I’m continuing this series as something of an explanation of our house church strategy. The first step of forming a strategy is to get informed, so these posts are representative of the information (and its interpretation) we are bringing to our decision-making. Let me overview some general categories for various contextual concerns that converge in our strategizing:
(1) Family oriented culture
(2) Communally oriented society
(3) Low-income demographic
(4) Post-Catholic milieu
(5) Uneducated population
My first post belongs under the post-Catholic discussion, being that we are talking there about the cultural baggage of the temple mentality. There are other topics that will fit under the post-Catholic rubric as well. I am going to deal here with the way the house church model connects with the family orientation of Arequipeños.
It seems rather facile to point out that a house church model is in tune with a culture that is (broadly speaking) family-oriented. Yet, obviousness should not deter us from stating that this is the case. Peruvians are “family-oriented” in the sense that Latin American culture is generally (so I am treading cautiously). I do not have specific data or even anecdotes to illustrate this reality. My experience with a great variety of Latin American countries substantiates the claim for me, but I struggle with how to convey what “family-oriented” means. My wife would say that she has a very “close” family, and I know of many Americans (read: U.S. folks) that might make that claim, but our sense of “closeness” does not exactly give insight into the Latin American value that I am designating as “family orientation.”
I am not suggesting that there is no universal sense of familial affection among all cultures of humanity. I really have no idea whether there is, but I would be willing to grant that there is for the sake of argument. The idea is not that Latin Americans love their families more than other less family-oriented cultures. It has to do with the way that one’s family frames the experience of life. To what extent is identity embedded in a family or household, and to what extent can decisions and experiences occur without reference to the family? Even in close American families, the individual adult makes decisions and experiences life relatively autonomously. We would tend to consider decisions of faith, for example, personal and not subject ultimately to the whole family (though families of particular conviction may exert strong criticism). The point is not so much whether the family thinks it has a say, however, but the extent to which the individual makes a decision in reference to family.
Likewise, Americans tend to operate in terms of “immediate family-orientation.” Therefore, while this might just as legitimately be family-orientation, an important handle on the cultural difference I am discussing is the Latin American (thus Peruvian) orientation to extended family. Therefore, it may provide some insight for an American to imagine his or her extended family as a reference point in life on par with immediate family. The question is not simply, “How will this affect my spouse and children?” It is, “How will this affect the family?” The question “Who are we as a family?” references an identity that goes beyond my wife and children.
A couple of caveats. Naturally, this is not without exception; as in every society there are shades and degrees. Also, in Arequipa, for example, there are many who migrate into the city, dislocating themselves from their extended family. Their family orientation does not cease to exist, however, because my discussion of the extended family was only for the purpose of getting at the cultural dynamic, not of delimiting it. Please share any thoughts, experiences, or anecdotes you have that would illustrate family orientation. There are many cultures throughout the world that would qualify to one degree or another.
The house church model realizes the family metaphor in a more significant way than larger churches are able. The household is the relationship web throughout which the gospel spreads, and the church finds its most natural home in the houses of these families. Furthermore, in traditionally resistant people groups, “family-based conversion patterns” are more likely to emerge, because natural social units are prone to make faith deliberations communally. This is so in socially Catholic contexts as well. Social pressures are considerable for the individual, though the family as a whole may more easily make a counter-cultural faith decision. The house is the best place to foster these patterns.
On the other hand, some will inevitably make faith decisions that ostracize them from family. Combined with the fact that even whole family units that convert in a culturally Catholic context will be socially marginalized, the family metaphor for God’s people serves another vital function: it incorporates believers into a new household and provides a new identity. Thus, some of the cultural assumptions of the first century world regarding family are reflected in the NT and resonate with Latin American culture.
First Peter is particularly poignant in this regard. The situation of its original readers in Asia Minor seems to be social ostracism rather than physical persecution. John Elliott has argued this convincingly in A Home for the Homeless, pointing out that the much of the letter is given to addressing the believers’ “sojourn” (1:17; paroikia; note the oikos root in this and following words) and identity as “sojourners” (2:11; paroikous; arguably the most pivotal verse of the letter). Peter’s solution to this reality in their lives is basically to emphasize how God is building them into a spiritual household (2:5; oikodomeisthe, oikos). Of course, there is more complexity than this simple outline suggests, but the basics are there. Our strategy implements our belief that church “done” in houses is the best way contextually to foster the experience of being built into God’s household.
Our vision statement reads: God’s family celebrating and serving in Arequipa.
Family is our controlling metaphor as we attempt to enflesh the gospel in Arequipa, and we hope to use the Peruvian household setting strategically in that endeavor.