. . . posts on faith and life
I’m wrestling with desires I have to see certain primitive elements restored to our manifest expressions of being church. Let me make some qualifiers. First, I agree with Don Warrington that Evangelicals have often over-sentimentalized the ancient church. So, I am NOT talking about a literal restoration of the Book of Acts. However, I do agree with Len Sweet in Postmodern Pilgrims that casting our past forward might help us out of our current jam.
Furthermore, I believe in a sort of progressive revelation. Obviously God chose not to simply spill all of the beans at the very beginning. If the revelation is progressing through time then the last thing any of us should want to do is to emulate a church plant from nearly 2000 years ago. However, I also believe in a timeless, eternal God, who stands outside the constraints of time through which this revelation is being unveiled. So, there is no lack of congruence in the way that God revealed himself to the patriarch Abraham in 1996 BC, and the way that God revealed himself to me in 1996 AD.
When I speak of primal church I am not speaking of some sort of neanderthal church, but rather those primitive elements that still serve as the basic building blocks of the church. For example, geometrically speaking, we can think of the primitive shapes such as cones, spheres, pyramids, cubes, etc., by which all other shapes and designs might be constructed. Or we might think of the primary colors, from which the whole gamut of colors might be constructed. Or we might think of how bits and bytes are the fundamental building blocks of all computer programming languages. I’m sure the list could go on.
C.S. Lewis felt a burden to help people simplify their individual faith-beliefs. That burden led him to a series of radio talks that were eventually published under one of his more famous titles, Mere Christianity. The respected Anglican scholar John Stott wrote a similar and helpful little book entitled Basic Christianity. Sometimes it is important that we return to these basic fundamentals in order to advance. As Johnny Taylor likes to say: we need to focus more on less for greater fruit. It seems that there are plenty of resources for addressing our individual beliefs and spiritual practices/disciplines. However, there is little, at least that I have come across, that provides the basic building blocks of our collective life as the church. Again, I’m not talking about the myriad of ecclesiological expressions (liturgical or not, formal or not, big or small, priest driven or lay driven, etc. etc. etc.) that are possible after 2000 years of Christendom, but rather the basic building blocks from which all churches might be built.
I suspect that a book on this could be quite helpful for us! But I feel so detached from the basics of what it really means to be church that I don’t even know how to start a list of candidates for the basic building blocks! So, I wonder what are the primitive elements of the church?