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Why I don’t want to be like the early church.

Why I don’t want to be like the early church.

Learning from and knowing about the early church is not the same as imitating the early church. Krista Dalton thinks about our relationship with Scripture, particularly the communities behind them.

Were they recording an ideal past or imaging an ideal future?

She writes in her blog:

I was recently talking with my friend Guy, who is serving his first rabbinate position in my neighborhood, and I asked him how he would approach the historicity of the Seder in this first public Pesachim services. And he replied,

“I generally teach that historicity is not the only kind of truth, i.e., these are “True Stories” and some parts of them may or may not have actually happened. Stories like the Exodus are True in that they are sacred master narratives that shape our lives as a people and as individuals, True in that they are deeply complex and challenging and resonate with the human condition in its encounter with the divine. So even if the Exodus never “happened,” it is still happening to us and for us, and to live inside of a sacred narrative is a gift and a rich way to live one’s life. Finally, the non-historicity of the stories is, in a sense, exactly what allows the Rabbis and we today to tell and retell them through midrash that only deepens and extends the stories’ truth.”

In the same way, we can approach the Early Church master narrative as a rich gift to help us shape our lives. This does not mean I need to be like the historical members of the Early Church, attempting to return to a pristine historical core. Their members think and act differently than I, they treat women and persons of color differently, their worship looks and sounds distinct, and their cultural values do not always mirror my own. Instead, I can hear the ancient hope of the Christian community, and I can participate in that stream.

In the Christian community, we share a memory and an idyllic hope for the future. This shared memory allows each of us to come with our stories, fears, and despairs, and to not feel that we don’t have a place in the community; in fact, those shared stories sustain the community. And our goal in creating liturgical spaces and using religious ritual is to remember our master narratives, not to recreate a literal history.

We don’t need to be the Early Church; its memory is powerful enough.


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Eric Bonetti

Combat? Patriarchial excommunications? Who needs them? Just call for Alternative Episcopal Oversight and try carting off the assets.

Sorry, tired and grumpy this morning.

Eric Bonetti

Paul Woodrum

Isn’t “Jesus Wars” a fun read? Bishops leading platoons of monks into battle over a creedal clause. Patriarchial excommunications all around. It was certainly a lively way of doing church.

If one hasn’t read it yet, I highly recommend it for the beach this summer.

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Every time I see the words “Early Church” I have to wonder what, exactly, that means. The church of the first century? Of the first 50 years? Of the first two centuries? Granted our religion is young in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still 2000 years old. It’s important to be specific when talking about our roots.

Cullin R. Schooley

Bill Moorhead

I don’t want to be like the Still-Fairly-Early Church, either. Just finished reading Philip Jenkins’ “Jesus Wars,” about the fifth and sixth centuries. A lot like “Game of Thrones.” Not to say that the Council of Chalcedon wasn’t right, but, oh my!

Rod Gillis

The comment on the blog site, that the description of the church in Acts is an idealized description, more what it ought to have been like than what it was actually like, is a long standing insight and right on. All societies have mythic narratives, Americans have them, Canadians have them,Anglicans/Episcopalians sure have them. They are comforting and have meaning, but it is important to remember that they describe things, not as they were but as we would have liked them to be, they point not as much to a past as to a future which could be better. Like the creation myths in Genesis, they are more about the future we long for than anything else. So we strive for church that one day may be what it has yet to be, a konionia growing exponentially.

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