Tertullian, a Christian theologian from Carthage, Africa, in the 2nd century, wrote an intriguing comment: “Christians are made, not born”. So, how are Christians made? More recently, Alan Kreider, an American professor of church history and mission, informed us about habitus—a concept that was developed by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu—a reflexive bodily behaviour that was a distinctive characteristic of Christians during the first few centuries.
The church grew in numbers and influence not by winning arguments, but because of their habitual behaviour. Their behaviour said what they believed. Christians maintained that if they were attractive, it was not because they were born that way. It was because they had been reborn—changed, concerted—to be attractive.
Outsiders could see the change, the results of their formation; but not the formation itself. The Christians were made in the Domus. The church was primarily a domestic phenomenon in the early Christian centuries—both in the physical space and the cluster of people who lived there.
There were both kin and not kin. Like us in the cities, they lived and worshipped in dwellings, many of which were within enormous insulae—architectural “islands”, multi-storeyed buildings that held apartments of a wide variety of sizes in the major cities of the time. In this insulae, many ranks of society lived close to one another. The neighbours, including Christians, watched each other and saw each other’s coming and going. It is here that didache (training), baptisms, breaking of bread, sermon, the prayers, the kiss of peace formed the character of Christians. Baptism brought a sense of being washed, reborn, illumined and animated by the Spirit of holiness. And in the breaking of bread, Christian communities remembered Jesus. It helped the early church to embrace the countercultural habitus. They were aligning themselves with God’s purposes and habituating them to the new ways of Christ’s church.
How are Christians made now? Present the church environment shapes our behaviour. Increasingly churches look like the by-product of an industrial-enlightenment-modern-Western culture. This is what happens when instead of leading culture, the Church models, even caricatures, the worlds of business, politics, entertainment, and education. Our spiritual gatherings are made into time-based services, worship orders, rites and rituals, song lists, same seating, and momentary “meet and greet”. Faith was industrialised through sequenced curricula, age-graded classes and incentivised learning. Have we lost the formation of our reflexive behaviour?
What is baptism and the breaking of bread in a post-Western world? It is that desire to see a church that breathes Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.” The church needs to be familial having a desire to relate in a face-to-face manner to people whom we know and love. Our habits are formed when we baptise and break bread together.