The church that Mark Batterson speaks of is The Church of San Clemente, named after the fourth pope, who was martyred for his faith. According to legend, anchors were tied around Pope Celemente’s ankles and he was thrown into the Black Sea.
“From the outside,” Mark describes, “the church was weather-beaten and time-worn. But on the inside the frescos and the statues and the altars were well preserved and remarkably beautiful. So we explored every nook and cranny of that twelfth century church.” Then, Mark Batterson and his wife discovered that for just five extra euros, they could take an underground tour. “With many of the ruins we visited in Rome,” Batterson explains, “there were several layers of history in the same place.” The Romans were known for building things on top of things. An emperor would tear down his predecessor’s palace and build his own directly on top of the site. So you have layers of history in the same geographical spot. That was also the case of the Church of San Clemente. “The twelfth century church was build over a fourth century church,” Batterson remarks. Beneath the fourth century church were ancient catacombs where second century Christians secretly worshiped God before the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313.
“I’ll never forget my descent down that flight of stairs,” says Mark about his underground tour. “The air became damp and we could hear underground springs. We had to carefully navigate each step as we lost some of our light and our voices echoed off the low ceilings.” Batterson says that the flight of stairs, almost like the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia, was a portal to a different time, a different place. “It was as if those stairs took us back two thousand years in time. With each step, a layer of history was stripped away until all that was left was Christianity in its most primal form.”
For those living as Christians in a first world country in the twenty-first century, Mark Batterson wonders if his generation has conveniently forgotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ. “I couldn’t help but wonder,“ he continues, “if we have diluted the truths of Christianity and settled for superficiality. I couldn’t help but wonder if we’ve accepted a form of Christianity that’s more educated but less powerful; more civilized but less compassionate; more acceptable but less authentic than that which our spiritual ancestors practiced.”
The vision of his church is to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the DC area. NCC holds services at Georgetown, Kingstowne, Columbia Heights, Ballston Common Mall, and Ebenezers Coffeehouse near Union Station. Ebenezers, the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill, is owned and operated by Mark’s church. Batterson and the NCC staff are also known for their use of new media. Since 2005, Batterson's sermons have been available via podcast. Mark's use of Twitter for ministry purposes was covered by The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer in 2009.
Primal is a work meant to enlighten Christians about something very basic, but often forgotten. Divided into five sessions, the film begins with an introduction followed by chapters that individually focus on each component of the practice of the Great Commandment. Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. Batterson claims, “We have a tendency to complicate Christianity; Jesus—he simplified. When he was asked which commandment was most important, he reduced 613 Old Testament laws down to one Great Commandment.”
In almost like the Roman effect of building things on top of things, Batterson wonders, “if the accumulated layers of Christian traditions and institution have unintentionally obscured what lies beneath.” Batterson promises that his Primal DVD study will take its viewers down the ancient stairs, peel back the layers of Christianity, and rediscover what it means to “love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Batterson states that the subject’s importance is due to the fact that “being good at the Great Commandment isn’t good enough. We must be great at the Great Commandment.”
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this book review. Order your copy here.