Have you ever attended a Great Commotion Congregation?
Was it a warmly relational experience, or was it more like a show?
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.”(Mattityahu/Matthew 28:18-20)
Forming smaller groups to intensify spiritual growth is no new idea. In the first century both the establishment Pharisees and the anti-establishment Essenes in Qumran formed such small groups to intensify their own spirituality and to set an example for others. Members of these groups met together, ate together, learned together, and prayed together.
Yeshua and his disciples did precisely the same thing. Consider the twelve disciples, a good size for a havurah, and consider how they also met together, ate together, learned together, and prayed together for the sake of their ministry to a wider world.
What started with Yeshua and the apostles in the first century continued to be the meeting model for Yeshua groups all over the Roman Empire until the beginning of the fourth century. These Yeshua groups were smaller than we would imagine and routinely met in homes.
Missiological innovator Steve Addison fills us in:
"On a number of occasions Paul's ministry led to the conversion of whole households--for the Philippian jailer, the merchant Lydia, Jason in Thessalonica, the household of Crispus the synagogue leader in Corinth, and the household of Stephanus, also in Corinth. Private homes were a place where social distinctions--between rich and poor, slave and free, male and female--could be more relaxed than in the public gaze. The household (or oikos) was the building block of Greco-Roman society. Under Roman law the father of the household had authority over his immediate family and other dependents such as relative, slaves, hired workers and even business associates. Household members were connected to each other through formal and informal ties--family, friendship and work relationships.
Paul described Stephanus and his family as the 'first' converts in the province of Achaea. They were 'first fruits' --not just the first converts but a pledge from God of more to come. They became the nucleus of a growing community in Corinth and throughout Achaea. Their work and witness resulted in others being added to the faith.
Reaching households of people who became new believers was an important part of Paul's practice. Through households the gospel traveled from person to person across the ties of existing relationships. Private homes provided a natural center of life for the formation of a new church" (127-128).
The successful establishment of new communities of disciples was closely connected to the use of private homes. Homes served both as bases for missionary work and meeting places for new believers. They were the place [where] believers could gather in reasonable security for worship, fellowship and learning.Steve Addison, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World, 127-128, 143-144
In the cities of the Roman Empire, most people lived in multi-story apartment buildings. Many families lived in one small room--too small for a meeting of more than a few people. So most Christians who lived in the cities met in small groups of up to fifteen people in tenement buildings. Large public facilities for meeting and sharing meals were not available. Gentiles met in pagan temples or private homes for community events and gatherings. Jews met in private homes or in synagogues, many of which were converted homes. Christians from both Jewish and pagan backgrounds were familiar with meeting in homes for fellowship meals. Larger gatherings required the use of private homes that only the wealthy could afford. the largest room in the home of a prominent person could hold thirty to fifty people. More could be accommodated if hallways and other rooms were used ."
There is much more we could say about such groups. Yeshua=believers have established them in many places in many ways in the past two thousand years. We could also talk about the havurah movement in Judaism which burgeoned in the 1960s and 1970s. But that will have to wait for another time.
Let’s close with a comment about what is happening in our day in the Christian world. The authors of this next quote are the Dales, a married couple with long experience in planting such groups, and George Barna, the most well-known demographer of the American evangelical context.
Here is what they say about house churches, the Christian equivalent of havurot:
God is taking an event-based institution and reforming it so that it is becoming life- and relationship-based . . . something with a new heart with a different DNA than we have seen in our lifetimes.(Tony Dale, Felicity Dale, and George Barna, The Rabbit and The Elephant, Barna:2009, 30).
The “event-based institution” is the Great Commotion Congregation and its smaller spawn, focused as they are on the big meeting and the big crowd. The Dales and Barna believe God is doing a new thing, creating something in its place, “more life- and relationship-based.” This is precisely what I highlighted in this blog, an essential environment for the work of discipleship.
Considering the issues involved, would ignoring such a development be our Great Omission?
THE BOTTOM LINE
I leave you with three terms to mull over. How do these speak about your past, present, and future experience?
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As usual, you have written in a most insightful, stimulating way about a very important topic, and one that is often neglected or forgotten. We clearly need to do far better at replicating Yeshua's life in those with whom we come into contact. You've given us--as you frequently do--some meaty stuff to chew on. Thank you!
Thank you Dr. Fischer for your kind remarks. As one of the most experienced Messianic Jews around, your opinion carries a lot of weight. Thank you again.