Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #3 – Rhythms of Ecclesiology and the Gathering Practices of the Church
Describing the common movements of the early church, Bevans and Schroeder write that, “As for house churches, not every private Christian home was designated for this purpose; rather, certain houses became the accepted places for the regular weekly gathering for prayer, bible study, sharing resources, community discussions, and the Eucharist.” These rhythms were not internally focused but rather commissioning elements that embraced value in worship, mission, and discipleship all together.
While the home is a major focus in The Edge house church movement, the central gathering environment does not restrict us from ecclesiological rhythms. God’s mission takes us out into the parks, the malls, streets, retreat centers, coffee shops, pubs, and many more places. Each community finds freedom in expressing their unique contextual constants within the guidance of their own communities as they deepen in Invitation to others and in Challenge to grow more in the likeness of Christ.
These rhythms of ecclesiology that each community expresses finds commonality in a discipling pattern that encompasses all three elements of Investing, Involving, and Inspiring. For some tribes these are expressed in different terms but they find the same meaning in the pursuit of their relationship with God and as we seek to be Living the Life of Jesus Within the Lives of Other People. It is these discipling patterns that we will explore deeper in later posts.
 Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #80.
Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #2 – Visions and Dreams for Mission
In his book ‘Constants in Context’ Stephen Bevans and Roger Schoeder identify three major themes in the mission of the earlier church. The first being in, “the churches mission of inclusivity and universality has its roots in the Old Testament, particularly in the vision of the prophets.” From Peter’s first sermon following Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) to Steven’s speech before being martyred before Paul (Acts 7:1-53), the Apostles would continually point to God’s mission pushing His chosen people to embrace and “bless” those who are on the margins of their society. As this word becomes flesh in Jesus (John 1:14), the missio Dei continues to reflect a inclusive diversity to those who are often rejected or outcast by world perspectives. David Bosch writes, “What amazes one again and again is the inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission. It embraces both the poor and the rich, both the oppressed and the oppressor, both the sinners and the devout. His mission is one of dissolving alienation and breaking down walls of hostility, of crossing boundaries between individuals and groups.”
The Edge has embraced this desire of diversity and inclusiveness to a radical level. Our tribes are filled with marginalized people such as sexually broken, disabled, First Nations, artistically eccentric, and ethnically and culturally distinctive. We still have a long way to go however, as there are great dangers for these diversities to segregate themselves solely into affiliation driven communities that become more of a exclusive clique then a unconditional and open inclusive community. There must be a fostering for the development of ligamental bonds that allow these diversities to cross over all tribal thresholds and build relationships with a multitude of diverse characters and identities as we are called in the mission of The Edge itself.
The second identification of mission in the early church is, “the church’s mission has its roots in the ministry and person of Jesus as he preached, served and witnessed to the reign of God and gathered about him a community that assisted him in his work.” The early church was not in the pursuit of following an institutional doctrine or organization but rather wanting to emulate and follow the relational and organic model presented through the life teachings and actions of Jesus as he demonstrated and articulated God’s reign through both.
This modeling of following Jesus above all else is the fabric in which our house church movement builds a relational discipling culture we call ‘Imitating Jesus’. Through bringing both the gospel stories in narrative and teaching with experiential parallels in today’s social settings, we try to emulate a sense of becoming part of that story so as to have a greater understanding of what Jesus is calling us to become as his disciples. We do not follow the model of the church or doctrine but look to the biblical narrative itself as the model to which we are to follow.
Lastly, the third principle in mission for the early church is, “the church’s mission has its roots in the post-resurrection faith of the first disciples – that they are called to witness to the gospel of Jesus and the gospel about Jesus.” Walking with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus began journeying alongside them. They did not recognize him until later when he broke bread and gave it to them. They were filled with excitement as their “hearts burned within them” (Luke 24:32) and returning to Jerusalem they gave praise saying, “The Lord has risen indeed!” (vs. 34). With many more stories, the early church exuded a faith not about past works of Jesus but the continuing works of Jesus.
Through many gatherings in individual tribes as well as leadership gatherings, The Edge continually asks the questions of “What is Jesus doing, so that we might join him?” and “What is Jesus not doing that we may be doing and need to stop?” It is a witnessing of Jesus’ continuing works around us that sets us apart from other movements that perhaps are restricted by long dead traditions and ideological expectations.
These three models of mission exemplified through the early church reflect greatly on the direction of The Edge as we pursue the missio Dei in today’s context. Of course they also become engrained in the rhythms of ecclesiology we practice in gathering, or repeated ways we gather as a body, to which we can now turn.
 Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #11.
 Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1991). Pg. #28.
 Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #11.
 Ibid. Pg. #11.
Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #1 – The Simple Church: Or Is It?
Probably over a decade ago when I first heard about the House Church Movement I never thought I would be involved with it as I am today. I remember it being called the “simple church” and the vision was to return to the practices of the early first steps of the church as we see it in Acts and the letters of the Apostles. Yet as simple as we might have hoped it would be, I have learned that it simply is not so simple. Over the course of the next several posts, it is my hope that I and my brothers and sisters in The Edge House Church Movement can reflect upon the contextualized dynamics of the early church movement and its reflections to the house church movement today in Visions and Dreams for Mission, Rhythms of Ecclesiology and the Gathering Practices of the Church, Catechisms and Schools of Discipleship, and Measures and Successes.
Before getting into these dynamics of the early church however, it is important to note that they did not recognize a distinction between their calling in discipleship and the everyday practices and events of life. As Steven Bevans writes, “The missionary idea of ‘gossiping the gospel’ was certainly much more than just a verbal message; rather, it was the message of one’s whole life. The conduct of ordinary Christians had the greatest significance and impact for the spread of the gospel. They lived out ‘the language of love.’” This “language of love” would take the gospel not just into the religious establishments of the Temple and the synagogues but also into the streets, the market places, and perhaps most importantly, into the homes of the believers. These homes would become the embodiment of radical inclusionary dwelling places for the family of God as they extended the immediate family unit beyond themselves “to include slaves, freed persons, hired workers, tenants and partners in trade or craft.”
Today these visions and dreams for a radicalized mission and expression of the church have inspired many more people like myself, to embrace an unexpected family that becomes united to experience and follow Jesus into all of life’s moments. It is my hope that together, my Edge family and I might learn from the story of the early church and grow more in the likeness of Jesus and the radical and incredible movement he has called us to be a part of – The Mission of God!!
 Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #88.
“Common sense is the best distributed commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it. Cogito, ergo sum.” (I think, therefore I am.) Or at least Rene Descartes thought so as reflected on the age of Enlightenment. With systematic sciences on the rise, the world was changing and humanity’s perspectives on the church, human nature, and God were being revolutionarily transformed by three natural perspectives.
The first of which was the voice of reason or what Platchard called natural religion. This ideological understanding dichotomized “between ‘natural religion’, the basic truths about the existence of God and human morality known to good people in all societies, and ‘revealed religion’, the particular historical claims and doctrines of Christianity and other religions.” (Pg. #240) With science putting systematic categorical placements on everything in nature, the Enlightenment would redefine the gospel outside of the nature of purpose and, in Bosch’s language, turn God into the object for the equal consumption of all as apposed to the subject of relation to the elected few. He writes, “Reason represented a heritage that belonged not only to ‘believers’, but to all human beings in equal measure.” (Pg. #270)
To the believer who dedicated their life to God, reason alone was not articulated enough to express the uniqueness of their relationship to the one true God. The gospel must be “born again” to transcend the simplistic rationalizations of common man. The mystical wondering of an outside Kingdom breaking into the world with the promise of liberation must still evoke the emotions of the heart and overcome the ideological expectations of cause and effect with a spirit of grace. Alas, to think religiously and to live by faith became institutionalized even more through the development of contextualized segmented religious cultures that rather retreated from the world as apposed to transforming the world.
With one voice rationalizing religion as an “opiate to the masses” and the other retreating into institutionalized segregated commonwealths, a third voice was piecing the gospel pursuit in the sojourning life long pilgrimage for the revelation of objective truth. As Gotthold Lessing expressed, “The worth of a man does not consist in the truth he possesses, or thinks he possesses, but in the pains he has taken to attain that truth… If God held all truth in his right hand and in his left the everlasting striving after truth… and said to me, ‘Choose’, with humility I would pick on the left hand and say, ‘Father grant me that. Absolute truth is for thee alone.” (Pg. #250) Alas, as Bosch points out, all to often enabled “humans to remake the world [and God] in their own image and according to their own design.” (Pg. #273)
Returning to Descartes and “Cogito, ergo sum”. As the Enlightenment boxed the gospel into a mental rhythm of simple knowledge and academic exercise, we must peer deeper into the depths of our calling in discipleship. It is not to think that reflects who I am but, it is for the purpose to enflesh the great “I am” that I exist! (John 14:6)
I grew up in a musical household. My mother would play guitar in the living room and I would sit with her singing worship songs and camp tunes for hours. She used to love taking the break in between worship songs to sing ‘On Top of Spaghetti‘ with me; at least until I learned the alternative lyrics of ‘On Top of the School House‘! Some how whenever I broke into a different rift of words, the tune would sour and she’d stop playing. How important are the lyrics to the notes which are played along with them? Deeper still, must there be proper emotional response to the lyrics which go along with such notes?
Bevans and Shroeder reminded me of that early lesson in life with their analogy that, “Like a complex fugue or polyphonic motet, God’s unity is constituted by diversity and God’s diversity is rooted in unity of will and purpose; the church is the church inasmuch as it has been included in that harmony.” (Pg. #298) The lyrics of the church’s ecclesiology must be in the harmony and unity of the message to which it embodies or it ceases to be the church entirely! Nor can we void the internal depth of emotion to which that message is to be embraced as a missional community itself!
The contemplation of these last few months has brought a renewed vision to my heart and mind in the significance of a united harmony between the movements and ecclesiological practices of the individual believer and the church as a whole. Together we are on a mission which does not find significance in and of itself, but rather it points towards greater experiences of faith, hope, and love in the promise of a richer and fuller future. To use Bevans and Schroeder’s words, “Christians are incorporated into the divine life and experience a foretaste of the world’s destiny of full communion with God, with one another and with all of creation.” (pg. #299)
I’d be remised to say, like the small taste I had as a boy, I can’t wait for that day to sit with my mother again and sing praises to God; and I promise, I’ll get the lyrics right!
This past semester my MRE brothers Graham and Ryan wrote a fantastic reflection on Monasticism and the Church while reading Steven Bevans ‘Constants in Context’ and David Bosch’s ‘Transforming Mission’. With their permission I had to share it with my readers!! :)
Bevans paints a picture in chapter four of monasticism as one of the primary means of mission in the church during the fourth through tenth centuries. Bosch adds to this the idea by stating that the monastic movement may be responsible for allowing any hint of authentic Christianity to develop in Europe during their “dark ages” (Bosch, 235). Given this illustrious history, many today in North America are seeing a return to monasticism as a place to go in order to more faithfully live out the gospel. It seems that those who seek to return to monasticism see it as a retreat from the failure of the church, or perhaps even a retreat from the culture surrounding us. While both of these are not necessarily bad, Bevans’ work pushes us to think about the roots of monasticism and understand its true history. If people today have a false picture of early monasticism, how it arose, and its purpose, we may romanticize monasticism and misunderstand what if offers Christians today. Therefore, monasticism could become a place to hide from the world, and even the church, and lose its missional nature. Bevans’ calls monasticism one of the primary conduits of mission during this time period. Rather than monasticism being a retreat, Bevans pushes us to see monasticism as a resource or service to the church. Given this better understanding, we are moved to observe what monasticism offers the church of today.
Monasticism teaches and opens up many things to the church today. Generally speaking, the monastic movement throughout the fourth to tenth centuries played many important roles both within the church and within society as a whole. The interrelationship between church, mission and baptism that was at the core of mission in the early church was predominantly lost when Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire. “However, monasticism arose as a movement that radicalized and symbolized this basic baptismal commitment within the church. The monk and nun replaced the martyr as the ideal in the Christian community” (Bevans 129).
Currently, we are in an era where most churches in the west view missionary work as a vocation or as something that is a program as opposed to central to the identity of the follower of Jesus. The monastic movement however, saw mission work as part of the baptismal and communal life of the church and was represented in their rules of life and monastic community. The Celtic monastic practice of pilgrimage became a practice of missionary work: “But the pilgrim must help others he meets on their journeys, that the concept of pilgrimage often merged into that of mission…” (Bosch 238). The monasteries themselves were central in cities as places of education, translation, medicine, vocational training, industry, and mercy: “The citizens of the heavenly city were actively seeking the peace and good order of the earthly city” (237). Monastic movements served and associated with the peasant class of the places they formed their communities: “…through their sanctifying work and poverty they lifted the hearts of the poor and neglected peasants and inspired them while at the same time revolutionizing the order of social values which had dominated the empire’s slave-owning society” (Bosch 237). The rule of St Benedict emphasized the holiness and spirituality of daily work. Monastic communities carried out by the work of their own hands the building of roads and bridges, the clearing of land, and the cultivating of agriculture where there was none before. Their mission not only lifted up the peasants, but transformed the land and reformed the society as a whole. Thus monasteries and the rule of life were themselves practices of mission.
Finally, the monastic movement served the local church. It transcribed manuscripts, trained leaders, priests, and lay people, discipled new converts and deepened their faith and spiritual practices, gave them a sense of mission, and set examples by their own lives and witness. The monastic movement was often a bright spot in an otherwise dark time during Medieval Christianity. Furthermore, the Western expression of monasticism was “far more independent of government interference” (Bosch 236) which allowed them to not only play a reforming role in society but also provide a “prophetic witness” to the church (Bevans 134), calling the church to a deeper walk with Christ and a practical spirituality, as well as a critique of tendencies towards power, busyness, wealth, and material possessions.
“In the midst of a world ruled by the love of self, the monastic communities were a visible sign and preliminary realization of a world ruled by the love of God” (Bosch 235). How could we not see a need for all of these monastic practices and tendencies in the church today? We need a more integrated spirituality that sees working with the earth, secular work, and identifying with and advocating for the blue collar worker just as spiritual as the work of the pastor. We need a more communal expression of our spiritual life and a rule of life would certainly help with discipleship and with personal spiritual growth and personal responsibility for mission and acts of compassion. The slow patient way of St Benedict is needed for transforming our neighbourhoods and there is certainly a need for a prophetic voice to speak to the churches of the West about fascinations with power, wealth, busyness, and consumption and to instead call followers of Jesus to a life of simplicity and an embodied practice of mission and compassion. Our question is, how is monasticism to be embodied in the local church? Can one local church seek to serve other local churches in their neighbourhood in helping them see an embodied practice of mission rooted in our identity as followers of Jesus just as monastic orders served the local churches of their day? Or does this kind of service need to be done by a non-church body for the sake of other church bodies?
This fall tens of thousands of young people have begun studies after high school. They have worked hard for this. Having won the prize of admission reserved for those disciplined in study, they will enter rich academic environments, richer then they have ever known, to pursue the promise of a good job.
They will find courses devoted to every question under the sun. But there is one question for which they will search in vain: the question of life’s meaning, of what one should care about besides a job and why, of what life and living is for.
I’ve been thinking about this vacuum recently. Western public education began with the notion that life’s most important questions are appropriate subjects for students to explore. This has all but disappeared. It is perhaps truer to say that what is most important in life has been collapsed, within education itself, to economics. Economic globalization of the last three decades or so has been the final squeeze to push questions of value and meaning out of formal learning. The disciplines with the oldest, deepest connection with these questions, the humanities, including the study of religion, have been badly weakened, even within secular universities. Research, the capacity to produce “true value” for new economic opportunity, is now king. Education is about commodities and the quantifiable. The question “What is life for?” is homeless here.
The loss of the quest for meaning has come at a staggering price. The September 2012 Maclean’s headlined Canadian students feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal. Among other things it discussed the results of a 2011 survey of 1,600 University of Alberta students, where “about 51 percent reported that, within the past 12 months, they’d felt things were hopeless. Over half felt overwhelming anxiety. A shocking seven percent admitted they’d seriously considered suicide, and about one percent had attempted it.” Canadian universities don’t have a monopoly on these things. At Cornell University in New York, the solution for hopelessness and depression has been to install bridge netting under the seven bridges leading to campus to catch jumpers on their way to class. Sadly even the article itself reduced the problem to one of “mental health“. Mental health is serious stuff, and important to acknowledge and deal compassionately with. The issue though is complex. Hopelessness, depression, and anxiety has much to do with the conditions of life, like prior to a major assignment. There will, as the saying goes, “always be prayer in schools as long as there are exams.”
Despite globalization, the quest for meaning persists. At one level it helps us cope. With a “why“, Victor Frankl observed, we can deal with any “how“. For Christians though, our longing for transcendence empowers us to invest in riches that can be enjoyed forever. The scriptures call it “hope in Christ” (1 Cor. 15).”Hoping in Christ” helps us to endure too. It also gives us the Model for living, a Christ shaped character, and a horizon far past the hollow promises of consumer culture, a reason to spend life for the sake of others.
Since questions for meaning are always questions of the spirit, and the right and proper subject of Christian education, it would be easy to say here “Hooray for Christian education!”
However, life’s meaning is far more than “a question” of the spirit. It is rather a quest, a hunger of the spirit. That’s why not all churches or even places like ABC are automatically places of authentic spiritual food. Sometimes Christian institutions bear a strange similarity to religious studies classrooms where information about God or belief systems is passed off as sufficient for Christian discipleship. Information however, while important and necessary, is hardly sufficient for becoming a follower of Jesus.
At the heart for our quest for meaning is Jesus who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you ‘Ten steps to walk in the Way.‘” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you the Truth.” He said, “I am the Truth.” He offers Himself. This of course matches our yearnings precisely. They are for Love Himself. Information is not enough for the quest!
Jesus knew all of this! He knew that what disciple-learners needed more than anything in their quest was a model of loving surrender to the Father. This was a lengthy process, even under the master Teacher! Along the way there were questions, doubts, fears, denials, prejudices, jealousies, and a host of other distractions. Their enemy was ours too: they thought that the “Way” was the way of privilege and power. All of them desert Him at one point. After three years of instructions they still think that (Acts 1:8). Throughout this jagged journey to learn Him, every moment was a teachable one. He never gives up on them.
Regardless of how that quest unfolded in particular cases, the common thread was that Jesus was always with them, entering life with them, challenging, encouraging, whittling away their self-preoccupation. All this to say that for Jesus curriculum was not enough. He longed for them to experience His inner life. His presence was key!
Dallas Willard puts it this way: “…spiritual formation rests on the indispensable foundation of death to self and cannot proceed except in so far as that foundation is being laid and sustained. You cannot follow Jesus from a distance. You do life with Him.” (Renovation of the Heart, Page 64)
The quest for meaning is satisfied through the challenging conversation and encounters where life’s big questions are faced honestly. In fact, our gospels are both declaration and a “working through” of the conversations about what it means to live for Someone else. Without those conversations, they wouldn’t exist! Peter Berger is correct: “Worldview hangs on the thin thread of conversation.”
As they walked with him, Life seeped in. Jesus’ own dreams of a new, Other-oriented life took shape. They learned to serve by serving. They learned to love by loving. They learned to be loved, by being loved. Meaning arrived not by armchair philosophizing, but through fresh encounters with Life Himself. Jesus knew that the transformative turning points of life are already in the journey, not just in the synagogue.
It is easy, and so tempting, to think of what is done outside the classroom as unimportant. It is not. The stakes are too high, the consequences too stark, the possibilities for Others too rich, and the horizons of meaning to beautiful, to abandon the co-curricular.