Throughout church history, small groups of Christians have fled to the margins to escape the violence of Empire, misuse of power, and powers that threatened to undermine the way and witness of Jesus. In the 4th century, anchorites (literally “fugitives”) fled to the African desert seeking liberation from the corrupting forces of Constantinian Christianity – security, comfort, power, and privilege. In the 16th Century, during the Radical Reformation, Anabaptists fled from persecution at the hands of Catholics and Protestants. These faithful fugitives gathered in forests, barns, and houses to worship Jesus and encourage one another in costly discipleship.
These faithful fugitives gathered in forests, barns, and houses to worship Jesus and encourage one another in costly discipleship.
On Sunday May 18, 2022, a contingent of folks who recently left Cedar Park Church, found sanctuary in a barn, where they gathered to sing, tell sacred stories, and encourage one another in costly discipleship.
Mennonite theologian Peter Dula speaks of “fugitive ecclesia” – the church as fugitive – Spirit-inspired moments of church that are episodic, liberative, and beyond our control. Fugitive church is often experienced outside of the ecclesial institutions, theological constructs, and conceptual moulds that once gave shape to the work of the Spirit, but which can no longer contain the dynamic work of God. The surprising joy of fugitive Church is experienced when two or more friends are gathered in Jesus’ name, when the poor are encountered in mutually transformative ways, and when folks seeking freedom from systems that oppress gather in a cold barn for worship.
Even though I no longer gather where I once did to worship on Sunday mornings, I’m thankful for those who are teaching me to cultivate a joyful and expectant readiness to encounter the fugitive church of Christ. This seems fitting for people who worship and follow one whose first bed was a feeding trough, whose parents fled with him to Egypt escaping violence, and who had no place to lay his head.
While far from perfect, the 4th-century fugitive expressions of church contributed to contemplative Christianity and the Radical Reformation and gave rise to pacifist common purse communities that endeavoured to actually live by the words and ways of Jesus. I’m curious as to what the Spirit may be birthing through this local fugitive church expression. If you share this curiosity, join the Facebook group A Good Way to follow along.