Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Paul's Idea of Community
"We are in a position now to identify more precisely the basic difference that marks out Paul's view of community from that of his contemporaries. We have already seen that by his integration of the notions of 'commonwealth' and 'household' into his understanding of 'church', Paul's view encompasses a broader range than that found in its Jewish and Graeco-Roman counterparts. Also his understanding of identity and unity within the church, of the meal through which they come to expression, and his idea of ministry and order contain a distinctive accent compared to other approaches at that time.
"But there is a further divergence between them. For the members of Jewish religious associations, such as at Qumran and among the Pharisees, participation in the fraternity centered primarily around a code, as embodied in the Torah. This lay at the basis of the blessings, readings, expositions, confessions and prayers that formed the content of the synagogue services. For the members of the Hellenistic religious associations, participation in the fraternity centered primarily around a cult, with dramatic rituals and processions, as well as mystical overtones. This cult provided the basic rationale for its activities. According to Paul's understanding, participation in the community centered primarily around fellowship, expressed in word and deed, of the members with God and one another. It demonstrates concretely the already-experienced reconciliation between the individual and God and the individual and his fellow-men: the gifts and fruit of the Spirit being the instruments through which this is expressed and deepened.
"This means that the focal point of reference was neither a book nor a rite but a set of relationships, and that God communicated himself to them not primarily through the written word and tradition, or mystical experience and cultic activity, but through one another. Certainly fellowship is not altogether lacking in these other groups, ranging as they do from the comparative individualism of the mysteries to the strong community at Qumran, nor are the Old Testament scriptures and various corporate activities absent from the Pauline churches. But a real difference lies at the heart of their respective gatherings. This makes it impossible for Paul's approach as to what happens in church to have been derived in any fundamental way from the practice of the synagogue or of the cults. For him something quite new has broken into human experience, and this is nothing less than the 'first fruits' or anticipation of that community between God and his people that will be ushered in at the Last Day. Paul's view arises from his understanding of the gospel and the Spirit and has only secondary points of overlap with either the synagogue or the cults, though more with the former than with the latter. But since even the synagogue's worship has its basis in an order that is 'passing away' (2 Corinthians 3:4-11), Paul does not begin with the synagogue and 'Christianize' it. Nothing in his writings suggests that the order of the synagogue service, which was clearly defined, or the central features of its worship, i.e., the Shema, Eighteen Benedictions, Old Testament readings, translation and exposition or Priestly Blessing, played a part in the meetings of his communities. Instead he develops his own views out of Christ's sacrificial service to mankind on the Cross and impartation of his resurrected life through the Spirit, integrating elements of synagogue practice only insofar as it is appropriate to do so and frequently altering their emphasis and presentation.
"Paul's approach is really a quite revolutionary phenomenon in the ancient world. In view of subsequent developments--in which Catholicism increasingly followed the path of the cults and made a rite the center of its activities, and in which Protestantism followed the path of the synagogue and placed a book at the center of its services--it would be true to say that in most respects it remains no less revolutionary today."
-Robert Banks, Paul's Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in their Historical Setting (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), pp 111-112. ISBN: 0-828-1830-7