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Throughout the decade of the 70’s, when I went through the gauntlet of  junior and senior high school, my father was a Youth Director, then Associate Pastor, then Senior Pastor at a Presbyterian church in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

The friends I had in the youth group at that church were some of the closest relations I’ve ever known in this life. When it came time to leave the nest in 1982, I had no idea the size of the black hole inside where my church youth group used to live. After all this time, I’m reconnecting with some of these old friends on Facebook, and it’s interesting to see how their lives have evolved during these intervening years — but, for me, I am mostly reminded of the fact that I’ve never since found a spiritual home — an ekklesia — like the one I knew as a boy.

EKKLESIA: In our English Bible the Greek word, “ekklesia” is translated in most places “church.” The word “ekklesia” is found in one hundred and fifteen places in the New Testament. It is translated in English one hundred and thirteen times “church” and the remaining times it is translated “assembly.” In classical Greek the word “ekklesia” meant “an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly.” The word as used in the New Testament is taken from the root of this word, which simply means to “call out.” In New Testament times the word was exclusively used to represent a group of people assembled together for a particular cause or purpose. It was never used exclusively to refer to a religious meeting or group.

An examination of the Greek word “ekklesia” reveals that the word is properly translated into English as the “assembly” or “congregation.” It is used to refer to a group of persons that are organized together for a common purpose and who meet together.

Based on the above, another way of defining the word “church” in today’s world could be “The Called Out Ones.”

I like the word “ekklesia” (or “ecclesia”), since it refers to the earliest group of Jesus followers, back before Christianity fell into the hands of mere humans.  There is a profound sense of communal intimacy in New Testament depictions of the early ekklesia. When I remember all the roadtrips, backpack treks, pancake breakfasts and sleepovers… I feel gratitude for having experienced such communal intimacy in this life, but I also wonder if such a thing could happen again.

I’m not talking about finding a church home.

I’m talking about finding an actual ekklesia — a group that is “called out” for a specific spiritual purpose, and is willing to evolve a tight-knit community based on agape love and a genuine desire to grow together.

Why hasn’t it happened?

I’ve long suspected that, when I “lost my faith” at some point leading up to leaving the nest, I began to regard church buildings as “quarantine zones” to be avoided at all costs — except for the occasional wedding or funeral. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly aware that my early indoctrination just doesn’t apply any more — I’d always had deep questions about the things they were teaching me, and when I left, I just set the whole thing aside and went about the merry business of living a life of unbelieving degradation. Unconsciously, I’ve felt unworthy of participation in the ekklesia, and have felt helpless to do anything about it.

That said… I spend an awful lot of time studying Scripture — 95% Biblical — and a steady prayer life is gradually being established. Some of my old religion wounds are being salved and succored through this practice. As time goes by, I find it impossible to ignore the setting of the early church — which was all about devoting one’s personal possessions, time and energy to supporting a community of Jesus followers — and I’m back to yearning for such a setting for myself.

What do you think? Is prayer and Bible study enough — just a relationship between me and the godhead — or must one follow New Testament injunctions to gather together around a common purpose?