The position of ‘faith’ in society is well over due for a fresh and practical review.
Promoting ‘home church’ in the current climate of huge social challenges to the institutional Church has great value. But not all home churches fit the bill.
Traditional ‘home church’ has given groups a chance to ‘hide’ from the reality of a diverse society. It has brought comfort to those who did not easily mix with others and those who found the world in conflict with their values. But a more enlightened view of church and in particular home church offers something that is sorely needed to bring people into a more harmonious relationship and greater commitment to ‘community’ and the sharing of resources and values. The sharing of resources and working for the common good is a strong mantra of both the Old and New Testaments and is not unique to Christianity.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. Romans 15:1-2
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 13-15
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Isaiah 58:7
The sharing of faith values is an important part of a healthy democracy, provided it is in the spirit of ‘sharing and learning’ rather than ‘imposing and constraining’. There is so much we learn from each other within safe and open environments. Sharing values does not mean sacrificing personal viewpoints and practices. It means placing a personal world view into a context of the reality of our neighbours life journeys. Greater tolerance grows out of shared understanding.
‘Identity’ of individuals and groups in society has lost ground with increasing globalisation and the growth of the market economy in favour of big corporations and the political support for transnational organisations. The Church has fallen into line with the trend towards the mega-group. The Church is following trend and drawn into the idea that big is beautiful as well as the outdated view that audiences don’t need to be involved in critical thinking. In this model individuals, their viewpoints and needs count for little. It often does this while walking away from small or fading communities. But is this serving the needs and interests of communities and individuals? Is it community building or unintentional community degradation? Is it more about the survival of the institution than serving society.
At the same time, cultural barriers of race and religion are slowly coming down despite the efforts of reactionary nationalistic movements. In particular, especially in the western world, people are no longer identifying themselves on the basis of religion or race. They look for ‘good’ communities – friendly, supportive, intimate and understanding.
The emergence of supra national interest groups may be a response to a trend to eliminate ‘identity’ by the economy and political authorities. It is a healthy movement away from the old crowd management models. Possibly the fastest growing category of people is now those of mixed race, mixed religion and diverse cultural and ethnic origin. Long term practitioners of Christianity probably regret the slow but sure decline in adherence to large worship events, but many would welcome a ‘back to the grass roots’ faith of its founder and presented in the Gospels. Home church can put the emphasis on the teachings and examples of Jesus and moves away from the essential doctrinal and organisational values that take precedence in the institutional church.
In this climate of growing mixed ethnicity and falling social boundaries, the practice of home or small group church fills a great need in community building and cohesion of society. It becomes a shared space that can liberate thinking and promote unity of social purpose in communities.
Giles, in the previous post, makes the point that 84% (and growing) of the planet have a faith perspective that influences their world view. He makes a good case for bringing the faith and non faith peoples into closer alignment. There are obvious reasons why this would be good for society, but there are few vehicles for this to happen intentionally.
Home churches or home groups lend themselves to encouraging collaboration and conversations between church and non-church people. The expectations are different. The formal church worship event, unless worked on intentionally, is not a natural setting for non-church people to feel at home and expects conformity and acceptance of all that is said and done. Within the smaller, less formal setting of a home or family environment there is greater potential for sharing ideas, opinions and values.
For many reasons, the Church is at a crossroads. Many are tipping its demise, others are seeing it survive and even grow as a reaction to a liberal society. We have an opportunity to turn the current crisis of purpose and usefulness into something closer to the community model it manifested before it was moulded into an empirical model by the Roman rulers of the 4th Century.
Paul Inglis January 2018.
The author was a Uniting Church Community Minister for 11 years and still works alongside church and community to develop healthy and harmonious communities.