Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Going Forward by Going Back - DMin

The last post was going to contain another section of the DMin paper but I got a bit carried away and it got too long. So in response to the previous stuff posted in my paper, we respond to the current church and culture situation by looking back to the first century and other periods of time when the church responded effectively to the culture around it.

Going Forward by Going Back

What is needed is not a recalibration or retooling of the existing model but an entirely new structure and certainly a change in thinking. There is a consistent message being communicated in much of the literature examining our necessary response to the passing of Christendom. If the problem is Constantinianism, then the solution is to be found as we examine the church before Constantine and of course the biblical record. Many of the authors suggest recapturing the spirit, if not the specifics of first century Christianity.

The characteristics of the first century church and that of the necessary emerging model of church can be contrasted with the Christendom model:
1. Locus of gathering: didn’t have dedicated sacral buildings but met in homes and was often persecuted – emerging models also reject need for “church” buildings,
2. Leadership: apostolic, non-institutional, 5-fold ministry gifts (Eph 4), pioneering-initiative, usually bivocational,
3. Organization: grassroots, decentralized,
4. Grace: communion celebrated as a community meal – the new models redeem, resacralize and renew symbols and events alongside Lord’s Supper,
5. Position in society: on the margins and fringes,
6. Missional mode: incarnational/sending and missional.

Given the demise of Christendom and the bleak outlook facing the church in the West, are there any models, past or present, that can help us formulate a way forward? Fortunately, yes. The clearest model is the exceptional growth of the Church in the second and third centuries. Rodney Stark, a church historian, (using conservative estimates) calculates that the Church grew from 25 thousand in CE 100 to anywhere between 10 and 20 million in CE 310 and up to 33 million by CE 350.

Although exceptional, this growth is not unique. More recently, when Mao Tse-tung seized control of China, there were about 2 million Christians. He nationalized the church buildings, killed most of the leaders, banned all public Christian meetings and tried to eradicate all traces of religion. When the so-called Bamboo Curtain was lifted a few decades later, estimates were that there were 60 million Christians; and that there are about 80 million today. How did that happen?

Hirsch summarizes the common characteristics between the early church and the Chinese church:
1. They were an illegal religion.

2. They didn’t have church buildings.

3. They didn’t have easy access to Scripture (the Chinese had illegal, partial copies passed on from house to house).

4. They didn’t have any central institutions or professional forms of leadership.

5. They didn’t have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, or commentaries.

6. They made it hard to join the church.
How did they do it? Hirsch’s concept is the mDNA of Apostolic Genius – that is, the “missional” DNA of how the apostles were led by God’s Spirit to unleash the gospel. That will be for the next post.

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