Wesley’s primitivist elucidation

Today, another quotation from E.H. Broadbent (The Pilgrim Church, p. 294):

[John] Wesley’s determined adherence to the Established Church prevented him from seeing those principles which are taught in Scripture regarding the churches of God, and he never attempted to follow up his Gospel preaching by forming churches, on the New Testament pattern, of whose who believed.  Yet in 1746 he wrote, “On the road I read over Lord King’s account of the Primitive Church.  In spite of the vehement prejudice of my education, I was ready to believe … that originally every Christian congregation was a church independent of all others!”

Dear John, why, if you were indeed ready to believe, did you not continue along the path of restoration?  What caused you to retain all the peripheral “stuff” of Christianity?

A piercing voice is heard, through the millennia, above Wesley’s sincere, yet ultimately short-falling, question:  why, oh why, do we continue to depend on man-made church structures?  Why do we hold so tenaciously to a-biblical and even un-biblical hierarchies?  It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Anglican Church within which Wesley was working, or the United Methodist Church that he spawned, or the Roman Catholic institution, or the Church of Christ, or “River of Grace Ministries,” a stereotypical nondenominational church where Joe Jones, “founding pastor,” calls the shots.  They are all man-made structures.

It’s been said that

  1. When the early church “moved” to Greece, it became a philosophy.
  2. When it moved to Rome, it became an institution.
  3. When it moved to Europe, it became a culture.
  4. When it moved to America, it became a business.

However, this is not the end of the story.  God, help us.  Move us backward in principle as we move forward in time.

Ekklesia values 4 (labels 2)

Building on yesterday’s introduction to labels as they apply to my ideal church, I refer again to a set of descriptors that found its way into my “Ekklesia Values” document:

==> Carefully progressive yet ancient, both modern and postmodern, conservative yet liberal, traditional yet contemporary, primitivist but not off-puttingly so, and emerging

Robert Webber’s book Ancient-Future Faith carries a title (and subtitle) that strangely appeals to me. I like the bi-temporal reference very much, so my ideal church will look backward and forward.

Years ago, Marianne, an art teacher from Texas, she said she was from a “conservative” or “anti” church background … but that “they preferred the term ‘sound,'” as in sound doctrine. Isn’t that revealing? We may use one label in one context, but choose another one in another context, acknowledging that a label has different meanings.

Depends on my surroundings whether I say I’m “conservative” or “liberal.” And it depends even more on the question at hand. In terms of congregational issues, I’m pretty liberal in the minds of some. But in the realm of scriptural authority, I’m a whole lot more conservative than many self-designated conservatives would even understand. What this means to me is that I’m more likely to attempt appeal to the scriptures circumspectly for my rationales, whereas “they” are more likely to appeal to the scriptures shallowly, not realizing how much tradition plays a role in their thinking. Although I may change labels based on my context, I don’t really think I’m chameleonic; it’s more of a decision to probe and cause people to think … more of a recognition of different understandings.

In terms of contemporary vs. traditional mores, I probably currently lean a little more toward the “traditional” than most that I associate with closely … but we’re not that different, really. Some who think they’re “contemporary” probably aren’t as much so as they think. This paragraph is not all about music style, by the by.  Many things about a church can reveal stylistic leanings, from Bible version to method of announcements to decorations.  For me, style takes a back seat to content, anyway.

I like the “progressive” ideal and prefer it to “liberal,” which is just an ugly label in the ears of most Bible-believing Christians. Yet progress shouldn’t be seen as denying appeal to the past. “Progressive” should imply at least some respect for the past. It just means in motion, forward.

Regression, on the other hand, cannot be present in church. In music, we have chord progressions and chord regression or retrogression. The latter category is not often considered, but it does exist in common-practice harmony. I’m not sure what a retrogressive Christian looks like, but I don’t think I want to be one. 🙂 I should be historically aware, and I should learn from devoted Christians of the past, but that doesn’t preclude me from progressing.

I do like the term “primitivist” and have used it in the past year–mostly after reading a good deal of a book by Richard Hughes. But I would not want to be associated with the primitivists who shun all modern conveniences or who require some ancient form of dress. In my mind, these manifestations of primitivism are needlessly off-putting. For me to hold the ideal of primitivism close to my heart means not a lot more than “going back to the original intent.”

I suppose I should close this fairly long installment with commentary on the labels “emerging” and “emergent.” Nah, maybe not. I still don’t know enough about what those terms imply in the evangelical world(s). I like to think of myself as part of something “on the cusp,” something “happenin’,” but “emerging” seems to be a double-edged sword, so I’m rethinking using that term.

In the final analysis, I should probably concern myself less with labels–although they can be helpful in conversations and considerations. I should concern myself more with worshipping and studying and praying more, and with being more what I should be in my corner of the world.

Ekklesia values 3 (labels 1)

Labels can be as helpful as they can be damaging. In recent e-inquiries, I’ve noted some label-esque lingo that helped to clarify where certain churches stand on this or that matter, on this or that spectrum, etc. Some will refuse outright to answer questions about where they would place themselves on the liberal-conservative continuum. I think it’s sadly amusing when someone plays ignorant: “I’m not sure what you mean. We just teach the Bible.” Gimme a break; just answer the question. . . .

On the other hand, some answers are more revealing than the people realize. A reference to “Elim Bible Institute” tells me something, in my part of the country. “Authority of the Bible (KJV)” tells me something about the given church. I probed this one once, and the responder stopped short of saying “we require the KJV.” He did, however, say that, for him, the KJV was a matter of conviction and not merely preference. Why? Because it was the KJV that was used to “convert” him, and he figured it was good enough for him to use in his preaching. A sad commentary on a closed, seeker-insensitive, yet apparently sincere heart. Not to mention the lack of regard for more recent textual scholarship and words which have changed in meaning to the point that the import of texts is obscured by 400-year-old language. I digress. . . .

Some labels are prejudicial:

  • “Reformed,” for instance, implies both
    • a need to be reformed (which I accept), and
    • the assumption that other churches not bearing their type of Reformed characteristics and sharing their faith-tenets are particularly in need of reforming (which I do not accept).
  • “Full gospel” used to be a mystery to me, but no more. The optimist/pessimist conundrum aside, I resent the insinuation that my gospel is a partially empty gospel.

I do acknowledge the potentially detrimental nature of religious labels, so I reluctantly, and hopefully carefully, use some labels to describe my own values. My ideal church would be …

==> Carefully progressive yet ancient, both modern and postmodern, conservative yet liberal, traditional yet contemporary, primitivist but not off-puttingly so, and emerging

Multiple cans o’ worms there, huh? (To be continued …)