Early Church

Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #6 - Conclusions for Thought

Edge Logo on WhiteWritten with the understanding of mission in word and life, Bevans and Schroeder state, “If to be church is to be in mission, to be in mission is to be responsive to the demands of the gospel in particular contexts, to be continually ‘reinventing’ itself as it struggles with and approaches new situations, new peoples, new cultures and new questions. The existence of Christianity seems always to be linked to its expansion beyond itself, across generational and cultural boundaries.”[1]

The house church movement is not anything new in the landscape of church models. I remember sitting with a good friend as he told me of his time in missional house tribes during the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Yet, the expression of these small intimate tribes must still find renewal as time passes and the context in which the gospel lives transforms with the present culture.

As Paul shares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) What the early church movement teaches the followers of Jesus today is that Christ-like discipleship is not about finding unity in what doctrine you clench, or in what denomination you find membership, or what church you belong. Christ-like discipleship is about letting go of any preconceived identity you might have of yourself, dying that he might live in you, being reborn into the complete wonder of an adventure that will unit you to the mission of reconciling all things (2 Cor. 5:16-21) to the reign of almighty God and his Kingdom. Using Bevans and Schroeder’s words, “In this way Christianity offers the world nothing less than a new conception of humanity.”[2] A humanity we can call, the Church.

[1] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #31.

[2] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #98.

Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #5 - Measures of Success

Empty asphalt road towards cloud and signs symbolizing success a Before turning to what measures of success the early church had I think it wise to also recognize maybe some of its failures as David Bosch articulated; the first of which being that, “Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion.”[1] It wasn’t until several centuries later that Christianity would become an officially recognized institution or religion. Jesus was more interested in creating a movement that transcended all institutions from the sacred to the secular parts of every believer’s life and the community they were a part of.

Although many in our movement still carry the baggage of the institutionalized church, we try to focus ourselves away from these old paradigms, holding our beliefs in openness while reconciling the gospel as we encounter Jesus in the everyday. In this way, we embrace and develop relationships with neighbors and organizations that are not always from a Christian belief and yet are part of our community, neighborhood, and greater parish tribe. This places us in gathering environments such as the Body, Soul, & Spirit Expo, the Calgary Centre for Global Community, and the New Canadian Friendship Centre.

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A second failure Bosch notes is, “[The Church] ceased to be a movement and turned into an institution.”[2] While recognizing the need for a skeleton in which the body can grow around, the church cannot become bonded to the institutional legalism of its doctrine. A Christian movement is defined when the members of such beliefs can transcend them into the whole of creation and maintain a centered focus to the reign of Christ. The Edge, while fostering its tribal communities, works at recognizing their placements within the neighborhoods they are a part of as the localities and neighborhoods to which they are called to serve. We are blessed to be a blessing to our neighbors and live the life of Jesus amidst the greater community around them!

Bosch’s last failure that he identified with is that, “[The Church] proved unable, in the long run, to make Jews feel at home.”[3] Within The Edge, I see this in two ways; on the one hand, we embrace ethnic and cultural diversity extremely well with First Nation, Indian, Bhutanese, and Chinese tribes within our movement. But, much like the first century church, we struggle to find a constructive relationship with traditional and/or large church models. We need to work at reconciling our understandings of God’s work being in all forms of church, including those in large and traditional settings. The quantification of numbers is not what is important, big or small, and yet the quality and/or weight of voice speaking from such communities must be held in equity between each other. Still, I wonder if success has a quantifying difference between the two?

Diversity in the EdgeSecondly even in the midst of our diversity in contextual, cultural, and affiliational demographics; we must not let these diversities dichotomize or polarize our movement so that each solely views itself at the exclusion of all others and/or is unable to permeate the crossing into and overlapping of each others relational movements. The Edge must work at the unification of each other’s movements as part of the mission of living the life of Jesus in the lives of others.

As we consider the measures in which the early church considered marks of success, Bevans and Schroeder seemed to identify three particular signs. The first is, “There number was increasing daily (Acts 2:47)”. While as a house church movement, The Edge does not consider numbers to be a full measure and expression of success, we recognize a desire to see people coming to know Jesus for the first time while entering a deep and life long relationship with him in discipleship. However, we are more concerned with a more quality-focused commitment then we are with mass quantity of followers committing. This does not dismiss however, the need to grow through investing, involving, and inspiring new disciples who will also be living the life of Jesus within the lives of others.

Secondly they identify that, “they enjoyed an intense and happy community life (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35)”. As I shared earlier in the introduction, many in our tribes consider each other as brothers and sisters while recognizing the church as a family unit. We often meet and talk outside of the planned gatherings. Intimacy and developing a communal culture of joy amidst tribal living is second nature to The Edge movement! We naturally become an organic unit for inclusivity.

Lastly, they observe that, “they enjoyed the esteem of many in Jerusalem (Acts 5:12-16).”[4] It is difficult out of humility to speak of the affirmations to our tribes’ presence but, in many neighborhoods, our friends and neighbors deeply appreciate the ways we have served and connected with them. Often as we enter community spaces we are greeted by name and even embraced with hugs and appreciations for our being there. We take the understanding seriously that if our tribes were to disappear in our respective community’s, our neighbors should miss us.

[1] Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1991). Pg. #51.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. Pg. #52.

[4] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #17.

Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #4 - Catechisms and Schools of Discipleship

Discipleship"Election needs to be seen as a doctrine of mission, not a calculus for the arithmetic of salvation. If we are to speak of being chosen, of being among God’s elect, it is to say that, like Abraham, we are chosen for the sake of God’s plan that the nations of the world come to enjoy the blessing of Abraham (which is exactly how Paul describes the effect of God’s redemption of Israel through Christ in Gal. 3:14)." ~ Christopher Wright

It is this focus on discipleship that distinctly sets the early church apart from many other eras in its history. Learning from Jesus and the way he disciples, the early church recognized that, “people matter more than rules and rituals.”[1] The catechism to which the church was to pass on, according to Jesus’ words in Matt. 28:18-20, was not meant to be simply a head knowledge or academic exercise, but a life transformational experience. As David Bosch states, “Again the difference between the disciples of Jesus and the talmidim of the Jewish teachers is striking. To follow Jesus does not mean passing on his teachings or becoming the faithful custodians of his insights, but to be his ‘witnesses.’”[2] This was often expressed through a personal exclusively committed covenant between the believer and God.

Within each tribe’s expression of their rhythms, the practice of covenants varies and has different forms. While some tribes take it more seriously then others, some find there practice both in the verbal and unwritten sense, while others break them down and write personalized covenants with God as a Rule of Life commitment. Expressions (my tribe) practice a (I)Living Covenant following our rhythms of Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living; yet, recognizing the diversity in each of our personal lives, each of these rhythms are open to the interpretation and level of commitment by each member. As we practice them personally, we also witness to one another communally in our gatherings how we each have experienced them over the week. In this way, discipleship takes on both an individual personal walk as well as a communal tribal movement of accountability.

While feeling greatly challenged by this practice of discipleship, it has impacted us in some great growth and richness in our relationship with God and others. Success in mission is a question to which we ponder and yet we find encouragement by turning to the example of the early church as they experienced in a relational model and not institutional.

[1] Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1991). Pg. #36.

[2] Ibid. Pg. #39.

Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #3 - Rhythms of Ecclesiology and the Gathering Practices of the Church

ExpressionsDescribing the common movements of the early church, Bevans and Schroeder write that, “As for house churches, not every private Christian home was designated for this purpose; rather, certain houses became the accepted places for the regular weekly gathering for prayer, bible study, sharing resources, community discussions, and the Eucharist.”[1] These rhythms were not internally focused but rather commissioning elements that embraced value in worship, mission, and discipleship all together. The EdgeWhile the home is a major focus in The Edge house church movement, the central gathering environment does not restrict us from ecclesiological rhythms. God’s mission takes us out into the parks, the malls, streets, retreat centers, coffee shops, pubs, and many more places. Each community finds freedom in expressing their unique contextual constants within the guidance of their own communities as they deepen in Invitation to others and in Challenge to grow more in the likeness of Christ.

These rhythms of ecclesiology that each community expresses finds commonality in a discipling pattern that encompasses all three elements of Investing, Involving, and Inspiring. For some tribes these are expressed in different terms but they find the same meaning in the pursuit of their relationship with God and as we seek to be Living the Life of Jesus Within the Lives of Other People. It is these discipling patterns that we will explore deeper in later posts.

[1] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #80.

Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today – Pt. #2 - Visions and Dreams for Mission

MarginalizedIn his book ‘Constants in Context’ Stephen Bevans and Roger Schoeder identify three major themes in the mission of the earlier church. The first being in, “the churches mission of inclusivity and universality has its roots in the Old Testament, particularly in the vision of the prophets.”[1] From Peter’s first sermon following Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) to Steven’s speech before being martyred before Paul (Acts 7:1-53), the Apostles would continually point to God’s mission pushing His chosen people to embrace and “bless” those who are on the margins of their society. As this word becomes flesh in Jesus (John 1:14), the missio Dei continues to reflect a inclusive diversity to those who are often rejected or outcast by world perspectives. David Bosch writes, “What amazes one again and again is the inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission. It embraces both the poor and the rich, both the oppressed and the oppressor, both the sinners and the devout. His mission is one of dissolving alienation and breaking down walls of hostility, of crossing boundaries between individuals and groups.”[2] The Edge has embraced this desire of diversity and inclusiveness to a radical level. Our tribes are filled with marginalized people such as sexually broken, disabled, First Nations, artistically eccentric, and ethnically and culturally distinctive. We still have a long way to go however, as there are great dangers for these diversities to segregate themselves solely into affiliation driven communities that become more of a exclusive clique then a unconditional and open inclusive community. There must be a fostering for the development of ligamental bonds that allow these diversities to cross over all tribal thresholds and build relationships with a multitude of diverse characters and identities as we are called in the mission of The Edge itself.

Word Became FleshThe second identification of mission in the early church is, “the church’s mission has its roots in the ministry and person of Jesus as he preached, served and witnessed to the reign of God and gathered about him a community that assisted him in his work.”[3] The early church was not in the pursuit of following an institutional doctrine or organization but rather wanting to emulate and follow the relational and organic model presented through the life teachings and actions of Jesus as he demonstrated and articulated God’s reign through both.

This modeling of following Jesus above all else is the fabric in which our house church movement builds a relational discipling culture we call ‘Imitating Jesus’. Through bringing both the gospel stories in narrative and teaching with experiential parallels in today’s social settings, we try to emulate a sense of becoming part of that story so as to have a greater understanding of what Jesus is calling us to become as his disciples. We do not follow the model of the church or doctrine but look to the biblical narrative itself as the model to which we are to follow.

Lastly, the third principle in mission for the early church is, “the church’s mission has its roots in the post-resurrection faith of the first disciples – that they are called to witness to the gospel of Jesus and the gospel about Jesus.”[4] Walking with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus began journeying alongside them. They did not recognize him until later when he broke bread and gave it to them. They were filled with excitement as their “hearts burned within them” (Luke 24:32) and returning to Jerusalem they gave praise saying, “The Lord has risen indeed!” (vs. 34). With many more stories, the early church exuded a faith not about past works of Jesus but the continuing works of Jesus.

Through many gatherings in individual tribes as well as leadership gatherings, The Edge continually asks the questions of “What is Jesus doing, so that we might join him?” and “What is Jesus not doing that we may be doing and need to stop?” It is a witnessing of Jesus’ continuing works around us that sets us apart from other movements that perhaps are restricted by long dead traditions and ideological expectations.

These three models of mission exemplified through the early church reflect greatly on the direction of The Edge as we pursue the missio Dei in today’s context. Of course they also become engrained in the rhythms of ecclesiology we practice in gathering, or repeated ways we gather as a body, to which we can now turn.

[1] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #11.

[2] Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1991). Pg. #28.

[3] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #11.

[4] Ibid. Pg. #11.

Reflections on the Early Church and The Edge Home Churches Today - Pt. #1 - The Simple Church: Or Is It?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Probably over a decade ago when I first heard about the House Church Movement I never thought I would be involved with it as I am today. I remember it being called the “simple church” and the vision was to return to the practices of the early first steps of the church as we see it in Acts and the letters of the Apostles. Yet as simple as we might have hoped it would be, I have learned that it simply is not so simple. Over the course of the next several posts, it is my hope that I and my brothers and sisters in The Edge House Church Movement can reflect upon the contextualized dynamics of the early church movement and its reflections to the house church movement today in Visions and Dreams for Mission, Rhythms of Ecclesiology and the Gathering Practices of the Church, Catechisms and Schools of Discipleship, and Measures and Successes.

Before getting into these dynamics of the early church however, it is important to note that they did not recognize a distinction between their calling in discipleship and the everyday practices and events of life. As Steven Bevans writes, “The missionary idea of ‘gossiping the gospel’ was certainly much more than just a verbal message; rather, it was the message of one’s whole life. The conduct of ordinary Christians had the greatest significance and impact for the spread of the gospel. They lived out ‘the language of love.’”[1] This “language of love” would take the gospel not just into the religious establishments of the Temple and the synagogues but also into the streets, the market places, and perhaps most importantly, into the homes of the believers. These homes would become the embodiment of radical inclusionary dwelling places for the family of God as they extended the immediate family unit beyond themselves “to include slaves, freed persons, hired workers, tenants and partners in trade or craft.”[2]

Today these visions and dreams for a radicalized mission and expression of the church have inspired many more people like myself, to embrace an unexpected family that becomes united to experience and follow Jesus into all of life’s moments. It is my hope that together, my Edge family and I might learn from the story of the early church and grow more in the likeness of Jesus and the radical and incredible movement he has called us to be a part of - The Mission of God!!

[1] Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004). Pg. #88.

[2] Ibid.