Nothing New Under the Sun

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Our congregation represents nothing really that new.

Long before the church developed a hierarchy—when overseers (episkopoi), elders (presbyteroi), and servants (diakonoi) were simply roles in the church rather than the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon

Long before the church borrowed the model of the Roman courthouse (basilica) for its buildings—

Long before the clergy started dressing like Roman magistrates or medieval university professors—

Long before the Roman emperor started mucking about in the church, necessitating the formation of creeds and doctrines—

The faithful gathered in people’s homes.

ichthys/Christian fish drawn in sand
The ancient Christian sign

They gathered to pray for one another, to hear some words of sacred tradition, to share a meal as a remembrance. They often met in secret, out of fear of persecution, relying on the sign of the fish to identify their community to other believers.

Over time, much of their habits became enshrined and formalized in liturgy and tradition, sometimes to such a degree that the ancient mode was hard to see. Occasionally, reformers would emerge, arguing for a return to the “primitive church,” free of dogma and accumulated tradition. But even they, with the passage of years, would give rise to new institutions with just as much dogma, doctrine, and accumulated tradition.

For, a return to the primitive church is not a reset to some imagined ancient and pure doctrine. It is not a backward projection of the things you like about the church onto the earliest generations. It is a recommitment to that which gave that ancient church power and the ability to transform the ancient world. It is a recommitment to genuine and authentic community, grounded in love, embodying grace, and providing support and nurture to its members—something that can be harder to do with the kinds of concerns that long-standing institutions face.

And so, while what our congregation represents might be new to many, it is not new at all—and has long been seen under the sun.