Jerusalem to Antioch

So I confess I’m not quite sure how this “Jerusalem to Antioch” thing is supposed to ‘work.’  I get the intent of this construction of history:  that there were ‘establishment’ people in Jerusalem, and that Antioch was ‘missional,’ and that they had to figure out a way to talk with one another with mutual respect for the sake of the gospel.  (At least I think that’s in the neighborhood of what Wes was driving at.)

 But here are a couple issues I have with this construal.

First, it’s pretty limited to a very early, intra-Biblical context.  Wes’s report reads the first century of the life of the church as a template for the 21st.  Aside from the fact that there was a vast variety of expressions of the nascent Christian community (not just an Antiochene form — and there was probably more than ‘one thing’ happening in Antioch), whenever I encounter this I start sniffing around for re-pristination.  Maybe I’m just of a suspicious nature.

Second item:  OK, so maybe early Jerusalem/Antioch.  But it wasn’t long before Antioch spawned not only different ways of ‘being church,’ but decidedly different theologies began to take root as the church hit the hustings.  Are we willing to go back beyond Chalcedon?  Talk about a time of conflict — we get too much into that era of time and we’ll be slaughtering each other and the politicking will make our puny little GS maneuverings look like child’s play.

Third issue — I’m really just trying to solicit your thoughts more than put down anything systematic of my own — I don’t know that we would even much say that we’re children of Antioch.  Maybe — but the missions to northern Europe didn’t come until much later, and it wasn’t exactly the people who were any longer “Antiochene” who were missionizing our early ancestors.   By that time it the missionaries were Roman, weren’t they, who saw themselves quite distinctively different from Antiochene Christians?

Well, I’m just playing around with the thematic thrust of Wes’s speech.  I’m reading Christianity: The First 3000 Years for a refresher, and it got me thinking.  What do y’all think?

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3 thoughts on “Jerusalem to Antioch

  1. Paul,

    I agree with you about the limits to the usefulness of this Jerusalem-Antioch motif. Yet I am willing (as I think you are) to hear Wes as deploying it for a specific and limited rhetorical purpose. (I think this was his intent.) That purpose entails certain assumptions, some of which I can accept, others which I cannot.

    The rhetorical purpose appears to be this: positively, to encourage us to be open to those who want to join us but who are not like us, and, negatively, to stop being so stuck on our constitutional inheritance that we cannot accept the contributions of those who come from outside. The motif is deployed to challenge us to question whether we are making certain requirements peculiar to our tradition of greater importance than the gospel, akin to the question of whether the 1st century Antiochenes must practice the entire Torah, including circumcision.

    That, I believe, was the particular rhetorical purpose of Wes’s use of the motif. I hope that I have described it accurately and fairly. As I said, this purpose seems to be based on some assumptions. A few are unobjectionable. We do get stuck, as do those in any tradition, and tend to make more of things than we ought. We sometimes focus on the short term rather than the long story.

    Some assumptions I can’t readily accept. The motif and its deployment seem to be based on an expectation that the future of the RCA depends on how we answer this question. That may be true, but my problem is that it isn’t clear to me what that question is!

    Another assumption: that there is one tradition of relevance in our relations with the creative, new church leaders coming to us from outside, and that is the tradition of our standards for ministry. But there are many traditions at play in this situation, just as there are many that vie for dominance in the RCA. And those traditions have their blind spots, too.

    To put this in a very different way, I believe that other city-dialectics are likewise instructive for elucidating the state of the RCA, and of Christianity in contemporary America. Jerusalem-Athens (faith and reason) is an obvious one. There are some new ones we could describe, such as Emmaus and Demascus (different patterns of coming to faith).

  2. Yeah, it was probably rhetorical and/or homiletic. However, two comments…

    It’s true that the council of Jerusalem was decisive in that persons need not become Jews to be followers of the Way. However, I fear a bit of moving away from the Jewish roots to the Greek (shades of Harnack here?). That lends itself to the gnosticizing tendencies already too prevelant. It is the Messiah of the Jews, after all, whom we worship (albeit God’s Messiah and hence it breaks out of Judaism).

    My second wondering has to do with the romantic history of the early church. Robin Fox and others have shown that Christianity didn’t burst with people those first years. In fact, archeological evidence has shown that the synagogues remained much larger than the churches those early centuries. The explosion in the church came with Constantine. Now isn’t that ironic?

    The narratives we carry…

  3. And let’s not forget the Alexandrian & Coptic early churches….Or the fact that while Antioch became a Christian refugee center, within a century the Metropolitan of Baghdad had more priests in his domain than the bishops of Rome could claim… The larger part of the early Christian Church was monastic, with abbots (‘fathers’ like patriarchs) having more authority over priests than bishops, i.e. the metropolitan bishop Baghdad had more priests than the Roman bishop… It was Gregory the Great who organized the Western church (and rooted out or co-opted the monastic presence (Frisians, Teutonic, Celts. At about the same time, Islam began to decimated the more fragmented Christian communities in the East while Egypt (the Ecyptos-of the Copts-) was overrun by Arabs.
    Wes’ spirituality has a monastic servant streak and a Gregorian/Carver leader/servant component.

    The Paul/Barnabas duo is more apropos to the ethos/logos/pathos layered RCA situation, especially if Barnabas is indeed the author of the letter to the Hebrews.

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