In my last blog, I appropriated some findings of cultural anthropologists and defined the church a vast global tribe. These same anthropologists explain that what makes tribes cohere is that they come together around: a common narrative and a common set of rituals. The church from its inception out of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus, his teachings as recorded by his apostles (holy scriptures) has always had a common narrative, and with baptism and the Lord’s supper/Eucharist always had common rituals. This is prominently affirmed in the early Apostle’ Creed: “I believe in the holy catholic church … and the communion of the saints,” i.e. in one global tribe that is the fruit of our mutual belief in one God our Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, and the energizing work of the Holy Spirit.

All that said, looking at the church in the world today can be confusing, what with its multiple expressions, squabbles, theological, liturgical traditions, forms of incarnation—and yet somehow it is all based on a common narrative and with the common rituals (baptism and the Eucharist). It is an incredible story of that first century church launching out into a hostile Roman Empire in which it was hated and persecuted, and yet engaging in its common mission to make “this gospel of the kingdom proclaimed to every ethnic group in the world.

Two millennia have transpired since that beginning. Against all odds the church moved out into the world, east and west, with power creating colonies/villages of those who embraced Jesus Christ by faith. With minimal communication, it adapted itself to the language and cultural norms of those different cultures and created villages/communities around the reality that it was the community of God’s New Creation in Christ—and it often looked different in its expressions from one era, or one culture, to another. So today we are sometimes bewildered, say, by the Eastern and Russian Orthodox traditions in the east, by the Coptic Church in North Africa, and by Roman Catholicism in the west, … and by the whole plethora if Protestant tribes founded by the teachings of gifted leaders (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simmons, etc.). Add into the mix the influence of those within the Roman Catholic Church who engaged in the mission as missionary orders (Benedict, Francis, the Jesuits, etc.).

Stir into this history that the colonial empires of the West, took their own expression of this global tribe with them as part of their goal of imposing their patterns on the colonies they established, q.e.d., the conquistadores took Roman Catholicism to Latin America as part of their colonizing project.

Now, to shift gears a bit. The church is not tame. It, in obedience to its Lord and his teachings, is a radical new force for justice and righteousness, for dealing with poverty, against all forms of social injustice and torture. For this it has suffered. The church, as the tribe of God’s global design, will not be caged or discouraged by other forces. Case in point, when the church in China (established largely by British missionaries) became the target of Communist domination after the cultural revolution, it went ‘underground’ in secretive meetings and meeting places, … and in that hostile context (even in concentration camps) has, ostensibly, become the largest Christian church in the world.

There endless illustrations of how this global tribe (which began in Jerusalem, meeting in public and from house) has coped with persecution, change and challenges, and continues to do so. Public assemblies, or small community groups meeting to hold one another accountable to the word of Christ. A global tribe manifest innumerable forms, around a common narrative and common rituals. “The gates of hell” will never prevail against it. Be encouraged.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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    To be a member of The Tribe is lifesaving and a joyful life apart from the ugliness around us.

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