How do we embrace the quotidian nature of the Church, even as we hold a vision of the fulfilled or idealized Church? How do we find grace inside the problems that inevitably populate our church life, and how do we acknowledge the distortions that plague even the most graced situations? In this paper I plan to reflect on the Household of God and the Economy of Communion as it relates to these questions.
The New Testament witness points us to the importance of the household in building the church. As the Good News traveled from place to place, the apostles proclaimed their message publically, in synagogues and in public squares. After the initial public proclamations, however, it appears that much of the teaching and living into faith happened in the semi-private space of the household. The permeable privacy of the space granted, on the one hand, a measure of security from persecution, and on the other hand, enough flow of people through the household that the message traveled from place to place. The household, containing tradesmen, slaves, and their families as well as the extended family was the smallest economic unit. The household nurtured family relationships, but also provided an economic interface between the family and society.
And so we are able to speak of the Household of God in economic terms. The Household is based on an economy of communion: communion between people who are members of the household, and more importantly communion (unity or fellowship, in Barth’s terms) with Christ through Holy Communion and Baptism. The economy of God’s household stands in contrast to the world’s economy. Whereas the world bases its economic structure on markets which inevitably lead to scarcity (Bruggemann), God’s economy is based on lavish surplus. As we experience God’s abundance, we are in turn freed to share our gifts lavishly.
The writer of this section then moves to the community’s responsibility to “confront the problems caused by false economic orders that violate the surplus of gift giving and gratitude and that obscure differences into an oppressive global uniformity . (208)” Having just read Barth, I am left wondering if confronting economic injustice is part of the church’s work of witness, or if it is simply the resulting overflow of the transformation that Christ has worked in us. Is working for justice part of the church’s purpose? Or is it part of the church’s identity? I’m leaning toward justice work being part of the fruits that naturally happen (in that idealized world of perfect cause and effect) when the church is experiencing Communion with Christ.
How do we respond, then, when the church is not manifesting its proper fruits (in this case, economic justice)? We can try to motivate through encouragement and exhortation, or we can engage what I believe to be the root issue, which is lack of formation in Christ’s identity – lack of communion with Christ. As we grow deeper into Christ, we grow deeper into obedience, which includes economic justice. As James reminds us, “Faith without works is dead.”
I like Evan’s proposal to understand the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in terms of race, body, space, and time. Evans pictures the apostolic role of the church being fulfilled through teaching (didache), forming people through knowledge and practice. What would happen if we understood the apostolic role to be acquainting people with the person of Jesus instead of teaching them aboutJesus, endorsing standards of belief and behavior? Would this different role help inter-cultural missions function with less cultural imperialism?
I’m thinking particularly of mission work with the Shoshone and Bannock tribes from Southeast Idaho. A member of my congregation who has studied with Shoshone elders has asked our Presbytery’s Presbyterian Women not to support projects that proselytize those tribes. The cultural packaging that comes with our presentation of Christianity destroys native culture. Can we limit the cultural imperialism of our missionary work by focusing on the person of Christ instead of doctrine or practice? Can we accept a Shoshone elder saying, “Yes, Jesus is my brother, but I don’t need his death?”
God’s Mission and the Mission of the Church: Does God’s commission of Adam and Eve mean that we are “co-creators” and “co-preservers” of God’s handiwork (231)? Are we partners in God’s Mission (if there is one)? What does it mean to live in the gift of the quotidian and also to have roles in deliverance and sanctification? These questions have implications for the Church’s role in the world and for the practice of leadership (my study focus). More on this later, I’m sure.