I’m attending the 14th Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia, in Jakarta. 101 member churches and 17 member ecumenical councils, from 22 countries. The Assembly operates in English (as the only practical “Lingua Franca” of the region) but the agenda and speeches are deeply Asian – not just in accent, but also in style and perspective.
I’ve been catching up with friends and acquaintances I’ve met through the church from West Papua, Timor, Bali, Myanmar, Java, India, Korea, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Aotearoa New Zealand – and meeting new ones from many other nations. Women and men, young and old, lay and ordained, poor and affluent, safe and suffering, indigenous and migrant people, speaking dozens of languages and seeing the world and the Gospel through dozens of specific cultural lenses.
The theme of the Assembly is “Living Together in the Household of God”. What a vision: all of us in our irreducible difference, together. One household by the grace of God and power of the crucified risen One.
“Together” is a powerful word in the New Testament – in Greek, homothumadon. It tops and tails Acts chapter 2, which is the focus for this Pentecost Sunday. In verse 1, “they were all together in one place”. And then in verse 47, “they spent much time together in the temple”. In fact 10 of the 12 uses of this word in the New Testament are in Acts, where the story of the birth of the church as a unique and uniquely diverse community is told.
Homothumadon means “with one mind, with one accord, with one passion”. It is a compound of two words meaning to “rush along” and “in unison”. BibleStudyTools.com says, “The image is almost musical; a number of notes are sounded which, while different, harmonise in pitch and tone. As the instruments of a great concert under the direction of a concert master, so the Holy Spirit blends together the lives of members of Christ’s church.”
One scholar who has taken an interest in “togetherness” as a key to NT ecclesiology is Gerhard Lohfink, in his classic book Jesus and Community. He identifies “the praxis of togetherness” as the point of continuity between the ministry of Jesus and the earliest churches:
“Jesus’ intention of forming a reconciled society out of the fractured and diseased people of God was continued in the Pauline mission communities in the togetherness of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman.” (Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus and Community, p.99)
For me, the “togetherness” of this extraordinary gathering of Christian people in Jakarta this week is a flesh and blood confirmation of the continuation of Jesus’ intention, Paul’s mission and the reconciling work of the Holy Spirit today. Amazingly, we actually are “Living Together in the Household of God”.