The Implications of Public Gathering
As the people of God, the church is called out from the world to proclaim the gospel and engage in public assembly. The early church could have used a variety of words to describe itself, yet it chose ecclesia. Other words would have been easier to live with and would have caused God's people much less trouble, but ecclesia meaning public assembly or public gathering, is the word they selected. The early church attempted to live out its faith in a context that included many contemporary 'salvation cults'. These cults didn't threaten the power structures of the Roman Empire. Consequently, they were tolerated by those in places of power within the Empire.
However, the same could not be said of the church, which perceived itself not as a private religious club but instead as a community that called everyone to join in the public assembly that acknowledges God's kingdom and reign. To be the church in this way had significant political implications and consequences. First, to speak of God's kingdom and reign was threatening to Caesar's reign and kingdom. To declare that Jesus Christ is Lord meant that Caesar was not, which got them into lots of trouble with the Roman authorities. And second, the church understood itself as existing in and for the world of which it is part. The word worship in the New Testament, leitourgia means - a work for the people, public service on behalf of the common good. Thus, it was not a private nor simply personal act, but an act that had implications for the world that the church inhabited.
Today the church in Australia is mainly invisible. Its influence in the socio-political context of our day has diminished over the past 60 years. In saying this, I am not suggesting the need for a return to the Christendom era. However, today's church is not a threat to the powers that be as it was in its early days of the early church. Instead, it has become more like a private religious club than a gathered community that has grave implication for the world it inhabits. In this new and changing climate: How can the church, the people of God, work for the common good and serve the world as it worships God as a gathered and scattered community?