Here’s Jimmy! 9

As if the change to the “new” perspective wasn’t enough for some, Tom Wright began to push into new territory and he knew it wasn’t just the old “new” perspective so Tom called what he was doing the “fresh” perspective, and I want to say one bit about this “fresh” perspective to form the introduction to the last chapter in J.D.G. (Jimmy) Dunn’s newest book, Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels. In brief, I see the “fresh” perspective to be the new perspective in more political key. Tom saw the significance of empire ideology in various NT writings so he took the new perspective into a more political framing of issues: Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not is one way Tom said it. (But you’ll have to read his book, Paul: In Fresh Perspective, to see this more completely, and we are awaiting Tom’s big volume on Paul.)

What do you see in the ekklesia as a house church? And as a fellowship? And as shaped by charisma instead of “offices” or ecclesiastical orders?

Dunn’s last chp is about the church, and he immediately clarifies himself over against the “fresh” perspective, without as much as saying so, by saying that “ekklesia” means only a gathering or assembly, as is found more in the Old Testament (Greek, LXX), and not so much a political assembly, as is found in the fresh perspective. Thus, Dunn thinks the term is more theological than political. [Two points: 1. The term qahal, in the Hebrew OT, cannot lose its political sense since it is Israel as the people of God, governed by kings, etc. 2. The NT ekklesia deserves to be seen as having impact from Jesus’ use of kingdom, which has political force too, so I’m not sure ekklesia can ever lose its political sense. The issue is if Paul had a conscious over-againstness when he  used the term ekklesia.]

A church in most of Paul’s writings was a “local church” and only later did “church” begin to signify the church universal; a church was not a building, but a gathering of people into a house church. Most churches were probably in a multi-story tenement block (called insulae), and it also likely that most church gatherings were about a dozen people, unless the people gathered to a villa. So, for example, Romans 16:23 were the whole church of Corinth in his villa. In such cases about 50 people could gather together. [Now there are some who say we need to have more house churches, and some use this kind of information to point long fingers are megachurches, but the social realities of the 1st Century and the 21st Century are not the same and one can’t find any text that says “keep your church to 15 or 25, or at most 50.” So, let’s be wise.]For Paul the individual believer is “in Christ” and those believers form the “body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:12, 27). Again, and here the “fresh” perspective could have been addressed, the term “body” was often used for political bodies in the Aegean. It’s about unity with diversity, one person doing one thing and another something else but coordinating the way a body does.

This new political body is defined by Christ, not by nationality or geography or by social standing or by gender.

Thus, Paul’s ecclesiology is trinitarian: Father (calling), Son (in Christ), and Spirit. The Spirit is at work to produce fellowship (koinonia) and charisma (giftedness). This koinonia is not just with one another but is first with the Spirit and out of that shared experience of the Spirit the shared life of the believers emerges. The gifts bring grace into concrete manifestations. And Paul is not a hierarchicalist, as so many today are (pushing hard for more authority in a pastor), but believes in Spirit guidance through koinonia and charisma. So “church” does not mean eccleasitical leaders but the Spirit breaking forth.

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  • josenmiami

    Scot, was that last sentence a summary of Dun’s chapter? or was it your own musings on ekklesia? Whichever it was, it struck me with some force. I will need to ponder the idea of the “church” being the Spirit breaking forth. I like it, and I need it! Thanks.

  • Thomas S. Gay III

    A house church participant and leader here since 1994.

    First, As to the gifts of the Holy Spirit being designed to remain in the church throughout all ages, or are they to be restored as the approach of the restitution of all things- these are questions that are not useful. It is needed to observe that, even in the infancy of the church, God divided them with a sparing hand. Perhaps one in a thousand performed miracles, were prophets, healed. It was for a more excellent purpose than this, that they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. It was to give them what is essential to all Christians in all ages- the mind which was in Christ, those holy fruits of the Spirit, which if you don’t cultivate them, you can lose your saltiness.

    Which brings one to a second point. Paul exhorted his churches to mature, growing in their faith and understanding of the Abba, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not much exhortation, instruction, or reference to evangelism and mission. Maturity is more important in the Spirit reaching out into community. We still have little understanding of the process of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We are instructed that restraint is the keystone of virtue and that they are improved through selfless pursuit. Restraint/pursuit is a conjunctive reality in the sense of an almost coincidence of opposites. Which is a good description of the Holy Spirit within.

    We are a pluralist society and Church. Even though I practice organic house church, I see much in its current reality as backward looking, anti-hierarchy, and pressure to conform(homogenous). You don’t get somewhere by looking in the rear view mirror, without leadership, and without each member growing and performing. And one last thing- even all the so called prophets who scan the bible for end-time reality, hardly talk about the Bride making herself ready. But She does, and this is the reality that participates any restitution of all things(Rev19:7). There is work by us to be done in maturing on a personal and corporate level. I have a preference for a small bible-study, but deeply appreciate mega-church. The benefits of both have still not been researched to conclusion. Nor has unity with diversity.

  • The fresh perspective made great sense to me in the light of the articles on the church, the gospel, and the kingdom because in the “New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology” (Colin Brown, ed.), and also the article on ‘qahal’ in the companion Old Testament series. in These articles had helped pull together insights and thoughts that I had been wrestling with for decades. John Zizioulas’ “Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist During the First Three Centuries” also sheds light on the topic you’ve introduced.

    According to an article in “The Orthodox Study Bible”, the church is a “government” consisting of four orders—Bishops, Elders, Deacons, the People.

    Reading the Scripture in the light of all of this (and more) has led me to the conclusion that the primary meaning of “church” in the New Testament usage is “the people of God (the community of the King, the body of the Messiah) gathered as a governmental assembly in order to represent the government of God in the heavenlies on earth, primarily through proclamation and prayer.”

  • We were involved in a house church until last month… it’s a difficult enterprise.

    In addition, thanks, Scot, for pointing out the Kahal of Israel. I wonder if some of our church concept is built away from the premise of the wild branches grafted into the vine of Israel. That is, we think of the ‘church’ as separate from Jewish concepts. It seems the Scripture’s distinctions are political: the nations blessing Israel and Israel blessing the nations (something church/state distinctions do not allow). I don’t think, at this point, that an identity as a non-profit corporation run by a board of directors called elders is what the Bible and in mind. I’m not against established “churches” but I think of them as community centers of some members of the “kahal” who happened to choose to gather in that kind of way. Freedom but not required.

    I like your last paragraph and rings true to me.

    Skarsaunne says that the early believers attended Synagogue on Saturday and then gathered on resurrection day (Sundays) before or after work. That was more in the home, but worked with the daily schedules. It was not a replacement for the Synagogue.

    That said, if the early believers (Jews and God-fearing Gentiles) did not see the “church” as something separate from Israel but as the continuation of God’s promises to Israel… why don’t we see that concept borrowed more in addressing what the church is today? I see supercessionism influencing most of our church talk and leaving it sounding, well, tinny. When we divorce ourselves from national identity, I believe we’re missing a big point of Scripture from beginning to end: that God wants to work with/through the nations, starting with Israel as the Peculiar People, the Holy Nation and Royal Priesthood.

  • John W Frye

    Scot, these kinds of asides sometimes are the best part of the post: “Now there are some who say we need to have more house churches, and some use this kind of information to point long fingers are megachurches, but the social realities of the 1st Century and the 21st Century are not the same and one can’t find any text that says ‘keep your church to 15 or 25, or at most 50.’ So, let’s be wise.”

    This helps us escape the presumed simplicity that the N.T. offers templates for what ‘the church’ should look like in all cultures and in all times.

  • Phil M

    We are currently exploring the concept of house churches for our congregation, so we have been doing a lot of reading around this (admittedly side) issue.

    I agree in principle that one can’t find any text that says “keep your church to 15 or 25, or at most 50”. However, it seems that the consistent “one-anothering” of the activities believers are to do when they come together as the church, gets harder and harder to do as a church gets bigger and bigger. I’ve experienced this several times in different churches.

    I don’t want to get hung up on this since it is a side issue to the main point of the article, but unless we can find a way to prevent mega-churches becoming driven by a leader’s personality and a consumer mentality (as an awful lot seem to be) then I’m not convinced we can dismiss house churches and small sizes as simply a “social reality” issue.

  • I believe that in small gatherings of the church it is much easier to experience “God Most-Nigh”, as these are very personal and intimate gatherings. On the other hand though, in the larger gatherings of the church we can grow in our understanding and experience of “God Most-High”, ruler over all, where the Kingdom of God overwhelms the kingdoms of this world.

    Leaders of small gatherings facilitate experiencing “God Most-Nigh”. And leaders of large gatherings facilitate experiencing “God Most-High”. And I believe we need both.

    Concerning church leadership I understand such as relational and a function of charisma, spiritual maturity, and character, not governmental, but familial – fathers and mothers in the faith, respected and loved brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. And leadership, instead of being about control and authority, it’s about service and empowerment. And “authority” comes from the anointing of/by the Spirit, not the anointing of/by man.

    The house-church movement is helping the church universal recognize and begin to meet this need of understanding and experiencing “God Most-Nigh”!