Wednesday, July 24, 2013

PICTURES OF THE EARLY CHURCH

...some challenging questions, and what we need to change.

 

I'm sure you know that we don't have any detailed 'pictures of the early church'. But an open minded search of the New Testament clearly describes a church a world away from present day church life and practice. My heart is to see in today's church: true and genuine fellowship, Biblical disciples, mutual encouragement and a missional passion. Also to see God's people released from restrictive concepts that lock them into what Reinhard Bonnke calls "submarine Christians" - who only surface on Sunday, and sadly believe that's all that is required.

While I don't discount what God is doing in large or contemporary churches, I've come to the firm conviction that God's plan for his Church is primarily a multitude of small, open, spreading and autonomous ekklesiai (churches)

I've enlisted help from Dr Mark Strom's book, "Reframing Paul - Conversations of Grace & Community." His detailed research into Paul's culture, teaching and the life of the early church is extensive, thorough and invaluable to anyone who wants to know how this young church functioned. So, I make no apology for quoting him.
 
Let's look at a very small part of what Strom's research has unearthed. He asks:

"Why did the ekklesia gather? Most evangelicals, and indeed Christians of nearly all persuasions, traditionally answer that churches meet for worship. Paul's consistent answer was "to build each other up."...They prayed, read Scripture, encouraged, sang, taught and prophesied to one another as the Spirit enabled them. Paul never defined ekklesia in terms of a vertical relationship of worship. The meeting was for one another. The gathering was a conversation - a rich, diverse, extended conversation..." 

 The Meal. "The meal at the heart of the gathering clearly expressed the centrality of relationships in the ekklesia and the corresponding rejection of religious and social prestige...the Christians adopted the standard Jewish practice of commencing their meal by sharing bread and ending it by drinking wine. They would also pray at both the beginning and the end of the meal...no outsider familiar with Jewish custom would have noticed anything unusual. The proceedings also fell somewhat within the expectations of a non-Jewish outsider..." My questions: Shouldn't we bend-over-backwards to make sure our gatherings are culturally relevant to our non-church friends and neighbours? What can we do to make them so?

Strom continues; (Paul) "expected Greeks and Jews, citizens and non-citizens, slaves, owners and freedmen to dine together without regard for positions of honour. A man of means might take a lowly place at the meal, perhaps even serve his slave or children...(and) no priest presided."

What of today? "The description of Paul's communities bears little resemblance to what most of have known as church. The conventions of preaching and church services effectively gag our conversations. There is not a meal. Spontaneity is avoided, absent or slotted into five-or-ten-minute "greeting" or "sharing" segments, small conversational digressions from the main performance led from the front. We endorse the need for "sharing" but locate it away from "real church." In a sad irony of Paul's meals, we speak of coming to church to be "fed." In our case the "meal" is usually a course of words prepared by one chef rather than the smorgasbord of rich conversation."

Thank you Mark Strom.

Your thoughts....

 Jack
 

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