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Posts Tagged ‘church’

I love this potential scene given by Scot McKnight of one of Paul’s house churches.

“Lets transport ourselves back to one of Paul’s house churches and imagine yet again the make-up of that group – the morally unkosher sitting with the unpowerful standing with an arm around the financially drained, addressed by an apostle who was being chased daily by opponents of the gospel. In that context, with all those people around, hear again the grand Yes of God.

‘Who can be against us?’ Paul tauntingly thunders. The answer, No one!”

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Ben Witherington creates an interesting story about life in Corinth and one of the things I find most interesting is the description of Christian worship. A Week in the Life of Corinth is the tale of a fictional character by the name of Nicanor, a former slave. Upon visiting the strange new religious cult for the first time, he understandably has some questions.

“What sort of religion met under cloak of darkness in a home, and without priests, temples or sacrifices? And then there was all that singing and apparently some kind of prophesying, and then a sort of fervent speech in a language Nicanor had never heard before or since. It had given him chills…” His skepticism helps us understand how unusual first century worship would have been for first timers who encountered Christians.

Later, we follow Nicanor as he makes his way into a worship service. He was “just along for the ride.” Or so he thought. The reader is listening as Nicanor processes what is going on. And his questions keep coming.

“But would a god not only take on the form of a servant, but submit to a rebellious slave’s death on a cross… This totally inverted the normal notions of honor and shame… Nicanor was going to have to ask some questions about these things, but now his curiosity was piqued.”

And then my favorite, “The one question that presented itself immediately was, ‘How could such loving and honest and kind people, who otherwise seemed in their right minds and not prone to religious mania, believe such a tale? Unless of course there is some sort of compelling evidence that it is true.’”

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It was Sunday morning and we were gathered for worship. There had already been some excitement in town that morning. A herd of cows had escaped from a nearby pasture and had been wandering around in the borough. Most had been returned to where they came from, but some had spent the night in town and were yet to be found. Sounds like just another day in Duncannon.

During morning announcements, Crystal shared she had seen a cow that morning. She had texted her son who told her she should have invited it to church, then it would be a “holy cow.” She reported she did not, so there was no “holy cow” in worship. She then went on to say there would however be holy communion. I heard Joel who was seated near the front quickly reply “Holy Cow-munion?” (That is a great word)! Moments like these may not be what some think of when they think of worship, but they make me very glad to be part of this group.

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Peter Oakes has uncovered a house church in Pompeii. Not really, but he does give some valuable information about who might have worshipped in a first century house church. He tells us that the church may have looked like this;

 

        A craftworker who served as host, along with his wife and children, some male slaves, a female slave, and a dependent relative.

        Tenants who lived in the house along with their families, slaves, and dependents.

        Some family members of a householder who does not participate in the church.

        Some slaves of owners who do not attend.

        Some homeless people.

        Migrant workers who have rented some small rooms in the home.

 

It is helpful for us to get this picture of a first century Roman congregation. It helps us to see the diversity of social class, economic class, and ethnicity of this people who were considered as One in Christ. Scot McKnight makes a reference to Oakes study and later goes on to say, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which differents get connected, unlikes form a fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated… They are to be one in Christ Jesus.”

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It has become increasingly fashionable to stop attending church. It is not unusual for someone to convince oneself they can be as spiritual or even more spiritual than those who show up for the weekly gathering. Some of those fashionable people have even coined a term for themselves, the “dones.” I have even heard some of the “dones” refer to themselves as a prophetic movement.

I have no doubts that some have left the church for what seem like good reasons. I am equally certain that among those who continue to attend the weekly gathering are some strong feelings about those who are leaving. In my best effort to read this situation through a gospel lens, here are two thoughts;

1)      The church needs the “dones.” We must never forget that behavior is communication. The “dones” are communicating something and the church would be naïve to ignore it. The “dones” are not the enemy and the church has some responsibility to continue nurturing that relationship.

2)      The “dones” need the church. No matter who comes or goes, the church remains the group called to represent the ways of God in the world. As imperfect as a church may be, it is still the big part of God’s plan. The church has a responsibility to continue offering hospitality, even to those who claim to be done.

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An Ally

I feel like a have a new friend. At least an ally in the mission we call church. Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest, writes “True Story” for The Point Magazine. And I am grateful.

Harrison Warren claims that Church pulls us into a story where we belong. We are included in a family, part of a forgiven people. In the church we find friends and food and ritual and meaning. But even more, she says, church is where we find mystery that cannot quite be described. A mystery of “the Trinity forming, humbling, remaking, and sustaining this creature called the church.”

Yes, the church does include pragmatic things like meetings and e-mail and budget and parking lots. But also mystery. As she says, Westerners tend to speak about mystery “as if it’s a code to crack, the true-crime novel we haven’t finished yet.” Instead, she says it is “crackling with possibility and saturated with God’s goodness.”

The church may be a place saturated with God’s goodness, but it is not a place we go to profess virtue. Instead it is a place to confess our lack of it. It is also a counter-cultural demonstration of serving others without expectation of anything in return. These are radical thoughts in today’s culture. She quotes her favorite headline from the Onion, “Local Church Full of Brainwashed Idiots Feeds Town’s Poor Every Week.” She enjoys the quiet, ordinary goodness, the silent ways we care for one another.

The church does not merely communicate information, the church creates the conditions for “personal and communal formation.” This is not a cognitive exercise but a story full of celestial wonder. The church is not part of some “divinely inspired game of telephone, where we simply whisper a message to the next generation.” It is a story that “comes to us through ordinary people over dinner tables, at work, in songs, through worship, conflict, failure, repentance, ritual, liturgy, art, work, and family.” It is a story that comes to us through sacraments where mystery is communicated through ordinary things like “water and skin, bread and teeth.”

On the one hand, church looks like “God’s kingdom coming among a community of ordinary people: tax attorneys and auto mechanics, stay-at-home moms and the homeless.” Yet, on the other hand, she envisions the communion table as a place that stretches through time and space so we are eating and drinking with the family around the world and throughout history. Sharing bread and cup with the likes of Magdalene, Augustine, and Dad.

She does not go to church for the grape juice and fried chicken or the fellowships and potlucks or for the friends and community connections. Harrison Warren stays in the church because the church is still “making her.” Her understanding of the world is shaped by the story she has learned there.

She realizes that church history includes Crusades, colonialism, sex scandals, abuses, racism, oppression, power hungry pastors, and Christians who are simply downright mean. She knows that church has likely cost her some likability among people in educated, progressive circles. She understands that church has probably motivated some ethical decisions that delayed her immediate happiness. So, she asks “why not choose a different story?” Her answer? She actually believes Jesus rose from the dead. She believes the Christian story to be the “True Story.”

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Most church affiliations hold a general gathering where business is conducted on a regular basis. Ours, held earlier this year, came with a theme “One.” I am not sure if it was the program committee or some other genius who came up with that theme, but I loved it. (Personally, I hope it becomes our ongoing theme). It certainly should become our ongoing prayer.

To call it timely would be an understatement. If there were a competitive match going on pitting unity vs. division, division appears to have the upper hand. Each day we wake to discover someone in the world is at odds with someone else. We seem to be surrounded by division. This makes it even more important for a church group to take “One-ness” seriously.

Truth is, we shared differing opinions right there on the council floor. Emotion was felt in the room. I am writing as one who is glad we are bold enough and respect one another enough to state opinions when we do not see eye to eye with one another. I write as one who is glad we are able to share differing opinions and yet walk out as “One.”

I pray that we are becoming “One.” I pray that our “One-ness” will not be of some petty tribal variety but will spill over into other sectors of the church. I pray we will work with the larger body of Christ in ways that we share in areas where we are strong and learn in areas where we are not. I pray we will work with our sisters and brothers in the church universal to reflect the ways of God in the world. I pray the church will be a witness of “One-ness” in a world that is otherwise divided.

Truth is, if the church does not demonstrate “One-ness” – who will? May our “One-ness” communicate that the hope of the world is in Christ and demonstrated in His church. Perhaps we are called to be catalysts for the church to become “One.” May we be a divine illustration that unity can be achieved – but only through a God-filled people.

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