Christian community is an intermingling of stories, each vibrant, poignant, and filled with hope of faith-filled grander futures, and of fulfilled vision. I thank God for all those whose stories have mingled with mine to teach us to give to our children the possibilities of their next adventures in God. The sociologists teach that Christianity is the only religion that demands an ecclesia (in answer to the question: “What house will you build me?” Acts 7).
How is the Christian ecclesia (community) differentiated in sociology?
Christianity’s ecclesia is different to other religions and cultures that define their polity as (Stackhouse 1988:191):
- Family (“clan, caste tribe, or other Ethnes” – e.g. tribal witchdoctors)
- Politics (“nationalism, territorium, imperium, or “state religion”” – e.g. China’s 3 “C’s”, Rome)
- Class (“master or servant, male or female, rulers or rules, bourgeois or proletariat” – e.g. secular religion has it’s own creed such as the secular humanistic bourgeois religion of French revolutionists. Rousseau’s “Contrat Social” is their bible, and we can add other privatized expressions of nucleic religions)
- Cultural-linguistic groupings
- Where “religious laws and civil laws are indistinguishable (as in much of Islam)”
- Where “religious education and secular learning are indistinguishable (as in Confucianism)”
- Where “religious devotion and medical treatment are inseparable” (as in the Christian Science movement. Under this category Stackhouse includes those areas of the Christian church that make receiving healing a condition of devotion to God)
- Where “worship and technical achievement are confused” (as in Freemasonry, and among “technocratic workaholics”)
- Where “religion becomes identified with an economic system (as in socialism and capitalism)”
Stackhouse explains that where Christianity’s ecclesia is confused with any of the above institutional factors, the human story experiences seasons of difficulty .
Rummel, in his Nobel-prize-winning thesis on deaths by institutions, makes the point that the non-democratic nations committed the majority of deaths in the 20th century (Death by Government 1997) (Also: Understanding Conflict and War 1975, Power Kills 1997). His proposition that democracy “is a method of nonviolence” (Power Kills 1997:23) points us to a deeper revelation about the foundations of democracy. Democracy is, in socio-politics, the most rational reconciliation of the tension between individuality and collectivity; it survives only because, among present alternatives, it most approximates the co-reconciling elements of individuality and collectivity in God’s ecclesia! Community concepts that keep in tension both the rights and responsibilities of humankind are less likely to fail than those that don’t.
Is it then true that the Christian faith is the only possible way to realize a sustainable sociology?
I think that for the pre-Christian only time, evidences of ecclesia at work, and God, can answer the question. For Christians, it is a reminder that their theology awaits a proper praxis. At a practical level, all significant and insignificant others may alter their courses if they see selfless sacrifice, mercy, love, tenderness, at work in sociology. God’s grace in community is winsome when walked out in truth and love.
If from this article we can glean evidence against alternative forms of institutionalized community, and find that a belief in God makes a difference, perhaps it is He that is pursuing us – then, let’s respond to him now in the ecclesiae forming around us. What do we have to lose by embracing unified individuality and collectivity in God’s concept of community. Instilled with both God’s grace and truth, the ecclesia works continually against domination, and over time, produces, joy, hope, peace, and enduring relationships. Peace comes finally to all who understand their place in God’s community, and who know with certainty that he has planned for their excellence in it (Romans 10, 1 Corinthians 1, 1 Corinthians 2, Ephesians 3, Ephesians 4, Titus 2, 1 Timothy 6). God’s community is where discord and despair are dealt their worst blow, and where the spirit of prophecy meets the spirit of order (1 Corinthians 14).
Expressions of harmony in God’s community will, in the end, speak for themselves; they already proclaim patiently, and certainly, that what control or anger or fear builds, does not last. God’s community is the place of faith that administers God’s love on earth, and welcomes the doubtful and weary to give them rest. As Paul writes,
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:1-7).
1st February 2013