Democracy and the Church
Why there was such a big shift from the early Church? The big misunderstanding.
Most of us — Christian or not — have heard the way the early Church of Jesus Christ lived and behaved in a way that has not been immitated (mostly) in the centuries to come. It still is a strange phenomenon, selling what you have, IF YOU WANT, and placing it “on the feet of the apostles” so that noone among them would have need of anything.
We tend to attribute such a behaviour to the zeal of the first believers and to the reign of the Holly Spirit in the Church (which would mean that the Holly Spirit DOES NOT reign in today’s Church, but that is for another article), but would it be so? Was it just a spiritual guidance that made the first Church so vastly different than today’s or was it something more?
Let’s start from the beginning …
“In the beginning was the Word” as we read and this Word that became flesh — according to the Holly Scripture — and was named Jesus from Nazareth said one day: “I will create My Church …” and there we have it. He said a word was not Hebraic. He used a term that was not Jewish.
On the contrary, the word He used is “EKKLESIA” (a Greek word) and you will never understand its meaning however you try to analize the word (it is a composite word by the way), if you do not know from where it is derived.
You see the Greek word “EKKLESIA” is NOT a religious or spiritual term of any kind. It is a POLITICAL term that comes from the Ancient Athenian EKKLESIA of the people of Athens and it denotes that it exists together with the Athenian Democracy! Or else it has no meaning at all.
It may mean that a “EKKLESIA” is a gathering of people, BUT this gathering is governed by the laws of the state which is Democratic, somethiong that means that the power of decision is in the people and not on a so called “ARCHON”, or Master, or King or even a body of elders of any kind.
There are many gatherings of people but they are NOT EKKLESIA! They are just mobs.
If we come to this realization we may understand why the early Church was so different in its way of conduct. There was a different ideology in them than what is in every christian denomination of today.
The real question is “Why Jesus — a Jew from the tribe of Juda in birth — used a term and word that was so enstranged from the Judaic tradition and culture in order to describe the body of his faithful?” Could it be because He was not creating one more religion, not even a reformation of an old one (Judaism) but he was creating something completely new and different, that was a living community that had no priests, or kings of any kind to rule over them and where the people would have the final say in every matter?
Maybe we can see some hints of this train of thought described in the book of Acts.
When Peter goes to the house of Cornelius — a Roman Centurion — guided by a vision to speak to him about Christ, he was questioned by the other apostles for doing that. Why? Was he not the head of the apostles as Christ had said to him, “Feed My sheep”, a little before His ascension thus making Him the head of His Church? Had He not told Peter “I give you the keys of the Kingdom” in an earlier instance? Yet he had to apologize and persuade the other apostles that it was God who had guided him so.
When there was a big dispute about the Gentiles coming to the Church through the work of apostle Paul, there was a huge meating of ALL the believers in Jerusalem (and from other places as well) in order to decide if this was the right thing to do and what should be done with the Gentiles. Would they observe the Mosaic law or not? EVERYONE was allowed to have a say and speak his mind freely, not just the apostles. And the final decision was made after everyone who wanted to, had spoken.
In another instance, when there is dissatisfaction due to the way the food was shared between the widows of the Jews and the widows of the greek speaking Jews (hellenists) the apostles told the people to CHOOSE (ELECT is the word used there) deacons for themselves to serve them justly. If this is not Democracy in action, I don’t know what is.
In another instance there is a dispute between Peter and Paul, because Peter eats and has communion with the Greeks in Galatia, but stops having anyrhing to do with them when Jews come to visit from Jerusalem. Then Paul (who was a nobody at the time) speaks to him severely and tells him that he is a hypocrite and a bad example to the Greek Christians. Peter listens and agrees that he is wrong, but is it just because that he is a meek servant of God, or because he has a totally different view for the EKKLESIA than we have today?
There are other instances as well that would make us rethink our views about the Church as well, but I don’t want mnake you tired by reading this.
The essence is that maybe, just maybe EKKLESIA (or CHURCH if you like) and DEMOCRACY are SYNONYMS. And maybe, just maybe, this is the real reason that we have neither the first, nor the second in our today’s Western Society that has its foundation on Democracy and Christianity (wether we like it or not).
And maybe, this was the real reason the Romans persecuted the early Church so severely, because it was a real threat to the foundations of the Roman Empire, not because it institued one more God, but because it preached the equallity of all people, men and women, Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian and so on an so forth. And this my friend is POLITICS NOT RELIGION. Many of the nobles who became Christians, freed their slaves and that was a scandal at the time.
On the other hand, we have so called Christians of later centuries who killed other people and conquerd their lands and used slavery IN THE NAME OF CHRIST! It is of no surprise that those that do not believe, have so many arrows in their quiver against Christianity.
So finally, maybe we should try to understand the real meaning and practice of both words. EKKLESIA = DEMOCRACY.