Moving out of Ecclesiology, into Koinology

By John O'Keefe

In my upcoming book, The Naked Jesus; a Journey out of Christianity,[1] I bring out an idea that some have talked about, but I’ve seen very little, if anything, written about. The idea is our need to move from the institutional weight behind the concept of Ecclesiology, based on the word ekklēsiā (a legal term), to the lighter, more connective community-oriented idea behind what can be seen as Koinology, based on the word Koinonia (a personal/spiritual term). We should be moving away from the ideas, and theologies, behind Ecclesiology and be ready to dance into the ideas, and theologies, behind the idea of Koinology.


There are many reasons, not the least of which is that the term Ecclesiology has less to do with people, and more to do with building. The term “Ecclesiology” is a word developed in the 1840’s and it was used to describe the science, decoration and architecture behind building a church building, it was never intended to define a people; it dealt with the physical structure of a building. Sure, over the past few decades (since about 1940) we have strived to make it a theology of the church but, since its roots are connected to a building, connecting the idea to a people seems like forcing a round peg into a square whole. While koinonia is a word that centers on people; it centers on the spirituality of connection and common unity. Koinology is about people and how we connect to each other and the Divine.

Koinonia brings us to the idea and theology of Koinology; when we translate the word into English (which is very hard because of the spiritual weight behind the term) we see a theology that centers on community, a joint partnership and deep intimacy with the Divine and each other. While the term koinonia is hard to translate into English with just a simple word, koinonia speaks of community, common unity, communion, joint participation, sharing, and a deep intimacy. It is a word that has a deep spiritual meaning behind it – so, Koinology seems to be the natural expression of a “theology of a community of faith.”

Now, I’m not self-centered enough to believe that the word Koinology came from a firing of neurons in my limited mind; in fact I know I didn’t come from me. The use of the word Koinology dates back to 1899 in the writings of Isacc Althaus Loos in "Studies in the Politics of Aristotle and the Republic, volume 1, issue 1-2." Loos brings out the idea of Koinology and suggests the term should be used in the study of Sociology when speaking in terms of human relationships: family, villages, communities and tribes. Granted, it has not been adopted by sociologists (if you do a Google Ngram on the work Koinology, you’ll get a message that tells you the word can’t be found), but it’s a term that we, as followers, should adopt for how we see the “theology of a community of faith.”

The central focus of Koinology is on the spiritual relationship of Communion, and how communion bonds the community to the Divine in some very intimate ways. This bonding brings about a deeper level of intimacy between members of the community. It can be seen as a point in which we pivot from our worldly view of self, to a desire to see the world through the eyes of the Divine and embrace one another at the common table of Communion.

Koinology can be seen as a joining together between humanity and the Divine. It is defined by our joint partnership in creation, community, and self. In this realization of Communion, in holding common unity, which we realize has little to do with what we posses, but what we share with others that invites us to live in amazing joy. It removes the idea of a building, and speaks only about people and their relationship to each other and the Divine. When we share, give, we live in a powerful understanding of embracing the relationship of grace, and we develop a lasting interconnected relationship that spans time and spaces. We hold not only common possessions, but common interests; we seek a higher level of intimacy, thinking and understanding of our interaction with each other. We see our lives intertwined (bound together) become more and more centered on the divine and each other. This bond brings to life the reality that we move past demanding thoughts and actions. We seek to generate good for others, and in turn others seek the greater good for us. Because we don’t seek control, we seek to serve and not demand to be served.

Koinology is the place where we see the hungry being fed, where we see the marginalized lifted, where we see voting booths open to all who desire to vote; it is a place where the powerful realize they have no power, and develop a servant heart. Moving from Ecclesiology to Koinology moves us from a powerbase to a gracebase, where love is spoken. Koinology does not lend itself well to a systematic thought, or process. While this will mean we will need to retool our thoughts, I am a believer that by doing so we can redefine what it means to be a Community of Faith.

[1] Release date is June 15, 2014

Extravagant Community

By Tim Graves

I cringe when I hear Christians respond to the "spiritual but not religious" by extolling the importance of community. Yes, we all need community for spirituality. We are social creatures. 

But, while there is truth in this response it is based upon an unproven assumption. That is, that the "spiritual but not religious" lead the lives of hermits never talking with friends about their faith journeys. The community-defense also assumes that community must take an organized form. It does not.

[caption id="attachment_1067" align="alignright" width="358"] They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Acts 4:35 NRSV Photo by Tim Graves[/caption]

More troublesome about the community-defense, however, is that it allows followers of Jesus to avoid our own failings. Too often churches are not places of community. Community is about caring for one another in deep ways. It is about assuring that everyone has their basic needs met. The reality is we spend more time worshiping consumerism and capitalism than we do sharing with our neighbor--even those within our churches. 

Too many churches have within their midst those struggling in very real ways while others live in relative laps of luxury. Aside from this being contrary to the teachings of our purported savior, the attitude of the relatively wealthy community members disturbs me. In my experience, when help is provided it comes with strings and pettiness. We reflect the resentment of a culture that elevates rugged individualism to idolatry.

Within this context of blaming the victim, we operate not out of extravagant love but out of begrudging duty. We do not believe that Jesus fed the whole crowd with a few loaves and fish. We fear that if we give too much to someone, even someone within our own community, there will not be enough for us. 

Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Mark 12: 29-31 NRSV (Read in context.)

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.Acts 4: 32-35 NRSV (Read in context.)

Trustworthy God of Abundance,

You give extravagant,

   undeserved grace.

We give out of love,

   limited by our human fears and worries.

Help us to trust in your abundance,

   help us to love you as you love us.

Help us to give lavishly to others,

   within the koinonia,

   and to the whole human family.