times we are living in and in being part of this reformation.
John and Katherine Matthews
B2E Group Directors