Next Reformation

Book Review: Paul's Idea of Community


Table of Contents:

   The original work was both shorter and less accessible than this revised edition. Banks helps place the early churches in their historical setting, and covers everything from worship to word, gifts, authority, service and mission.

   His most insightful chapters for me were (7) Intellectual Elements in Growth, (10) Charisma and Growth, and 15-18, where he discusses Paul's place in the early church and his use of authority. These are all key issues for a church in transition.

   Others will find other parts of his discussion more useful. Here is a sample from chapter 8:


   Although, contrary to much that has been written, the giving of the Spirit is not necessarily tied to baptism itself - the giving of the Spirit may precede baptism, though more often follows it - a link between the two naturally exists. But then a dif-ferent physical action from baptism normally accompanies the gift the Spirit - the laying on of hands. Once again we do not have here a merely symbolic movement on the one hand or a quasi-magical one on the other. As its Old Testament background indicates (e.g. Gen. 48: 14ff.), the laying on of hands was essentially an enacted prayer - one that achieved what it was requested. The action did not just accompany the prayer; it was part of the prayer itself.

   As such the action lent itself to a wide variety of situations. Those, according to Acts, in which Paul is involved include com-missioning of mission-workers (Acts 13: 3, compare 6: 6), healing the the sick, and recognition of leaders' - as well as conveying of the Spirit. It would be a mistake to see in the third of these any-thing approaching 'ordination' in the modern sense. Like the others it is simply an acted prayer and does not carry any special significance over and above the content of the prayer itself. The Book of Acts confirms this. There the phrase 'the laying on of hands' is equated with 'commending to the grace of God.' While we should not overlook the fact that Paul makes no mention of this action anywhere in his letters, there does not seem any reason to doubt the authenticity of Luke's account in this matter. With the laying on of hands we have a physical sign which potentially involves not only the individual, as in baptism, but members of the community as well (Acts 13: 1-3). Insofar as it does this, it expressed not merely the prayer of the members to God for the person before them but their fellowship with him in the matter concerned.

   At all times Banks is thorough. He usually manages to be both lucid and scholarly. His discussion in chapter 16 on Paul's relationship to the churches he founded, as well as to those he did not, and Paul's conception of the church as a gathered local reality are all relevant to the contemporary scene and the debate between structured and unstructured church.

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Last Updated: June 7th, 2000