Saturday, February 27, 2010

More than one way (to do church)

Tim Keller posted something interesting regarding the need for leadership in the church.

Here are two points that I thought were excellent:

3. We need a great variety of church-models. Avery Dulles' book Models of the Church does a good job of outlining the very different models of churches in the west over the centuries. After qualifying his analysis by saying these are seldom pure forms, he lays out five models. Each one stresses or emphasizes: a) Doctrine, teaching, and authority, or b) deep community and life together, or c) worship, sacraments, music and the arts, or d) evangelism, proclamation, and dynamic preaching, or e) social justice, service, and compassion.

Many evangelicals today have bought in to one or two of these models as the way to minister now in the post-Christendom west. So for example, those who believe in the 'incarnational' (vs. 'attractional' approach) emphasize being and serving out in the neighborhood, smaller house churches and intimate community (a combination of Dulles' b and e models.) Meanwhile, many evangelicals who are afraid of the 'liberal creep' of the emerging church, stress the traditional combination of a and d emphases. Each side is fairly moralistic about the rightness of its model and seeks to use it everywhere.

I feel that our cultural situation is too complex for such a sweeping way to look at things. There are too many kinds of 'never-churched-non-Christians'. There are Arabs in Detroit, Hmongs in Chicago, Chinese and Jews in New York City, Anglos in the Northwest and Northeast that were raised by secular parents--some are artists and creative types, some work in business. All of these are growing groups of never-churched, but they are very different from one another. No model can connect to them all--every model can connect to some.

4. We must develop a far better theology of suffering. Members of churches in the west are caught absolutely flat-footed by suffering and difficulty. This is a major problem, especially if we are facing greater 'liminality'--social marginalization--and maybe more economic and social instability. There are a great number of books on 'why does God allow evil?' but they mainly are aimed at getting God off the hook with impatient western people who believe God's job is to give them a safe life. The church in the west must mount a great new project--of producing a people who are prepared to endure in the face of suffering and persecution.

Here, too, is one of the ways we in the west can connect to the new, growing world Christianity. We tend to think about 'what we can do for them.' But here's how we let them do something for us. Many or most of the church in the rest of the world is used to suffering and persecution. They have a kind of faith that does not wilt, but rather grows stronger under threat. We need to become students of theirs in this area.

I might not agree in total, but I do agree with the principle. There is not a one size fits all solution. I would go further and say that the form is less important than the function when it comes to the gathering of the church. Tim is somewhat unique among the Reformed in that he seems to realize that the goal is not to return to Calvin's Geneva but that instead we can have a faithful expression of the gathered church in many forms. Pride in our form of worship, to the detriment of others, is a danger across the spectrum. House church people sometimes are prideful about not being "churchy" types. Reformed believers think they have the monopoly on proper worship. Plymouth Brethren think that their model of church meeting is the most faithful. Even the Old Order Anabaptist groups fall into this. What we need is more community, more fellowship among the Body and that is going to look different in Dearborn, Michigan than it is in rural Iowa or in Manhattan or in Calcutta or Seoul or Caracas.

The question of suffering is an important one and more than a vague recognition of the persecuted church. Suffering and persecution are part of the life of the church, not something from the past or only in foreign nations. There is much we need to understand about the ideas of humility, suffering, weakness, submission in the Body of Christ.

Give the whole thing a read...

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