This is Part 2 in our series “Communities of the Kingdom of God”. If you missed Part 1 check it out here.
Different types of Communities are required to make strong Kingdoms
If we think of an earthly kingdom, we realize that healthy kingdoms are made up of a number of different types of smaller communities. The most impressive of these is probably the “city on a hill”. There is no question that fortressed cities are indeed impressive, as I have seen in my living in Europe and travelling throughout the Middle-East. Jerusalem in Jesus’ time was very impressive to the apostles when they were with him.
But wandering caravans of merchants were also crucial to the health of the kingdom’s economy, yet not nearly as impressive, or as complicated as the “city on a hill”. I think the “city on the hill” corresponds to large, Western churches and the “wandering caravan” corresponds to small, mobile apostolic teams. Ralph Winter pointed this out, as did Watchman Nee and many others before. Both communities are unique and would have different ways of functioning.
But there are many more different kinds of communities that make up healthy kingdoms. For instance, think of the military. These are special kinds of people which would require a different expression of community than the other two. A military unit, like Cornelius’ (Acts 10, a centurion responsible for the basic fighting unit of the Roman military—a century), would be more like a sodality (e.g. apostolic team) but would not have the same task (plant local churches). So it would have a mixture of “church” and “team” characteristics in its community. It is interesting that Peter did not spend a lot of time with Cornelius setting up “church structures” like elders and deacons. The structure of this particular type of sodality was already in place and would follow the military model, although with a far different spirit. The Roman military apparently was a ripe place for Kingdom communities, and Cornelius’ century was not the only one that entered into the Kingdom of God.
But think of a small farm village. If the Gospel came to a rural farm hamlet of say 20-30 souls, what would that look like? Like Cornelius’ century, it would doubtlessly look differently from an apostolic team or a large Western church of today, or even the city network of house churches which Paul started.
We need to realize that almost all the data we have regarding “churches” in the New Testament comes from Paul, who planted churches in large cities. Keep in mind that the basic unit of the city church was still the family and thus the local (city) church met in homes. Paul seemed to evolve in the complexity of the city church model through each of his 3 recorded journeys. In the first journey his team would plant a church and exit in a short period of time. In the second journey his team worked in smaller units spread out over several cities (Philippi, Berea, and Corinth) and for a much more extensive period of time. In his third journey it seemed like Paul himself stayed pretty much in one city (Ephesus) but his network of teams moved out from Ephesus planting churches in all the major metropolises of Asia with a high degree of networking. As he gained experience and learned from some of the problems that emerged in these “city churches”, like the fragmentation of the church in Corinth, he added new structures, like Ephesian 4 ministries, which would serve to strengthen the network of house churches in a city and lower the chance of fragmentation.
But let’s return to our rural village of 20-30 souls. This is not a large city where a number of house churches require coordination to maximize synergy (no house church would have all the gifts of the Spirit) and resist fragmentation. The hamlet would already have a social structure which may need to be redeemed, but would not necessarily need to be radically altered. They would likely not have a lot of contact or connection with other fellowships which may be a day or two walk away. There would not be a huge need for a lot of cooperation, since their problems would not have been so complex. They might receive travelling teachers or prophets as they came along on their journeys from city to city, and would bless them on their way (3 John). But a small hamlet fellowship in an era of walking would not need a lot of complex structuring. I doubt they would have needed even elders or deacons, much less recognized Ephesian 4 ministers (though as these came through on their journey’s they would have been a blessing!).
A Strong Kingdom is made of many different types of communities
But the point is that there are likely a myriad of different types of communities which serve to promote and strengthen the Kingdom of God….
…We will continue this discussion next week in Part 3! Come back then!