From the Director…
Sometimes I have heard people ask “what is Ecclesia?” When some of my friends around the room are in a sarcastic mode (which is so rare), I’ve heard them say – “We are Chris’s experiment for his doctoral dissertation”. There is some truth to that, but there are certainly things in that dissertation that I still haven’t been able to convince people to do yet! I’m not giving up though.
The truth is, I had Ecclesia in my mind when I started working on my dissertation, but like many who have tread those waters, I was struggling to figure out a way to frame my intentions. Then, during a Sabbath sort of day, I decided to read through the Acts of the Apostles in one sitting – something I haven’t done before or since. As I read, what became clear to me was that the narrative of acts was a story about the birth of a network or a story about the birth of a fellowship of churches. That revelation became even more clear to me once I began to delve deeper into the dynamics of how those first churches understood themselves, especially in relationship to the wider church and its’ leaders.
Now, I had never read Acts this way before. I had always read it (as a modern, western, individual) as a story about the birth of multiple, independent churches (after all, I was raised a Baptist) or the birth of the BIG C “church” universal (after all, I was first baptized a Catholic). I had not seen it as the development of a fellowship or network of churches. Yet, if someone was to take those early churches – change their name to Antioch Community Church or the City Church of Rome or New Ephesus Church or Lycus Valley Church – and then described the things they did together – the ways they related to each other – how some of them got started – the ways they shared leadership among each other – we would look at them and call them a network or association.
The bigger question as I have camped in this framework for several years, both theologically and practically, is this “What was Jesus doing through that network or fellowship of churches?”
There are many answers that we could likely give because Jesus intends to do a lot through the church. Yet, there is a particular angle that I’ve been thinking about for the last several months because I think it’s a timely parallel to our day. One of the narratives I believe you can trace through the book of Acts would be a storyline like this …. it is a story about a fellowship of churches that are being used (and surprised) by the power of the in-breaking Spirit – to give witness to the kingdom of the resurrected Christ – so that the door could be opened to a new era of mission. This was the purpose of this new fellowship then, and possibly, of fellowships like ours today.
(Look for the August Ecclesia Update for Part II)