GCMI Advisory Team
A friend of mine recently asked, “Can something as ephemeral as the house church be a reliable means of carrying on God’s mission over time?”
It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Should people invest themselves in something as vulnerable and transitory as simple, family-based communities? Are such communities durable and substantial enough to carry the fullness of God’s life to succeeding generations?
The word ephemeral my friend chose actually has something important to say on this question. It turns out that a whole group of creatures carry this designation in their name: the Ephemeroptera, or mayflies.
Mayfly adults live only a few hours or days at most. They are soft-bodied with lacy wings. Scientists tell us they first appear in the fossil record 300 million years ago. Today over 500 species of mayflies thrive worldwide.
Bear with me while I mention a few more impressive creatures. Tyrannosaurus shows up in the fossil record about 65 million years ago. It was a massive carnivore 45 feet long, weighing six tons, with twelve-inch teeth. It lasted three million years.
The wooly mammoth, another substantial creature, arrived on the scene about one hundred and fifty thousand years ago. Mammoths stood up to 13 ft high and weighed up to 8 tons. The last of these animals apparently died off 10,000 years ago.
In fact, history relentlessly shows the opposite to be true. Those things that seem most substantial, impressive and powerful in their time prove the most vulnerable and certain of extinction, the least able to adapt to changing realities.
This may explain in part the stunning lack of deference Jesus pays to Herod’s magnificent temple and all the power trappings of the religious/political establishment of his time. He’s not impressed or deluded by their apparent substance. He knows they are destined for the dustbins of history.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to call attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” –Matt. 24:1
Maybe we need a different way to measure what is reliable, what is substantial. Perhaps instead of looking for some variation of impressive we should be looking for qualities like: transformative, reproducible and adaptable.
By these measures, simple faith communities gathered around Jesus have proven substantial and reliable enough now for a very long time.