Communities or Congregations? Part 2 of 2
In this post Q further explains what she started in her post Communities and Congregations, Part 1 of 2.
I long ago came to understand that the narrative passages of scripture are not automatically or necessarily prescriptive for life and behavior today. They need to be understood in their social, historical and linguistic context. First century culture was very different than life in the twenty-first century. The principles upon which the narratives are based do not change. Gathering together, accountability, respect for moral and spiritual authority are all unchanging regardless of the century.
The scriptural principle upon which congregational attendance and commitment is based is found in the simple verse that states: “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is.” What does this actually mean? Has the entire system of denominations, congregations, churches all grown out of this simple statement? The original model is the first century church but the biblical background is the ancient Israelite community experience of tabernacle and then temple worship. The synagogue model from the time of the Babylonian captivity also forms part of the New Testament background to corporate worship.
Even a cursory study of the New Testament documents that describe the early community of Yeshua followers clearly shows there was no one model of leadership or one structure that characterized all the newly formed groups of believers. Significantly, the new believers continued to go to the temple and worship God, just like all their fellow Jews.
I question what this means for us in the twenty-first century. We have twenty-one centuries of history between us and the New Testament models and three millennia between us and ancient Israel. Should we look back to these models? Should we try to imitate them or draw principles from their experience? What do we learn from the history of Judaism, of Christianity? And what is applicable for us today?
I more often tend to know what is not, or what should not be rather than what should be. This is actually quite helpful in that I can easily eliminate options. Understanding that nothing is perfect, nor will there ever be this side of heaven; I look to principles that underlie experience. Models are sometimes helpful but they are generally context and culture specific and are not meant to be slavishly copied from generation to generation.
I don’t claim to have definitive answers to the questions I raised earlier. What I do know is that the longing to belong, to be a part of a community of faith is a God-given desire. Structures and models that would mandate the experience are temporary at best and easily become irrelevant if they become stagnant and inflexible. Today I can affirm many of those who “leave” the mainstream congregations, who look for authentic ways to express and live out their faith in community with other like-spirited people.
There is a place for the “mainstream” Messianic congregations and also for the newer, often intentionally smaller gatherings of believers. Neither is “perfect” but both should have a place of honor in our hearts. Can we celebrate the diversity of expression? Will we let go of the subtle critique of those who don’t “do it our way?”
I’m reminded here of Yeshua’s parable about wineskins. You need new wineskins to hold the new wine but neither should the old be discarded.