Friday, December 03, 2004

The house-church

It was the will of Jesus for his friends to come together regularly and visit often. In those ancient times, the word "church" referred, not to a building or structure, but to the people. The ancient Greek word ekklesia is a rough translation of the Hebrew qahal, both of which meant "a gathering of like-minded people in fellowship or brother/sisterhood."

Jesus did not care enough about buildings even to build one as a
"church." In fact, the very first church-building did not appear until nearly five hundred years after his death. Until that occurred, Christians came together in "house-churches." That is, they met in homes of kind people, and their "congregations" were very rarely larger than groups of ten or twelve. This was based, sometimes, on Jesus' having chosen twelve friends (apostles) to serve the Way of Love.

Huge congregations, of thousands, were not within the plans of Jesus. This "thinking big," but not necessarily spiritually, reflects America's obsession with largeness, and with numbers. Almost everything is rated, in this primitive thinking, in terms of size. Even human beings, each of whom is incredibly sacred, are often measured by "numbering" their accomplishments, friends, or dollars.

The house-church was completely free of corruption. Why? Because corruption is created by complexity. Here is how that worked with the church: People thought that larger congregations were "better" than smaller ones. Because of this, simple congregations (ten or so) could no longer meet in homes. This entailed the purchose of "specialized" buildings-- reflecting the "division of labor" that marked secular ways.

But a building means real estate, and real estate means money, and money attracts crooks and con-artists. This was the seed for every kind of corruption, as the ancient Christian mystic reminds us, "The love of money is a root of all evil."

If you could keep real estate out of the picture of spirituality, you would have very little to no corruption. Could this be done? Yes, it could, and here's how:

Groupings for gatherings would have to be limited to about ten regular attendees. These could easily meet in the living-room, basement, or garage of any member, as they did in house-churches in the first three centuries. (Btw, you could also meet in parks, on lawns, etc.) But another factor would have to be part of the recipe if you would avoid corruption altogether: You would have to do away with all honorifics, offices, and titles. For power attracts the corrupt almost as readily as does money.

This is what the early gnostics (mystic Christians) wanted, and it is how they arranged their "system," which was very informal and unstructured. At each gathering of friends, they would draw lots to see who was going to guide that gathering. Thus,they were assiduously cautious never to lay the groundwork for a permanent leader-system, a clergy. In retrospect, seeing the corruption of priests and other leaders, we can see the wisdom in this.

We are trying our best to imitate the set-up of the pre-coruption pattern of early followers of the Way. That is why our one Pneumarium-family meets in a garage, and our two other Pneumarium-family groups (in Columbus and Darjeeling) meet in homes. As far as leadership is concerned, we have not yet drawn lots to see who can guide a group, but we do plan to do this in the very near future.

Buying land and buildings seems logical, and harmless, enough. But the simple church of Jesus has become monolithic and enormously wealthy after two millennia of evolution, and we now seek to return to the massive simplicity of the original system.

A spiritual teacher is just that, all the time. So, gatherings need not be formal. In homes, fields, markets, or wherever she finds herself, the teacher is still a teacher, and happy to share. And whenever two or more spiritual people get together, there is a "Pneumarium-gathering," or, "family-gathering."

Will this movement grow? That very question reveals the problem of thinking in terms of numbers. We do not care whether the Pneumarium-phenomenon grows or not. Size has nothing to do with the Way, and including it among criteria of measurement only muddies the waters.

1 comment:

VirusHead said...

I love the idea of small warm groups encouraging each others' spiritual growth, expressing kindness toward each other, and sharing communal caring and love at a human level.