Book Review of Ecclesiogenesis by Leonardo Boff, Orbis Books, 1986.
Leonardo Boff, a Franciscan priest, utilizes his background to illustrate basic church communities in his book Ecclesiogenesis. Having studied in Brazil and Germany, Boff uses the start of basic church communities in Brazil as a case study to begin his exploration of these communities. The thesis of this book is that basic church communities represent, in part, the “true, universal church” and can revolutionize the church by turning the focus from structure to community. Ecclesiogenesis is defined as “birthing the church” or “starting the church again (2).” Boff first defends the argument that basic church communities constitute church and quotes José Marins to further establish his case: “For us, the basic church community is the church itself, the universal sacrament of salvation, as it continues the mission of Christ-Prophet, Priest, and Pastor. This is what makes it a community of faith, worship, and love. Its mission is explicitly expressed on all levels-the universal, the diocesan, and the local, or basic (12).”
Boff makes the case that basic church communities help shift the hierarchical structure of the church from “steeple down” to “foundation up” by giving laity a greater level of involvement in the church (25) In describing the Fourth Inter-Church Meeting of the Basic Communities of Brazil, Boff sums up this type of community as follows: “No one wished to be anyone’s teacher. All sought to be disciples of all (36).” Boff also looks back to the historical Jesus and questions whether his intent was to found a church. He concludes that Jesus “preached the kingdom of God, not the church (56)” but also that through Christ’s life and death the church was born.
The author highlights another positive aspect of basic church communities, which is the inclusion of women in leadership roles. He describes the radically counter-cultural stance of Jesus during his lifetime by putting women on equal footing with men.
At first glance, it was challenging for me to see an immediate connection of this book with my own case study. I am attempting to establish community within my own neighborhood, but not a church community. However, I think there are broader themes that Boff introduces that I could apply to my situation. For example, basic church communities seem to transform traditional ways of doing and being and thinking within the church. In order to be effective in my neighborhood, I have to look past what I’ve seen done in the past and get creative. This fall I had the opportunity to visit a weekly karaoke night held for the homeless hosted by a church in Skid Row. I was blown away by the idea that karaoke could be a form of ministry, but it absolutely was. The couple leading it expressed their desire for everyone to have a “good time in the Lord,” invited everyone to church, and provided them with a hot meal. Ecclesiogenesis served as a reminder to me that there are more ways to minister and serve and use the gifts God has given us than the opportunities traditionally presented in the church. This was further crystallized for me by the reminder in the final section of the important contributions women have to make in ministry.