Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Churches within churches

Many churches have dealt with the problem of a split between those who love modern worship songs and those who prefer more traditional hymns and liturgy by effectively splitting into two churches. In fact I cannot think of an large(ish) evangelical Anglican church that I have attended which has not gone down this route. However, I cannot help feeling that this is a symptom of how we have downplayed God in our church life, and promoted a kind of consumerism.

In my opinion there are a number of benefits from uniting, although the likely fallout may be bad. Firstly I think both groups would benefit much from the other group's encouragement and rebuke. Secondly instead of making the style of worship seem like something of great importance, this self-sacrificing way of worshipping together would show that it is the 'joy set before us' which is of the most importance. It would therefore be a powerful witness to the world. As Leslie Newbigin famously said the church is the 'hermeneutic of the gospel' and churches which are not both diverse and united, as the church will be for most of the rest of time, are denying in part the power of God to achieve reconciliation between God and humanity, and between humanity itself.

Perhaps the fall out would be in reality too painful, and not worth it. But I have hope that with communication from the top-down about its Christ-exhalting benefits it would be worth it. Perhaps also, as someone who is not in church leadership of any sort, I should shut up lecturing like some kind of wise-guy with no responsibilities in the comfort of my ivory tower. Instead I will trust you to be discerning, and ask you to remember my lack of both knowledge and experience.

By the way though, Tim Chester (both knowledgeable and experienced from The Crowded House, Sheffield) raises some interesting questions about this matter in his essay Christ's Little Flock: Towards an Ecclesiology of the Cross which is a gem of an essay, because, although it raises as many questions as it answers they are all questions we need to think about. Here is a taster:

The gospel is good news not only of reconciliation with God, but also with other people. People of different ethnic backgrounds and social classes are united through the gospel. To grow homogeneous churches is to evacuate the gospel of a key part of its meaning. It is to weaken the demands of Christian discipleship. And it leaves the church vulnerable to partiality in ethnic conflict. If the church becomes associated with one social group it will also be associated with the political aspirations of that social group. The church must witness to the reconciling work of the cross.


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