Church: Before It Went Viral.

To reimagine Church for today it is sometimes helpful for us to look back and learn from past mistakes or be inspired and challenged by what the Church used to look like.

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In The beginning
The Church began officially on the day of Pentecost over 2000 years ago. However, like most things it began unofficially before then from the roots of Judaism.

The Church was formed around the words of Jesus. Words that were both challenging, as well as liberating. There were words and actions that brought healing and hope, as well as a response from some of anger and indignation.

At the heart of Jesus’ narrative was an acknowledgement that the Kingdom of God was at hand; was near, tangible, visceral and could be experienced. The Kingdom of God we find is like a banquet where all are welcome, a wedding feast where some are prepared and some are not, a narrow gate, a city, a light, a mustard seed, the attitude of children, a place where you can experience forgiveness, grace, healing and acceptance.

Where is the Kingdom of God? Well, it is here in the Church and the life of the Christian. Not fully, but as much as God can be known this side of glory! Yet this is the beginning of the Church, the hallmarks of those early devotees to Jesus and ‘The Way’ (as Christians were formerly known).

Pre-Pentecost the Church was much more a gathered community of Jews and others, some of whom still attended the temple. Yet, because of their acknowledgment of the resurrection and the new life it offered them, a new community had begun. Over time came the slow dawning reality for these early Christians that Judaism didn’t fit anymore.

Post Pentecost

The Church’s function and form was to gather, to worship God and to remember the things Jesus said. Pockets of these communities sprung up all over the place and Apostles like Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquila, would visit these communities, offering new insight or oversight, and certainly for the church in Corinth, words of challenge about how they were treating each other.

Post Pentecost, there was a number of persecutions, resulting in the people of God dispersing from Jerusalem, setting up home in other places, and subsequently, the Church was established in those places as well.

Below is a letter showing what the early Christians and the gathered community were like.

“Christians are indistinguishable from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men… they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.”

From a letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

This glimpse into the early Church helps us see that, in its earliest form in New Testament times, it was a servant Church. The letter goes on to say how Christians are persecuted and have no possessions or power, yet are wealthy – but in a different way.

In our new beginnings post-Christendom, the period of our history that began with Constantine, let’s draw on those early memories and realities, which remind us of who we are and that we, like so many in our broken world at the moment, are refugees. Engaging with the community, we find ourselves, like salt and light, not having a prescribed notion of what Church should be, other than a gathering place where people can meet, learn and love Jesus.

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