round and round

by Zach Kincaid


Perhaps, church life is running in a kyklos. The kyklos is how the Greeks viewed government -- in a cycle -- always turning in on itself as regimes are formed and dismantled, models made and then splintered. It goes round and round. Monarchy turns to despots turn to tyranny turns to oligarchy turns to democracy turns back to anarchy.

We see a similar turning in the church: papal rule becomes the oligarchy of the orthodox movement, and, nearly 500 years later deforms into the reformation (due to despot rule), and the idea of reformation turns into denominational structures. Under the ease of democracy, denominations break into congregational or free market religion, where the autotomy of the local church rules the day and any affiliation with a larger governance is more and more distant. This, ultimately (and we see it now) festers into an individual kind of religion, a "my Jesus" syndrome. So, faith in community turns into faith for and made by the individual person, an anarchy on what it means to be a community of saints.

I know it's not that simple, but if the Church has grown up with and inside political structures, it seems natural that she would adopt some of the same ways to govern people.

In the end, personal religion is hellish, anarchy. No longer are sacraments kept or hymns sung with choirs of angels. Even worse, the Truth is the Gospel can easily turn toward a more palpable message that rings like Rob Bell's reintroduction of old heresy, or the Gospel becomes radicalized and bastardized without confessional checks that community brings to bear. Cults of personality cater to the need for ginormous facilities or big screens in multiple locations, stripping the Gospel of its intimacy that makes it so potent.

Certainly in every church styles and settings challenges arise: music style, preserving creeds or abstaining from their use, liturgy or top-of-the-head structures, in-the-world or of-the-world, etc. Many other things divide us and often want us to fight or curl up in a hole somewhere, depending on our personalty and the accountability of the church.

The danger with a church grown up in and of democracy is that it could be on the borderlands of turning inward, into something more about "me" and less about community. Church, then gets commodified and becomes more about appeal and less about love.

For a long time, and even now if I'm not intentional, I find it difficult to doctrinally arrive at why TV churches or concert churches or hip-hop churches or pastor in black rim glasses churches are failing models. I'd suggest they don't provide the security and consistent discipleship that is called for in Jesus's lengthy prayer in John or what we see in Paul's church work.

Granted, I've only touched the surface with the ideas of kyklos and what that might say to the structure of church, but it's not unlikely that biblical ideas marriage themselves with Greek thought. As you know, Plato and Aristotle have long shadows into the evolvement of Christian doctrine. And, though without the powers of the papal models to direct people via councils, I would argue that there needs to be careful thought and prayer in orchestrating church work and that work needs placeholders in history that are much wider than our present context of USA, a context that makes it far too easy to sell the Gospel and discount it at the same time.

What do you think? These are just beginning thoughts about kyklos and the church. There are likely a thousand holes in this dam.