Fr. Don Senior, in his biography of Fr. Raymond Brown the American scripture scholar, says that one of Brown’s best books was “The Churches the Apostles Left Behind.” Scholars like Brown and Senior say the apostles left churches behind, not one monolithic church that was everywhere the same. The Gospel of Mark, for example, is different from the Gospel of John and it comes from a church different from the church represented in John. There was not one orderly church, but squabbling, disorderly churches, yet churches just the same.
The New Testament churches were developing churches, the scholars say. They describe them as being on a trajectory. They’re not set in stone or isolation or perfect; they’re interacting with each other and their time. And by the power of the Spirit they’re developing slowly into the church that Jesus wants to bring about.
These insights have great consequences for ecumenism, for one thing. The churches the apostles left behind help us understand Christian churches today and the challenge to keep on a trajectory towards Christian unity.
That’s true also of the particular church we may belong to. I’m thinking of something one of the people who comes to our 11 o’clock Mass here at the monastery told me recently. She enjoys the different priests who celebrate that Mass here, she said. “You’re all so different. In fact, I don’t know why you don’t kill each other.”
Certainly one of the reasons why we don’t kill each other is the presence and patience of Jesus himself. For all his complaint about his own generation, Jesus never gave up on it, but gave himself to it day by day, as he does for us. Our prayer and liturgy together keeps us on the path that leads to what God wants us to be.