Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Pew Church vs the Method

Disaffection with traditional forms of the church are not new and have been in existence in one form or another as long as the traditional church has existed. In the 60s and 70s this became an art form and there are hundreds of examples of breakaway churches, each with their own forms and organizational structures, each claiming to be a reversion to the New Testament model. Some more or less so, but most with an organizational shift rather than a paradigm shift.

One of the more interesting such movements occurred in the 18th century during the John Wesley revival. It all started when Wesley had an encounter with God during a missionary trip to the US when his ship was buffeted by a severe storm and Wesley began to fear for his life. This resulted in an encounter with God that triggered one of the biggest revivals in England. Upon returning to England Wesley shared his experience with some friends and began meeting with these friends to discuss their experiences and these became a means to encourage one another and to build one another up in the faith. Once Wesley began to see converts in his meetings he encouraged them to meet in their homes similarly to what he had been doing with his friends. As the movement grew the groups began to be called "Methodists" because of the "method" of meeting in homes for prayer, worship and mutual encouragement. At the same time Wesley encouraged these people to join the Anglican Church, thus retaining the paradigm of the Pew whilst embracing the form of the Method.

It was not until after Wesley's death that his followers began to call themselves a church, but by that time the Method had become the pew. In other words they had adopted many of the traditional forms of the church and left behind the small intimate meetings. They established an organizational and spiritual heirachy, services where people would preach to rows of pews and adopted all the forms of the traditional church. The reason for this is that the practice had changed but the paradigm was the same, so to resolve that conflict the practice came back into line with the paradigm.

This has happened repeatedly where a movement has risen up, being disaffected with the traditional forms, they have formed new ways of being church. But unless the paradigm shifts that conflict is resolved by falling back into the old practices, just as the Methodists did.

So we need to do two things for this to work. We have to change our ways of thinking, but more importantly we have to change our paradigm. We need to change the way we look at the church change at the most fundamental level how we think about what the church should be. To do this we have to completely abandon all our ideas on what we thought made up a church and start from nothing. We have to take a completely new look at the New Testament description of the church, the kingdom and the Body of Christ. We need to see these concepts completely naked, stripped of all the trappings of what we have thought is church, but is nothing more than tradition.

This is the only way to resolve this conflict that many of us have in being dis-satisfied with the old church but not knowing what to do about it. For the method to stick we have to resolve the conflict between the practice and the paradigm.

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