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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Considerations on Church-Renewing Movements 4

Over the past few weeks we have been pondering movements and programs that promise to renew the church. We have been using William J. Abraham’s book, “The Logic of Renewal”, to think in a deeper way on this subject, especially his list of six concerns. If you are just now joining us, it will be good for you to look back over the three previous posts, “Considerations on Church-Renewing Movements 1” and “2” and “3”.

Abraham takes the medical analogy mentioned in the last post and goes a step further,
“4. Our extended use of the medical analogy prompts a fourth consideration. Renewal can go wrong in all sorts of ways. It can go wrong because of original misdirection, because of misdiagnosis, or because the doctor has prescribed the wrong medicine. In all these cases, the quest for renewal can be disastrous ( . . . ).
( . . . ) but we must surely acknowledge the possibility of unintended side effects in proposals for renewal. Again and again, leading personalities or major movements have appeared who have identified some deep problem in the life of the church. They propose and implement a solution. The solution then takes on a life of its own, so that across the generations it has led to other equally serious problems. The two most conspicuous side effects of renewal are, in fact, judgmentalism and schism: those committed to renewal very quickly begin to see themselves as better than others, especially better than those who do not share their vision of change, and they very quickly move to break up the body of Christ into factions and parties. Renewal then is often a paradoxical affair. It is a sobering thought to ponder that sometimes our best efforts wreak havoc on the body of Christ” (p. 4).
There is very little I need to say here beyond a couple of quick questions. These questions are intended to apply Abraham's point and aid us to look beyond the immediate "pay-off" of buying into a particular renewing movmement.

  • Because all renewing programs assume (and thus advocate) a specific ecclesiology and sacramentology, is it possible that the unintended ecclesiological/sacramental side effects of a renewing program will have a detrimental result (or set of results) in a congregation or church plant?
  • What might be some of the long-term, multigenerational consequences of an attractive renovating movement? Here, it would seem to me, what is needed is the slow-going, sober minded task of trying to follow a given movement’s trajectory.  For example, if it is a low-church, Restorationist movement, what will it most likely do in the next 20 years to a confessional and liturgical Anglican/Presbyterian/Lutheran congregation or denomination? Will it foment anti-clericalism? How will it affect the parishioners’ view of the sacraments? Could the immediate-experience-of-God emphasis foster a love affair for thrills and bells and whistles (so to speak), thus making parishioners susceptible to whatever “new and improved” gimmick comes down the pike?
  • Is that renewing movement's leaning likely cause a church to become dependent on a mega-minister (with all the glitz, glamour and grandiosity), or will it help a congregation love a humble leadership and appreciate pastors who devote themselves "to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6.4).
  • Will this movement stir up a deeper love for the Word, sacraments and prayer? A richer appreciation for historic, confessional, Biblical truths and doctrines? A fuller love for the Church throughout the ages?
  • Finally, and most importantly, will subscribing and investing in a particular renewing movement nurture a growing and intensifying reliance upon the Lord Jesus Christ by individuals, families and the congregation as a whole? Or will it promote a reliance on the technique and machinery of programmed "renewal"? 
These are questions worth asking of any reforming, reviving, renewing movement. Are you asking the hard questions, or just jumping on because "it works"?


1 comment:

Rev. Adrian Piazza said...

In making my way through the book, I believe that taking the time to answer such questions would grind such a movement to a halt. Very few of the "renewer" or "reformationists" look toward the current situation as something they want to preserve. It is almost as if one gets to the point of saying, "Anything would be better than the current state of the congregation or church body." Then the move to renew or reform is instituted.