Today, some ideas (probably not quite a review) on Robert Banks’ book, Paul’s Idea of Community: Early House Churches in their Historical Setting (Exeter, UK: Paternoster, 1980)
Banks begins the Preface with “This is not a technical book, nor a popular one either.” By technical, he means a work directed toward graduate level/seminary students and up. For the most part, it is written at a level a believing leader without such training can easily use. In my opinion, the Preface, Introduction, Chapter One, many of the footnotes, and parts of the appendix lean in the way they are written toward the logician. If one does not care for such writing, there is much to gain from Chapters 2 through 18. Still, it is not light reading, and it does not lead one toward personal introspection in the sense of many popular Christian books. It flows, topic by topic, into what can be deduced from Acts and Paul’s writings. By what he did and wrote, we see his idea of Christian community as he taught it in the process of communicating the message of Jesus, see people come to believe, and help them form into local churches. This read, being still a little closer to theology than popular writing, starts slowly, like building a foundation, and, as the writing moves along, the topics tie together.
There is plenty of explanation of various Greek words, particularly on, when Paul expressed himself on various topics, how he used certain words, avoided other words that were more common to that culture, and how the church, that group of people with a common faith in Jesus, was different from and similar to surrounding Jewish and Roman groups. Banks moves through the topics of radical freedom (ch. 2), church as a household gathering (3), church as heavenly reality (4), community as family (5), community as a body (6), the intellectual part of spiritual growth (7), physical expressions of fellowship (8), gifts and ministry (9), charisma and order (10), unity and diversity (11)—at this point, for me, these subjects started not just flowing one from another, but tying together in a way that is more reality than just a theology tome—contribution of women (12), participation and its responsibilities (13), service and recognition (14), structure of Paul’s work (15), Paul’s work and the churches (16), the apostle and community (17), and, in conclusion, authority of the apostle (18). For persons not really comfortable with the “church planter” idea in house churches, chapters 16 through 18 will be useful.
For me, some notable ideas in this text are: Banks’ explanation of how, in Ephesians 4:11, the word “pastors” may easily be a word modifying the following word “teachers”; discussion of 1 Tim 3:1 in the Revised Standard Version—that “the office of” before elder was an addition to the text by translators that only knew the western organizational form of worship and read their experience into the text; Romans 16:1—Phoebe as a leader, as opposed to a servant or helper. Also covered are a number of details in the text that Paul and the original receivers of these letters would have known from living in that culture, but we don’t know unless it is explained to us.
The more mature you are as a believer, and the more one is a functional leader, the more this read will be useful to you. It is highly unlikely you will find this book on a bookstore shelf, or at a library, but it can be ordered (cbd.com has it in English and Spanish), or obtained on interlibrary loan.