I have been researching to develop resources for the renewal of the Local Church in the 21st century. I have, so far, identified five different elements which, if brought together, might aid current efforts to renew the church. The five elements are:
1. Results of a recent seminar of the Society of Biblical Literature on the role of Greco-Roman meals as they relate to early Christian gatherings, particularly for their determinative quality on church worship and fellowship. I have recently discovered a congregation that centers its program around a meal. It is St Lydia’s in New York City and it characterizes itself a ‘dinner church’.
2. Recent scholarship on the effect of the Roman Empire on the life of early Christians. They were caught between conflicting loyalties as they tried to negotiate between the oppression of the Empire on their lives on one hand and the call of their faith to live according to the way of the Commonwealth of God (Kingdom of God), as incarnated by Jesus and preached by Paul.
3. Recent writings, particularly by Alan Streett in his book, Subversive Meals, which take as thesis the first point: the Greco-Roman meal construct; add to it the antithesis: negotiating the Empire as citizens of the Commonwealth of God; and coming out with the synthesis: using a central construct of the Empire as a means to subvert the Empire.
4. Less recent material but just as important is to fuse this synthesis with a model for the local church. For this I draw upon the work done several decades ago by the Ecumenical Institute of Chicago. E. I. began with the mission of renewing the local church. Part of their significant contributions to renewal was their model, which they designed in order to get hold of the structure and nature of the church.
5. To this mix I would add the results of my project, Net Prophets. It is an attempt to begin developing a scheme of adult Christian education, which Marcus Borg called the most urgent need for today’s church. The role of this will be clearer when I flesh out the Ecumenical Institute’s church model.
From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World by Dennis E Smith 2003
Meals in the Early Christian World: Social Formation, Experimentation, and Conflict at the Table Edited by Dennis E. Smith and Hal E. Taussig 2012
St Lydia’s Website with video: http://www.stlydias.org/about.php
Article about: http://www.faithandleadership.com/dinner-and-gospel-served-st-lydias
In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance Edited by Richard Horsley, 2008
Empire in the New Testament Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Cynthia Long Westfall 2011
Subversive Meals:An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century, Alan Streett 2013
This blog on Net Prophets: https://budtillinghast.wordpress.com/
My bibliography on Kingdom or Empire: https://budtillinghast.wordpress.com/book-list/
by H. A. ‘Bud’ Tillinghast, currently living in Oxfordshire, U. K., May 2015