Maybe God is treating us like petulant toddlers in his preschool, putting all of us in a time-out called COVID-19. If so, then, as with any time-out, we’re supposed to come out of this irksome experience both wiser and better behaved.
Is it working? What behavioral lessons have we learned?
First we have learned a new appreciation of proximity—the joyful power of just being together, face to face, in hugging range. We’ve discovered how much we miss this, and therefore, how much we need it.
Second, we have been been discovering how situationally and financially vulnerable our spiritual communities are. Some of our synagogues have had to vacate their buildings because income is down and we can’t pay our bills. Others of us are realizing how much our programs and activities have been driven by gaining and maintaining a certain level of income. COVID-19 is teaching us that income stability is fragile. Perhaps we need a communal income model more easily maintained!
If there is a cure for this malaise, it will have to be something beyond a vaccination. Fortunately, our historical experience supplies us with a remedy for the problems we have identified: the chavurah.
The chavurah is a model developed by the Pharisees, employed by the Essenes, and perfected by Yeshua’s followers for whom it was the only model of communal association for three hundred years! It is a model built on household gatherings, usually of no more than fifteen people.
While we are here in God’s time out, let’s consider three reasons why exploring the chavurah is a behavior whose time has come . . . again.
But will the rebirth of this model be life-giving for us? Yes it will!
The first reason to consider the rebirth of chavurot is theological. Yeshua identified two great commandments that summarize God’s priorities for our communities: loving the LORD our God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
He also gave us a new commandment, which is not really new, when he told us that we should love one another as he had loved us. These spheres of relationship are meant to interlock as foundations of our religious communities. By Divine design these relationships incubate and mature best in familial gatherings. In chavurot.
The second reason to consider the rebirth of chavurah gatherings is evangelistic. We have been called to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. But our task goes beyond sharing a message to sharing a life in all its diversity, power, and love. Our Creator designed humanity so that life-sharing happens in a familial context.
Finally, the third reason for the rebirth of chavurot is ecclesiological – The home is and has always been foundational to Jewish religious life—the mikdash m’at (ittle sanctuary), and familial home groups were also the foundation of Yeshua's communities, for the apostles, and for all Yeshua believers for the first three centuries. The model has been an arena employed for discipleship and renewal ever since.
Now maybe you’re not convinced. After the pandemic, you just want to go back to synagogue meetings as you have known them. Fine. There is of course a place for these!
We know that the early Yeshua believers met daily in the Temple. And in the diaspora, many Yeshua belevers met not only in their homes, but also as part of synagogue communities in their locales. These larger Temple and synagogue gatherings served five purposes that endure to this day. (More about that at a later date).
Still, this alone was not enough. The Book of Acts reminds us that the earliest Yeshua believers met daily house to house.
It was in these house to house meetings that people integrated and grew in their Yeshua-faith, where relationships developed and people matured in love for God and each other. If the big meeting wasn’t enough for the early Yeshua believers, should it be enough for us?
For them, small was beautiful. It should be the same for us.
Next time we’ll look at more reasons why the chavurah meeting is the backbone of the Body of Messiah.
For now consider this comment by German missologist, Wolfgang Simson. What do you think?
In the Bible we find two . . . structures or levels, the cell and the celebration. In The New Testament we read of the church regularly meeting in houses, that is in cell-sized units, and meeting in Solomon’s Temple court, or in the open air, in large numbers. Of those two, the cell that is the house-based church, was the natural habitat, the normal and most common form of Christians meeting together.
. . . During the first three centuries after Christ, church historians tell us, the house church remained the normal, natural way of Christians sharing their new lives together. Only after Emperor Constantine in the fourth century was there a radical shift in church structure. The congregation-type church was introduced, the church became an audience, house churches were marginalized and ultimately forbidden.
Find out more about reborn chavurot by contacting us CHAI: The CHavurah Action Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org
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