10 August 2007

My problem with Fred Peatross's new Missio Dei (Amazon UK, Amazon US) isn't what it says about reaching out; my problem comes in the assumption behind the book (and behind Michael Frost and Alan Hirsh's works with which Peatross is in cahoots) that the purpose of an institutional church, whether trad or based in a pub, is to serve the congregation and help them connect to Jesus. If I agreed with this premise, I would agree with much else.

I think the institutional church is what happens when Christians try to submit themselves to God in corporate worship. It is more of an act of emptying of self and culture than an act of self-expression and enculturation. Certainly the church, the people, are involved in the other thing -- all the time. And the institutional church can be involved in supporting and facilitating that, but ultimately it is each Christian's job to be a witness, not the job of the Christian community to erect a Lobbying Entity (though I'm sympathetic with those who try to do both).

Thus, it's incorrect to think that the Traditional Church's approach to doing church is an attractional model: that if we do things the way we've always done things, people will want to come in. From 1 Corinthians, we learn that the church's liturgy is more of a duty model: the Corinthians were chastised for trying to move the Lord's Supper away from its Jewish-specific roots and instead to practice it in the context of a Sophist's teaching/meal, which their culture understood and accepted. Paul tells them that such attempts at making worship culturally appropriate and self-expressive "do more harm than good" (1 Cor. 11:17).

Instead they are to practice the tradition, as they had it passed on to them by Paul, who in turn had it passed on to him by others (1 Cor. 11:23). There is no sense that Paul wants them to do this because it will be more attractive to them. That's not his motive at all. If it were, you could tell him it isn't working and he needs to change his strategy. This is what many want to say to the trad church: "If your motive was attracting people, it's not working." The correct reply isn't "Oh, yes it is working and we're going to keep on." The correct answer is "That's not really the motive behind our worship service."

Missiology is an important -- a crucial -- part of ecclesiology. But ecclesiology isn't exhausted by missiology. Evangelism is about attracting or connecting and the church must be involved in that. Christian education & Bible study can be about helping believers connect. Worship is not about that. Worship is about Him, and only tangentially about us humans. Bread and wine. Cookies and milk won't do.

And I think Fred Peatross instinctively feels this: I mentioned some non-Christians for whom he prayed. He also read the Bible in front of them and, in time, asked if it would be okay to have a morning devotional. Did he use the Bible rather than a self-help book because of an 'attractional' model of this ancient document? Nope. He read the Bible because it's a thing God gave us to use. So, my friends, are the sacraments.
This blog is closed now. I've moved to http://gempf.com