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Informally-controlled evangelization or a big free-for-all?

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  • Brian McCarthy
    Dear Prof. Dunn, You wrote to Clive Jacks (5/2), I assume that when churches were established beyond Palestine, part of the founding process was instruction
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2001
      Dear Prof. Dunn,

      You wrote to Clive Jacks (5/2), "I assume that when churches were established beyond Palestine, part of the founding process was instruction in a large body of Jesus tradition." And you follow with words such as "I doubt", "I suspect", "I envisage".

      I dont think we have any grounds at all for assuming such a uniform process. The 'twelve' (or whatever was left of them after Jesus' death, the disappearance of some from the scene may mean they simply gave up and went home. As Mt says, "some doubted") did not travel around the Med. world as a group, founding churches in important centers.

      Instead, we should make this a wide-open question, assuming nothing; if anything, suspecting wide diversity.

      You and Bailey have put us onto a very valuable concept of a process of 'informal controlled tradition'. I am hopeful that it will now gain a permant place in all future discussions of the emerging Christian movement. But it applies properly where there is a process of community formation--whether this be Jesus' original inner circle or later ekklesiae; and for the latter case the key questions are: a) who was/were the founder(s), the catalyst(s)?
      b) what was i) the extent of their knowledge of, ii) the degree and kind of their interest in, the original full body of Jesus-tradition shared by the '12'?

      No one had any control over who these evangelists/apostles/carriers/founders were. Any free-lancer, any small 'over-heated' group could have joined in the movement. People who had never met or heard Jesus even once. If we can judge by contemporary evangelists, their success was not necessarily dependent on the depth of their fidelity to the Jesus tradition.

      If 'hellenists' from Jerusalem founded the original Antioch ekklesia what was their mindset? How did the formulate their faith? What role of any did the Jesus-tradition play in it. Same q,. for Rome. Same q. perhaps above all for Alexandria--they could have been proto-gnostics. And that only covers the three major cities.

      [As for Paul, who founded at least a few churches--though some may soon have come under very different influences--it seems clear to me that he had no interest in the Good News taught by Jesus, if he even thought that Jesus had had a 'gospel'. And his kenotic christology would have allowed him to give not much significance to all of Jesus' teaching, so I suspect he carried with him a 'decent minimum'. The voice at the transfiguration said: "This is my beloved son, Listen to him" But what you get on every page of Paul is: "Listen to ME". Like those responsible for the 4th gospel, who felt free to jettison the Jesus tradition wholesale, he was sure he understood the significance of Jesus far better than did Jesus himself--at least while here "in the flesh".]

      And who is to say what happened to some member of the 'twelve' when he found himself caught up in the intense new dynamics of a diaspora church? Would he have retained the original tradition, or would he have modified it, consciously or unconsciously modifed? By omission. by addition, by reworking what he retained of it.

      In all these cases the key question is: who, or what, is there to assure the 'informal control'.

      Perhaps what we see in the emergence of the Great Church is a process of spreading retro-active control, where the network of churches which had retained the Jesus tradition more fully, relatively well--but where did that weird stuff about walking on water emerge from?--and which were better organized extnded their influence over some of the shakier ones?

      A final idea: perhaps the 1983 Bailey book on Luke's parables (still available) gives us some insight into how he saw the process of spreading the tradition to the emerging diaspora churches, and has things to say about how/whether 'informal controls' operated effectively.

      Again, many thanks.

      Brian McCarthy

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