Friday, 28 October 2011

A symbol for the church – solid historic building or transient camp?

The 400th anniversary of the King James Version, as it seems we must now call it, has reminded us of several aspects of the translation. Not least of these was the production of a version that would support the Church of England against dissenting forms of church. (Also, strangely given the love of the KJV by conservative Christians in the USA, support for the divine right of kings.) Thus, the Greek ekklesia was translated as ‘church’, which people associated with the structured, hierarchical Church of England, rather than its root meaning of assembly or gathering, as often used by other Christians. The word church won out and now appears in most modern versions which makes it very difficult to think of Jesus or St Paul speaking about anything other than a particular organisational structure in a building.

The surrounding of St Paul’s by the Occupy camp makes me ask which is the better symbol for the church – the wonderful historic building or the messy transient camp? Now let’s be clear, I’m not making any claims for either to be truly representative of the Gospel so it’s not about a tick list of values and actions.

The church sometimes appears to be trapped in its buildings, historic or modern. They seem to have an infinite capacity for consuming resources. They can distort our priorities when we become more concerned about them than what we believe to be God’s mission. They can offer an illusion of protection. Yet they give a sense of seriousness and presence, and sometimes we do use the space creatively.

A protest camp is transient by its nature. It can be moved, either at the will of the participants or the force of the authorities. It can easily spring up somewhere else it is needed. It is vulnerable – not a weakness for those who believe in a God who becomes human. If there is permanency, it lies in fundamental values rather than physical structures.

Our tragedy as Christians is that we only seem able to see church in terms of buildings and organisational structures. We need to recapture the sense of ekklesia in terms of an assembly or gathering of people – more a camp than a building.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as a Tabernacle church, there is nothing more ironic than those monumental victorian "tabernacles!" Toxteth "Tabernacle" has even become the name for the local bus stop!
    So the question for us is whether we will have to change the name when we get a building, or whether we will be able to build a building - and partnership arrangements - which will allow us to continue to tabernacle, whilst still giving us some security about our identity as a worshipping community.