What are people doing to get back to the roots of Christianity?
November 30, 2008 3:34 PM   Subscribe

What are people doing to get back to the roots of Christianity? I vaguely remember reading about one or more groups who were trying to get back to the original spirit of Christianity, loving one another, being charitable, all that. Who am I thinking of?

I know this is a horribly vague question, but it was some kind of new-ish group or groups who were dedicated to a Christ-like life.

I don't think they had an evangelical/fundamentalist background, but I'm not certain.
posted by curious_yellow to Religion & Philosophy (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Irresistible Revolution is one of the those groups. They are located in Philly.

There is also a book written by Shane that describes their lifestyle and how he came to choose this type of Christianity.
posted by aetg at 3:48 PM on November 30, 2008

I doubt very much that this is the movement you heard about, but Convergent Friends (Quakers) are "Friends who are seeking a deeper understanding of our Quaker heritage and a more authentic life in the kingdom of God on Earth, radically inclusive of all who seek to live this life."
posted by fuzzbean at 3:55 PM on November 30, 2008

This documentary, The Ordinary Radicals, highlights some of them.
posted by pokeedog at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2008

Every time a new group starts up, they claim to be getting back to the roots. Jesus was reforming Judaisim. The split between the Catholic and Orthodoxg. The Protestant Reformation. The dozens- if not hundreds- of denominations that exist today. They all claim to be getting back to the roots. It's like when kids grow up, they vow not to make the same mistakes their parents make, but they end up making some new ones of their own, so their kids vow not to make those same mistakes, etc. Anyway, to answer the question, yes, there are denominations in Christianity today that claim to be getting back to roots- all of them.
posted by metastability at 4:27 PM on November 30, 2008 [5 favorites]

Put differently, Orthodoxy is perhaps the only denomination that is Not getting back to the roots. That's because they think the holy spirit is guiding the decisions of the church leaders, so they can actually add to the religion, and make improvements. All other denominations cannot add, they can only strip away junk that has collected over the years. Ironically, Orthodoxy is viewed as the most fundamentalist sect.
posted by metastability at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2008

maybe catholics too. alright, i'm gonna stop commenting in this thread.
posted by metastability at 4:57 PM on November 30, 2008

Jesus Radicals
posted by TorontoSandy at 4:59 PM on November 30, 2008

The Emerging Church kind of sounds like what you're looking for. The difficulty is that "emerging church" is going to be defined differently depending on who you ask.
posted by orrnyereg at 4:59 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Every time a new group starts up, they claim to be getting back to the roots.

posted by milkrate at 5:09 PM on November 30, 2008

Every time a new group starts up, they claim to be getting back to the roots.

That's actually a pretty good definition of Fundamentalism.

There are so many of these groups/movements. Can you remember anything else about where you heard about them, curious_yellow, or any other details?
posted by rokusan at 5:17 PM on November 30, 2008

It depends on your definition of "getting back to the roots." For instance, there are sects of Catholicism that are hardcore old-school (like rejecting Second Vatican II and still saying the Mass in Latin- Mel Gibson's sect comes to mind, and I could find other such groups without too much trouble if that's what you're looking for). Incidentally, their version of going back to the roots probably runs contrary to your ideals of getting back to the roots based on what you wrote.
posted by jmd82 at 5:48 PM on November 30, 2008

Ironically, Orthodoxy is viewed as the most fundamentalist sect.

This isn't a valid statement because you're actually arguing worship style rather than fundamental theology choices. And, I think, when you say Orthodoxy, you mean Eastern Orthodox (Orthodoxy is a specific term that designates the side of Christianity that "won" the early theological struggles of the first three or four centuries). Every group does believe they are getting to the "root" of what Christianity is and doing their part to strip away any traditions or ideas that, supposedly, distract from the original message of Christ. The problem is that every group claims this and every group adds its own distinct flavor to Christianity.

Some groups mentioned here are groups that do claim to be following the original message and "spirit" of Christ but, of course, they're all distinctly modern reactions to their current culture and religious context. The Emerging Church is one movement that is (imo) dying as most of its theological premises actually revolve around worship styles and that several of its prominent members, as they get older, revert back to their Baptist/Evangelical/whatever upbringing. They claim to now have a grasp on the theological and historical "roots" of Christianity but, really, it's mostly noise to try to give their current culturally flavored beliefs some sort of justification. It has less to do with the roots of Christianity and more to do with the current religious generation's realization that their children aren't going to churches while in their 20s anymore.

Also, most of the groups you probably did hear or read about (if you're in the United States) do have their roots in fundamentalism (or people from fundamentalists backgrounds who are reacting against it) and there are countless numbers of them. You're going to need to provide some more information to get us to nail down exactly what group you're talking about.
posted by Stynxno at 6:20 PM on November 30, 2008

They all claim to be getting back to the roots. It's like when kids grow up, they vow not to make the same mistakes their parents make, but they end up making some new ones of their own, so their kids vow not to make those same mistakes, etc. Anyway, to answer the question, yes, there are denominations in Christianity today that claim to be getting back to roots- all of them.

This because every non-scientific system of belief accumulates doctrinal and dogmatic cruft over time. Christianity is always about teasing lessons and teachings out of the scripture and over time authoritarianism begins importing dogma because answered questions are more satisfactory than blank spots (ie. the answer to "where do dead babies go?").

To answer the question, just look for "bible-based" evangelical and non-denominational groups. They won't (generally) call themselves fundamentalist, but that's what they are, in practice.

FWIW, last month I met friends who were these fundamentalist types and they really didn't have kind words to say about Christianity's new popular flavor, the Rick Warren stuff since they considered this kind of message to be entirely nonbiblical and thus unChristian.
posted by troy at 7:19 PM on November 30, 2008

This is becoming more and more common these days as a reaction against the pop-church format, but most of the churches that do this are independent and nondenominational rather than part of a specific movement... most of them have realized that as soon as you attach a name to something, it loses its original spirit and starts to weaken. So to answer your question, if you're looking for something like this, there aren't really any keywords to search for — it's on a church-by-church basis — but non-denominational is a start. If you start searching for groups that go by a name, you'll find that it's probably not what you want.

Interesting sidenote: this is how the Plymouth Brethren got their start... two hundred years ago. A few people in Ireland thought their churches strayed too far from what Jesus wanted, so they left and started their own, in attempt to be as close to the early church as possible. But over the course of the last 200 years, they've gradually let tradition seep in and take over, and all the excitement and joy is gone, which is not how it should be. And so most of the younger generation is leaving to join (or start) churches that are more biblical, and exciting and joyful because of it.
posted by relucent at 7:55 PM on November 30, 2008

You could be thinking of the Protestants.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:01 PM on November 30, 2008

Ole Anthony's Trinity Foundation?
Anthony is the founder and president of the Trinity Foundation, a religious community in East Dallas that functions variously as a soup kitchen, a rehab center, a Christian publishing house, and a private detective firm.

Trinity's fifty or so active members (supported by some four hundred other donors) live in a row of creaky two-story bungalows with deep, shaded porches, along a dead-end street in a neighborhood known as Little Mexico. They take most of their meals in a communal dining hall and meet three times a week for Bible studies that have been closer in spirit, at times, to barroom brawls.

The problem with the modern church, Anthony believes, is the church itself. So he has patterned Trinity on the underground Christian communities of the first century, before denominations or cathedrals or the strict separation of Christian and Jew: a church before churches existed.
posted by felix grundy at 9:02 PM on November 30, 2008

I read an article in the LA Times recently about a group like this. It was a number of adults--some couples, some not--who lived communally and really devoted their time to serving others, helping the poor, being unselfish, etc. For the life of me I can't find it but it seems to be exactly what you're talking about.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 10:36 PM on November 30, 2008

The commenters above are generally correct: just about every Christian denomination/sect claims to be "getting back to the roots."

But there are ways of telling whether or not they're actually serious about that, and the single best way is to see how much they actually read old theologians, especially the early church fathers. So your "emergent church" movement? Yeah, not so much "getting back to roots" as trying something completely new, as as far as I can tell, they're really not that interested in much before about 1990.

There are perennial groups who read the book of Acts and think "Hey, cool! Let's do that!" and go off to start communes or some such. Most of them peter out within a generation because the book of Acts doesn't actually contain sufficient information on how the early church operated for that to be one's only source of authority, and the information that is there is generally misunderstood.

For example, the bit at the end of Acts 2 which is held up as an example of Christian communalism? Kind of an exceptional circumstance there, as the church in Jerusalem was mostly composed of people who were essentially tourists. Thousands of people from across the Mediterranean basin regularly descended on Jerusalem for Pentecost, but this time something wonderful happened, so thousands of people stayed longer than they had planned. Of course they lived with Christians in Jerusalem. Of course the church there shared their belongings. It would have been rather shocking if the residents didn't offer such hospitality. But eventually the visitors went home. If you were really serious about figuring out what Acts 2 means, 1) pay attention to what is actually in the text, and 2) see what early Christians, i.e. within 200 years, thought about it.

But that doesn't tell the kind of communal-living story that some people want to tell, so that aspect of the story is generally ignored. And these "getting back to roots" people are usually more interested in doing their own thing than actually finding out what the early church was really like.
posted by valkyryn at 3:57 AM on December 1, 2008

@aetg: That's the sort of group I was thinking of, although I'm not sure if it was the exact one.

@metastability: Yes, but I remember one of the key aspects of whatever group I was reading about was that it was a *new* thing, which eliminates most of the obvious options.

As several people have suggested, I think it was something that particularly focused on the early church as a model, although I wouldn't like to say whether they got it right or not.

@felix grundy, bella: Again that sounds like the sort of spirit I was thinkiing of.
posted by curious_yellow at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2008

Here's an article at Busted Halo about The Twelve Tribes: "Today, members of Twelve Tribes live in community homes, pool all incomes, and gather every morning and evening for group worship and fellowship. Jones, who like all the Twelve Tribes men sports a beard and a ponytail, says that it’s unfortunate that most Christians don’t live communally because it’s in sharing and living with one another that believers can live out Christ’s commandment to love and cherish each other."
posted by Sfving at 1:11 PM on December 1, 2008

I think you're thinking of this.
posted by WCityMike at 3:08 AM on December 4, 2008

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