From 1998 to 2008, I was heavily involved in intentional house church communities, even moving from Georgia to North Carolina to help ‘seed’ a church plant consisting primarily of a dozen collaborators from my undergrad alma mater, Berry College. (We even had a launch conference at Duke, and everything) Long story short, somewhere around 2008 our church began to disintegrate, and we’ve all moved on. Even so, much of the core DNA of ‘house church’ (also known as ‘organic church’ and ‘simple church’) remain with me. This week, I want to revisit some of this still-central resonance, which I think can be a gift to the larger community of faith as we’re navigating 21st-century changes.
The mysterious PostScript (who on earth are ye??), asked something insightful in relation to yesterday’s post:
Random question…If the church is a community of priests, for whom is it interceding?
My first response is “the world!”
Of course, I’m not a Hebrew or Greek scholar (unlike my interlocutor, whose identity is actually not mysterious to me), nor am I versed enough in a religious-socio-historical account of the development of ‘priesthood’ concepts globally. But my gut instinct is that when people say ‘priest’ they mean ‘ministering,’ in a deep, true sense of the word. And this could be directed in, oh, any and all of four ways–ministering unto God, Godself; ministering unto one another, ministering on behalf of humanity, and indeed, creation and the cosmos.
The question takes on even more compelling twists in a “Jesusian” context as the author of Hebrews seems to invert certain commonly-held priesthood concepts. I’m not sure if the other New Testament authors follow suit in a similar way, but for all there seems to be an emphasis on Jesus as the High Priest (fulfilling and completing a certain epoch of God’s dealing with the cosmos and humanity), and us as a ‘kingdom of priests’…or are we?
Some, such as my friend Kevin, add another tantalizing idea into the mix: What if the priesthood, the ecclesia, as “called out” ones, were called out for an important but limited season in the first century: As a first-fruits signifying the whole harvest, or as some fore-running yeast giving rise to an entire loaf of Reality? In other words, what if now in the 21st century, the need for any priesthood has ceased as those in century one “made up for what was lacking” in Christ’s priestly sacrifice?
It is a strong possibility, methinks, though I’m well aware that there are many involved in the front lines of justice work who would beg to differ, saying that we still need a cadre of wounded healers–mediators, reconcilers, indeed, priests–today. And if this is the case, I hope we’re part of the healing balm rather than part of the problem.
I’d love for people representing different perspectives on this potentially-urgent matter of the nature and duration of priesthood to feel free and jump in. Share your wisdom!
Note: Andrew Tatum has written a reprise clarifying some of this thoughts re: clergy.
Recommended House Church Reading:
(Even for those in more bricks-and-mortar and institutional settings, there are spiritual, relational/organizational, and theological treasures to be mined from a house church critique of organized religion and its proposed alternative. One need not be a fundamentalist or a primitivist to appreciate these insights. Here are some of the best works available.)
- Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity & Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities by Frank Viola
- Church Outside the Walls by Raj Samuel (on Kindle this week for $2.99!)
- An Army of Ordinary People: Stories of Real-Life Men and Women Simply Being the Church by Felicity Dale
- Christ in Y’all by Neil Carter
- Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal by Christian Smith (now out of print; good luck finding it)
- The Pastor Has No Clothes, What’s With Paul and Women?, & No Will Of My Own: How Patriarchy Smothers Female Dignity & Personhood by Jon Zens
- The House Church Book: Rediscover the Dynamic, Organic, Relational, Viral Community Jesus Started by Wolfgang Simson
- The Community Life of God: Seeing the Godhead As the Model for All Relationships by Milt Rodriguez
- Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, The Church Comes Home, and Going to Church in the First Century by Robert Banks
- Christian Community: Biblical or Optional? by Hal Miller
- The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church & The Fall of Patriarchy: Its Broken Legacy Judged by Jesus & the Apostolic House Church Communities by Del Birkey
This was originally posted on October 17, 2007. Except the recommended reading list, which is brand-new.