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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Considerations on Church-Renewing Movements 6

The end is near! Well, actually, the end of this series has finally arrived. We have thought about the assumed ecclesiology and sacramentology of renewal movements, the story of disease and diagnosis that renewal movements tell with regard to the church, and the pitfalls they stumble into. We come now to Abraham’s final concern in “The Logic of Renewal” that raises a sober-minded caution.
“6. As a final, and as a first exercise of judgment, we should note that there is no necessity for renewal at all times in the history of the church. To put the matter bluntly, there are times when it is foolish and dangerous to call for ecclesial renewal.
     We all know that some Christians very easily develop a kind of listless foot-and-mouth disease. They are always on the run to hear some new grand scheme for the renewal of the church. They run from this speaker to that speaker, from this conference to that conference, from this book to that book, from this set of tapes to that set of tapes, in search of the magic medicine that will cure the church of various diseases. This is true of evangelism, too. We are all aware of the tendency to hearken to the flavor of the month. People run from Evangelism Explosion to church growth, from signs and wonders to exorcism and prophecy, from mega-movements in Korea to mega-churches in Chicago, searching enthusiastically for the principle or the program that will work for them” (p. 5-6).
Beyond the datedness of his point (“from this set of tapes to that set of tapes”) his caution remains standing. There are times, maybe many times, when renewal is uncalled for and would be nonsensical.  And here, in his final point, surfaces the possible root of the trouble – the renewal seeker himself. We see this kind of thing in some of our parishioners who flit here and there looking for the newest spiritual thrill that will revive their languishing hearts, and we know that the problem is their own heart, their idolizing “thrill”. So it may well be with church renewal seekers. How would one know if the crisis is in the church or in the renewal seeker? Maybe one indication would be the surfeit of renewal programs advertised by book publishers, pushed by marketing agencies, and peddled by bloggers. If the difficulty is more with the renewal seeker than the church, then a casual scanning of the Christian marketplace, blogs, web sites, and the religion section of the used book stores would likely show an overabundance of promising programs that are clanging warnings and ringing bells of alarm, and then touting their singular program as the way to remedy what’s ailing the church; that their remarkable strategy will grow/change/revitalize your church (or denomination).

There’s no doubt in my mind that the church in North America has trouble and needs help, but does it need renewal and revival, some new flashy strategy or system to pump adrenaline into its veins, or does it simply need to step forward in a simple unfussy, normal, ordinary, consistent faithfulness? The situation is similar to most marriages when the “flame” goes out. The couple (in most cases) doesn’t need some new thrills (which all seem to be momentary flash-in-the-pan adventures that burn out and can leave the marriage in a worse state than before). Rather, the proposed couple normally needs to plod on remembering their vows before God and their promised commitment to one another. In other words, revitalization and revival for its own sake can quickly become an adolescent longing for ecstasy with little sustaining substance to nurture healthy maturation.

As I wrap this up, there seems to be one simple question for the church planter or pastor to ask themselves:

  • What is really needed in this congregation/denomination? Is it renewal and revitalization, or sturdy, cultivated, thriving, growing, robust fidelity?

If it’s the latter, then a return to, and a tenacious holding on to, apostolic ministry may be all that is called for. Here the ministers “devote” themselves “to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6.4). Here pastors and church planters rouse their own confidence in the wisdom of their confessional standards that announce that the “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 88).


1 comment:


Mike, you hit it on the head!