Problems in the world around us should cause the Church to come to a greater understanding of its own mission.
Chris Castaldo quotes Rodney Stark on the early Christians in Antioch:
[Antioch was] a city filled with misery, danger, fear, despair, and hatred. A city where the average family lived a squalid life in filthy and cramped quarters, where at least half of the children died at birth or during infancy, and where most of the children who lived lost at least one parent before reaching maturity. A city filled with hatred and fear rooted in intense ethnic antagonisms and exacerbated by a constant stream of strangers. A city so lacking in stable networks of attachments that petty incidents could prompt mob violence. A city where crime flourished and the streets were dangerous at night. And, perhaps above all, a city repeatedly smashed by cataclysmic catastrophes: where a resident could literally expect to be homeless from time to time, providing that he or she was among the survivors . . .
Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationship able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.
I believe that rapid social atomisation – the isolation of families and individuals from one another – is one urgent problem we face today and it requires just the same type of “new norms and new kinds of social relationship” that Stark talks about.
The Gospel includes at its heart a new community, the Church. In the past the Church’s articulation of “fellowship” has consisted primarily of public worship. But ever since Acts 2, from the synagogue, to the Roman household, to “our house, in the middle of our street”, the Church’s larger social structure has been upheld by existing social phenomena. But now these traditional social networks are disappearing and people are becoming more and more isolated through work and lifestyle pressures. In the past, church community happened almost automatically with the help of these unnoticed supports, and so the theology behind fellowship has remained largely unarticulated. However, as this cultural shift permeates the Church, I believe the response will be a fuller articulation of the biblical vision of community as essential to the body of Christ. An exciting prospect.