How is the Church?

On the Ezra-Nehemiah scroll, we come across an interesting tension between Ezra 3 and Nehemiah 8. If redaction criticism is used to address the texts, it can be claimed that Nehemiah 7.72b-8.3 is in fact a twist on Ezra 3.1-5.* Both texts describe celebration in the seventh month. The texts start in exactly the same way.

However as we read further, one describes a culture where the priests are responsible for the correct offering in the Temple, the other describe the people of God, calling for the reading of the Torah. In the former, we learn that the priests are chosen due to their kinship. In the latter it is the person who brings out the Torah to the people, that becomes the priest. Where Ezra 3.1 talks about the people, Nehemiah 8.1 uses all the people and if that is not enough the writer adds in Nehemiah 8.2, as a clarification what all means: “The congregation, men and women, all who understood what they heard.”

Whether religious life is about correct offering and right succession or the daily life of all the laity, seems to have been a point of tension in 500 BCE. Does the reading of God’s word for the people or the proper administration of offerings lead to God’s Reign? The answer given by the Nonchurch movement in Japan at the beginning of the 20th Century was clear. It is about offering the Word for the people. The focus is on the Word, and only the Word. When the writer of Nehemiah 8 focuses on the word it does not dismiss the need for some structure, as the one who brings the word to the people stops being a scribe and becomes a priest. We have the priest proclaiming and the Levites interpreting the Scripture for the masses. The structure has its place in serving the people, not the other way around.

The Ezra-Nehemiah scroll reminds us that even though the focused is the gathered, believing people, there is a need for some structure. The question becomes, what kind of structures, buildings, professionals, budgets and statistics are needed, and why are they needed?

This question about need for structures is a universal human need, but the kind of structure is not universal. The fluid order of the Nonchurch movement and complete rejection of structures, did not work in the long run. It could be claimed that it is obvious that chaos cannot be the final situation for God’s people. After all God created out of chaos.** On a more practical and human note, it is seems clear that an organization without at least some structures, statistics, professionals, budgets and buildings will not survive, and surely, the Nonchurch movement hardly exists today.

This was Originally written as a part of my STM-thesis.

* When using redaction criticism it is important to keep in mind Hayes and Holladay’s warning that “some texts employ conventional expressions or reflect cultural commonplaces, [and are therefore] not suitable for redaction-critical analysis.” (John H. Hayes and Carl R. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook, Third Edition ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 128.) However, in this case we have the repeat with a twist on one scroll, and the text that came first should have been known when the later was written.

** Genesis 1:2. 

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