Considerations on Church-Renewing Movements 2

Last week I began this short series on thinking through church renewal, using the first of six observations made by William Abraham in his book, “The Logic of Renewal” (see here). There I addressed an initial area of church renewal that is often overlooked, and the questions that should rise to the surface when thinking through any revitalization “program.” What other aspects of church renewal plans should church planters and pastors work through or take note of? William Abraham speaks to the next concern by remarking,
“2. Ignoring ecclesiological considerations in our thinking stems in large measure from casting renewal in purely personal terms. Thus, ( . . . ) we tend to think of renewal as fundamentally the renewal of the individual. ( . . . ) Insofar as we think of the church in this tradition, we think of the church as a collection of or voluntary association of suitably renewed or sanctified individuals. We need, however, to break loose from this sort of individualism and begin to think in terms of ecclesial renewal as well as individual or personal renewal. To be sure, we cannot have ecclesial renewal without personal renewal, but there are deep dimensions of renewal that go well beyond what can be captured in discussion of personal or individual renewal” (p. 3).
To be fair to Abraham, he names specific Reformation doctrines as some of the main culprits of individualism, which I have edited out (thus the various ellipses) for the purpose of focusing on the main point which is: renewal programs that treat church as a “collection of or voluntary association of suitably renewed or sanctified individuals.” In this schema the individual rises above the communal aspect of the church, and is targeted. His unique tastes are sold to for the purpose of stimulating, rousing and reviving – as a singular person, an autonomous self. His likes and interests and attractions become the focus of the revitalizing venue. Whatever it takes to get him to act or move or give become the driving spirit for rejuvenation.

And if you have a church of autonomous selves incited to godliness or generosity, then you have just that: a congregation of consumers buying a product, but nothing deeper or richer; nothing substantially communal. As Philip Lee observed in his book, “Against the Protestant Gnostics”,
“Evangelicals and many liberals alike can become enthusiastic about surveys to discover “what the people want” and then proceeding to accomplish those popular objectives. After all, the Church, like the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary International, is an organization of and for individuals” (157-8).
Rekindling movements that ignore or overlook the deep ecclesiology of Christ’s atoning work (Ephesians 5.25-27) and concentrate on the particular persons as autonomous beings, turn the Church into something it was not meant to be, a voluntary association with no more “belonging” or “bonding” than a bridge club. It turns the Church into a church “of and for individuals” whose personal likes and dislikes, prejudices and pleasures rule. Isn’t this the steering force, whether intentional or not, behind congregations splintering, for example, into “Contemporary” and “Traditional/Classic”worship?

The end result of this individual focus of renewal is to make a particular gathering aim for and attract homogenous persons who have similar perceptions, voting habits, purchases, parenting styles, etc. In other words, it turns a church into a niche marketing machine, which is a subtle and sabotaging form of worldliness. It stands contrary to the ecclesial texture of the New Testament where tribalism is wiped out by the Gospel,
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3.26-29).
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both (Jewish and Gentile believers) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2.14-16).
As I mentioned in the last post, “The primary question must be, “What ecclesial paradigm is assumed and advocated by this program?”” To take this one step further, if the ecclesial paradigm advocated or assumed is individualistic, it will foster a renewal that will turn a congregation into a church “of and for individuals”?



Just got the book in the mail. Will comment next week.

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