They knew they had been called to assemble, but they did not understand the reason for their calling.
"And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: . . . 'if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly [ekklesia]'" (verses 35, 39). He reminded the people that a legal assembly could be arranged. "For we are in danger of being called in question for today's uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering" (verse 40). To this point the assembly, the ekklesia, was a confused mob of people, aroused in anger against the apostle Paul. "And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly [ekklesia]."
These verses show very clearly that ekklesia by itself requires qualitative modifiers. It can refer to a gathering that is either carnal or spiritual. The context has to define its usage.
Ekklesia, then, is more flexible than the English word "church," transcending its narrow boundaries. Ekklesia is not bound, as will be seen, by race; language; city, state, or national boundaries; corporate laws; space; or time. God may have inspired the writers to use it solely to connote the transcendence of His calling out. Tracing it back to its beginning and bringing it forward to the present will show this fact clearly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!