Ekklesia: Judicial Activity by Dr. Patti Amsden
The Gospel of Matthew uses the term ekklesia, which literally means ‘called out’ and is translated as church, on two different occasions. The first occurrence is Matthew 16:18-19 where Jesus announced that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. That passage has been the scripture upon which the former ekklesia articles have expounded. The second passage using ekklesia may be found in Matthew 18:15-17 and references church judgments against a trespassing brother. These published ekklesia articles will now begin to focus upon this second passage.
Both passages have one common statement: “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). On each occasion when Jesus is announcing the outcome of the work of His ekklesia, He declares that the church shall bring heaven’s will into earthly manifestation or shall make lawful in earth what is lawful in heaven. In the Matthew 16 passage, the church legislates the will of heaven. The constitution of heaven is made the law of the earth. The ekklesia enacts; it sets the policy and votes to establish the directives. The ekklesia is a called-out legislative body that manages the Kingdom of God on the earth.
In the Matthew 18 passage, the church accomplishes bringing the will of heaven to the earth though judicial activity. The church holds court. The church functions not to set the law but to bring judgments based upon the law. Matthew 16 is the legislative or law-making side of ekklesia activity while Matthew 18 is the judicial or court side of ekklesia activity.
In the context of Matthew 18, the passage begins with one brother trespassing against another. A trespass occurs when a law is breached. Therefore, the sinning brother is already constrained by a legislative edit or a law. The church has already declared the will of heaven and set that decree or commandment as the rule of conduct. For example, scripture forbids stealing in 8th of the 10 Commandments. Therefore, the ekklesia binds or makes unlawful stealing. To further this example, postulate that the sinning brother has stolen from a member of his church. The passage lays forth the steps to deal with the trespasser.
Step one is for the one trespassed against to go to the trespasser, who is the thief in this scenario. The victim confronts the perpetrator with the accusation and the evidence. If the accused confesses his guilt and seeks to make amends, the issue is settled. If, however, the accused denies the charge, the victim must gather witnesses to go with him to confront the thief. Witnesses go for the purpose of testifying. This principle is based upon the biblical precedent that every word is established at the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses (Deut. 19:15; Mt. 18:16) and that the guilty cannot be found guilty without witnesses (Deut. 17:6). The power of the witnesses against the thief has the power to seal the guilty verdict and should motivate him to confess, repent, and make amends.
Should steps one and two be ineffectual at convicting the thief, the victim shall call for the ekklesia to convene. This type of ekklesia convocation is for the purpose of assembling a court. The mature, the elders, or the leaders function as both judge and jury. The accused is judged by the set standard or the already established law. Remember that without a law there could be no trespass. The law or ordinance established by the Matthew 16 convocation serves as the standard by which the thief is judged in the Matthew 18 convocation. If a verdict of guilty is rendered, the thief may yet confess, repent, make amends, and be restored. In the case of repentance and restoration, the guilty is loosed from his guilt. If, however, the guilty verdict does not lead to restoration, the guilty man is bound to his guilt and in his guilt. The ekklesia court has the power to bind on earth what is bound in heaven and loose on earth what is loosed in heaven. Freedom in heaven from the guilt, condemnation, and penalty of sin is based upon repentance. Freedom in earth from the guilt, condemnation, and penalty of sin is also based upon repentance. The non-repentant transgressor seals himself into the sentence of guilt and judgment both in this life and the next.
This multi-layer court system did not originate with Jesus’ instructions found in Matthew 18. This lower court/higher court system may be found in the nation of Israel and was part of the function of the people called out under Moses’ administration. To understand the continuity of the ekklesia court in former days and how it serves as the foundation for the ekklesia court of the Lord, read more in next week’s article.