I may have gotten myself in trouble just with the post title, but that’s nothing new around here. Seems I’m making a habit of mixing it up with Jamie lately on controversial issues… I’m soon gonna have to go down there and have a casual lunch with the boy.
So yesterday, Jamie asked an “open question” on ecclesiological formation. He quotes someone else’s observation, that “Many students, once leaving academy and entering into church ministry seem to stop thinking theologically, falling into business models of church structure and leadership.” The observers in this case are holding a small internal forum to discuss the question, about which Jamie is hosting a “pre-forum” forum discussion on his blog in response to the question he poses, “What are some of the factors that contribute to this problem and what can be done to correct it?”
There’s some good discussion there already. My responses toss around words like “presuppositions” and “false dichotomy,” and I fear may not be as helpful as what Jamie needs for his purposes. He’s asking a question that needs a response, and I suggest anyone with thoughts on the matter may wish to offer them there. I, however, am thinking about this along different lines, and thought I would comment here rather than hijacking Jamie’s discussion and pursuing a different train of thought. In the comments to Jamie’s post, “Cindy” (I don’t know if it’s one of the
Cindys? Cindies? Cindy’s? people by that name who comment here regularly) asks a great question:
Has there been a time and place in which the Church has existed freely (or with governmental blessing)that it did not also allowed secular thinking and/or business models to redefine its ecclesiology to some extent?
…And of course I (after leaving a second comment for Jamie) grabbed my copy of Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church and flipped to page 66:
And what of structure? The organizations structures of Christendom are in a real sense worlds away from that of the early church—something like comparing the United Nations to Al Qaeda.
And then I moved along to page 58-59:
So how does the idea of cultural distance relate to Christendom and our situation now? Well, the transformation of the church from marginal movement to central institution started with the Edict of Milan (AD 313), whereby Constantine, the newly crowned emperor who had claimed a conversion to Christianity, declared Christianity to be the official state religion, thereby eventually delegitimizing all others. But Constantine went beyond eventually proclaiming Christianity as the top-dog official religion: in order to bolster his political regime, he sought to bond church and state in a kind of sacred embrace, and so he brought all the Christian theologians together and demanded that they come up with a common theology that would unite the Christians in the empire and so secure the political link between church and state. Not surprisingly, he also instituted a centralized church organization based in Rome to “rule” the churches and to unite all Christians everywhere under one institution, with direct links to the state. And so, everything changed, and what was thereafter called “Christendom” was instituted. [Quoting research notes from Dr. Stuart Murray, author of Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (After Christendon):]
The foundation of the Christendom system was a close, though sometimes fraught, partnership between church and state, the two main pillars of society. Through the centuries, power struggles between popes and emperors resulted in one or the other holding sway for a time. But the Christendom system assumed that the church was associated with a status quo htat was understood as Christian and had vested interests in its maintenance. The church provided religions legitimization for state activities, and the state provided secular force to back up ecclesisastical decisions.
Now, there are a few ways we could go with all of this information. Of course I’m always thinking of missional applications, and these passages from Hirsch are in the midst of his description of the movement from attractional to incarnational ministry… and we can talk about that. But the question I’m thinking about at the moment is one which we’ve touched on before around here, about the application of business models and insights to church contexts. The questions to me are not so much if the two are compatible, but in what way the insights from one area can be applied to another. The corollary questions arise from what Cindy asked, namely to what extent our current models of church structure (and leadership) have been informed by older secular ones? How “pure” are the forms of church structure and leadership that we’ve inherited? Can they be reformed, or must they be reinvented? How realistic is the common cry for a “return” to Biblical models, and do we understand how disruptive that might potentially be? Do we understand what those models might look like?