Friday, December 17, 2010

Update :: "Early Christian Ecclesiology and 'The Property Question' [part 3]" up!

In the September 8s :: Blogs, I posted the first two installations of Andy Alexis-Baker's series "Early Christian Ecclesiology and 'The Property Question.'" Today the third installment is up!

"Early Christian Ecclesiology and 'The Property Question' [part 3]" (Andy Alexis-Baker, Jesus Radicals / October 11, 2010)
For, once there were no church buildings. People normally worshiped out doors. In the Hebrew Scriptures, for example, Abraham met God under an oak tree, and most early Hebrew worship occurred outside of human built structures. And while Jesus certainly visited the temple and synagogues, many of his most memorable stories come from encounters in nature: the temptations in the wilderness, the sermon on the mount, the transfiguration, walking on water, etc. Paul, speaking to those in Athens with their grand temples said, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24–25). While in biblical times encountering God in nature was normal, in the modern western world, such things are extremely rare: we worship in enclosed spaces of our own making. Our buildings reinforce notions that God, Christianity, and holiness are not only compartmentalized from nature but quite possibly contrary to one another.
Alexis-Baker goes on to cite examples from the early Christian movement, including the accounts of The Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle in India to the archaeological evidence of early Celtic Christian practice.

This is well worth reading, as are the early installments, part 1 and part 2.


  1. Thanks for posting these thoughtful articles, Josh. They are challenging, but I struggle with the presupposition that Christians borrowing from some cultures (nature-worshiping Celtic Druids) is automatically better than borrowing from others (property-owning Graeco-Romans). The trouble is, we are in the culture we are in and we must discern what it means to be a Christian HERE. That means drawing on examples like the Celts that challenge our cultural presuppositions about extravagant church properties, but also finding the figures within our own Western history that have challenged the church from within (my favorite mystics and monastics). Though we Americans are much less likely to sympathize with those who "compromise" to stay within a church constantly in need of reformation, we actually have much more in common with them in many ways. I think that's the fundamental historical reason why I've chosen Anglicanism over other Reformation churches. Though Heaven knows we have our issues about Empire, wealth, property and doctrine! Would love to hear your responses to the articles.

  2. Laura, thanks for the comment. I agree that there is little to recommend one cultural context as necessarily better than all others (thought, conversely, I do believe some cultural contexts may in fact be worse than others). Honestly, I'm not quite as anarcho-primitivist as Andy's articles go.

    I do, however, strongly believe that socio-cultural context deeply shapes the way in which understand church, often in ways broader than we realize. This is especially true of our material context. In this light, I think the 2nd installment (part 2) is the most enlightening. The contrast between patron ecclesiology and apartment ecclesiology in a 2nd to 3rd century context has striking implications about the way our material context shapes our ecclesiology today. I think you get at this when you say "we must discern what it means to be a Christian HERE"--just include material context in that "HERE."

    I can see the effects of material context in the way my congregation here in Chicago understands itself in comparison with how the house churches in MK understand themselves. I think Charles Taylor might label it a "social imaginary." The unspoken grasp of what is possible, acceptable, and normal is radically altered by widespread dependence on cars (even in our hippie community here in Chicago). Time suddenly feels different. I think this (along with many other things) works its way all the way down to our ecclesiology.

    I'm not sure that the effects of material context are uniform within a given tradition. I imagine worship in an Anglican congregation in Vancouver may feel different from worship in NYC even if all the words are the same. I think the same is true in the Mennonite church. I think it's less about imitating empire and more about how empire gets inside us through our material surroundings.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...