When we talk about ecclesiology (our understanding of the church), there are two levels to consider. The first is the abstract, presumably universal level at which we think about what the church is. The second is the practical level at which which we think about how a local church must embody that essence. One problem that has affected many churches is the assumption that the second level, that of application, is just as universal as the first. This belief leads some to the conclusion that the forms, styles, practices, and traditions of the church universal should be pretty much uniform in the church local. The expectation that the New Testament will provide those forms bolsters the assumption.
In this and coming newsletter articles, I will work through some of the factors we take into account as the church in Arequipa seeks to embody Christ faithfully in our context. I hope to show how we go about translating the first level into the second level.
House Church, Simple Church, Organic Church . . . which is it?
There are lots of descriptors thrown around these days. House churches are the most well known nontraditional model, but they’ve developed a stigma in some circles, hence the attempts to clarify. For our purposes in Arequipa, that American-church baggage is of little relevance, but the related conversations among church planters have been helpful nonetheless. We agree with those who emphasize that the point is not where you meet but how you meet. Currently, we have three groups that meet in houses and one group that meets in a community library.
The nontraditional churches in the US have their reasons for meeting in their various alternative ways. Those reasons are not always the same as ours in urban Peru, however. One important factor for how we meet is the cultural idea of sacred religious space. Our gatherings in homes and libraries and parks and just about anywhere put into practice the truth that “church” means “gathering”--and where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, there church happens. It is not less sacred or reverent because of the setting, because the presence of God is still manifest, and that is what makes holy ground.
Living out this teaching is vitally important. It changes our perception of holiness and worship, transferring it into every conceivable space. That change is very healthy for new Peruvian Christians. Although many, many church leaders have taught this aspect of what the church is, for the most part they have done that teaching from within a “church building,” denying in practice what they preached in theory. Our resistance to the cultural pull to become official and legitimate by purchasing property and building sacred space is an intentional effort to teach with our lives. Almost every Peruvian that finds out we are “Christians” (rather than “Catholics”) asks immediately,“Where do you meet?” The idea that you can’t be a real church without a fixed where is powerful, but it is counterproductive to accommodate ourselves to it, even though we could “just” do church in a more understandable way. More important than being easily understandable is the end result of being the body of Christ anywhere, anytime, with no dependency on physical property.
Here is one of my favorite worship songs:
Dios está aquí. ¡Qué precioso es! (God is here. How precious it is!) Él nos prometió. Donde están dos o tres. (He promised us. Where there are two are three.) Dios está aquí. ¡Qué precioso es! (God is here. How precious it is!) Él nos prometió. Donde están dos o tres. (He promised us. Where there are two are three.)
Quédate Señor, Quédate Señor, (Stay Lord, Stay Lord,) Quédate Señor en cada corazón. (Stay Lord in every heart.) Quédate Señor, Quédate Señor, (Stay Lord, Stay Lord,)
Quédate Señor en mí. (Stay Lord in me.)
Oh, Cristo mío has de mi alma un altar (Oh, my Christ make an altar of my soul) Para adorarte con devoción. (To worship you with devotion.)
Oh, Cristo mío has de mi alma un altar (Oh, my Christ make an altar of my soul) Para adorarte con todo el corazón. (To worship you with my whole heart.)
When we sing these words in our small church gatherings, they mean a lot. And that is exactly what we’re after.