Seditious Households: How Holy Kisses, Tables, and House(hold) Church Habitus Subverted Oppression and Slavery (Part 5--conclusion)
A Household Gathered-Church: God’s Platform for Challenging Tyranny and Oppression
Over two plus millennia, the 4th century Constantinian state-sponsored move away from the household gathered-church created specific social ramifications for the church and for doing church: our building-centered ecclesiastical and liturgical habitus replaced the NT household gathered-church habitus, which has repercussions for social mapping trajectories that have restored tiered human hierarchies and re-segregated church communities into “their-own kind” of social, economic, political, and power assemblies. The household gathered-church has ceased to be God's gospel-centered, cruciform platform for deconstructing systemic tiers of human hierarchy. As a result, this also changed how the church addresses and challenges the current state of injustice, inequality, oppression, and tyranny.
There is a tendency to imagine that aligning ourselves, whether as individual Christians or as a building-centered congregation, with power or an influential platform associated with power is the way to bring about systemic change in prevailing tiers of human hierarchy. Tempting as this is, Craig Greenfield reminds the church, it is a trap to think “the solution to injustice is to gain power, hoping that once the roles of power have been reversed,” injustice will cease. History testifies differently—Davids inevitably become Goliaths; the oppressed who seize power become new oppressors.
Yet, it was the unassumingly insignificant, powerless, absent any sense of leverage young church that infected every level of society with the gospel and it did so through gathering together—this unique community of the poor and wealthy, property-owners and professionals, business women, slaves, orphans, and abandoned-infants, ex-prostitutes and former temple prostitutes (even some current ones), religious and military leaders, and children, women, and men—at meals in households throughout Caesar’s empire and, eventually, beyond: the gathered-church of strangers and unequals. Through the household gathered-churches invading the very core of the empire, what it was to be human had been “irrevocably altered.” Christianity did not simply offer an alt-system of human relationships and personal morality, but through the very existence of the household gathered-church and its habitus every aspect of the imperial system that created, promoted, and sustained tiers of human hierarchy stood condemned.
The way in which the local church gathered and reclined at table was ultimately and completely seditious to the existing system—the system that was foundational to human identity and imperial stability. Celsus, the second century critic of Christianity, described the spread of Christianity as a religion of “slaves, women and little children,” a warning and an argument against the new sect, for it disrupted the status quo ordering of life. David Bentley Hart suggests that it was “unlikely that Celsus would have thought the Christians worth his notice had he not recognized something uniquely dangerous lurking in their gospel . . .” These gathered-churches were made up of unequals and strangers. Their gatherings were traitorous. Their habitus was seditious and dangerous. Their presence, like no other, threatened to destabilize all of society. It is no shock, then, that the church was scorned and persecuted.
The gospel shaped gathered-church is not simply one of social integration, but is a scandal to any human institution that systemizes tiers of human hierarchies, be it social, civic, or religious. More than a model or a moment in church history, the household gathered-church, together with its habits, is as much a NT teaching (i.e., instruction to the church) as any other biblical doctrine. More so, everything about the early church challenged the empire, the temple-cults, the religious and political establishment, the business world, and, supremely, all human relationships and associations. Paul and the NT, indeed, did address the issue of slavery, oppression, and human inequality. The question is: does our current form of church?
 Craig Warren Greenfield, Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness in a Broken World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 95.
 Hart, Atheist Delusions, 176.
 Ibid, 115; Celsus reference, On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians (trans: R. Joseph Hoffman; New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 38.
This is a thread consisting of parts of a a recent paper presented at the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting in Providence, RI. The goal is to develop an anthology of essays (by various authors) on the subject, Christian Responses to Tyranny.
Part 1 | Part 2a | Part 2b | Part 2c | Part 3 | Part 3a | Part 3b | Part 4a | Part 4b | Part 5
For the entire thread (remember to scroll backwards for previous posts) << Gathered-church >>
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.