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The Making of a Local Church

by Francisco F. Claver

As a Roman Catholic clergy in the Majority World and a trained cultural anthropologist, Francisco Claver, evaluates the Church through the eyes of both a theologian and a social scientist.

Orbis Books, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545, 2008, 192 pages, $24.00.

Reviewed by John Easterling, professor of intercultural studies, Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Francisco Claver is a retired Roman Catholic bishop from the Philippines who is looking back at several decades of serving the Church and its members. As a Roman Catholic clergy in the Majority World and a trained cultural anthropologist, he evaluates the Church through the eyes of both a theologian and a social scientist. The Making of the Local Church includes Latin phrases/terms/official church declarations throughout the first half of the book. I found it necessary to keep a notebook of Latin words to keep up with the full meaning of the text. In addition, the acronyms BEC, FABC, EAPI, and so on also necessitated taking notes. In cultural anthropology, there is an insider/outsider theme in studying cultures, and I felt a bit of an outsider as an evangelical Protestant reading the first two chapters. However, when Claver writes about the local church and assesses it through the eyes of a cultural anthropologist, there is much to glean from his work.

The BEC is the Basic Ecclesiastical Community. This is not necessarily a parish church since it is largely lay-led. Lay leadership is partially the result of a decline in men responding to the priestly vocation; however, it is also a cultural response. RCC priests often accuse the lay leaders of acting like little priests, but I am sure Luther would be proud. The BEC may celebrate the Eucharist only if a priest has previously consecrated the elements; however, instead of the Mass, the BEC’s central focus is (1) worship in music and (2) proclamation of the word. These two elements liken the BEC much closer to an evangelical Protestant local church. The third element in the BEC is outreach, which includes a good amount of community involvement for social reform.

Claver has a wonderful sense of humor. A local priest approached him about the entry of Charismatics into the diocese. The priest was working for greater social justice. Claver told him that the bishop “says the Spirit has told him to tell them they must go into the direction of social justice!” (p. 33). The struggle for the RCC to recognize the local church has been ongoing since Vatican II. As you read about the BEC under Claver’s leadership, you see that the Church of Rome has still been undergoing waves of reformation since the second Vatican Council.  

The Making of a Local Church presents challenges to evangelical Protestant missiology. It is a good investment of time and effort. Each chapter has a richness of its own; however, chapter 8 on inculturation, looking at faith and culture, is missiology at its core.


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