Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reflections on Forgotten Ways 6: Preserving Unity While Fostering New Movements

This post is a return back to our discussion on Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways. Hirsch is promoting a radical change in mindset that fosters free-flowing movements. The observation is made that new movements tend start on the banished fringes of the church establishment:

“As we shall see, vital movements arise always in the context of rejection by the predominant institutions (e.g., Wesley and Booth), But because vigorous movements of mission almost always create movements of renewal, in the end they do go on to produce renewal in the life of the broader church (e.g., Pentecostalism).” (Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 56)

I am very thankful that God has raised up these people throughout history that have been influential in catalyzing a return to the radical way of Jesus. Hirsch notes that while these new movements start off as a rejected entity by the established church, they end up sparking new life and renewal in the wider church. My struggle is that even while this is a good thing in many respects, the original movement ends up becoming just another calcified institution in the diverse collection that make up the worldwide church of Jesus. In other words, with each new movement there is a new denomination (sometimes more than one, Methodists, Wesleyans, Nazarenes, etc.). Therefore, in fostering new movements, we are thereby fostering new denominations, thus further fracturing/splintering/schisming the church.

I am not an “ecumenist” in the sense that it has often been used in the last century, but Scripture seems to be unequivocal on the point of unity of the church (John 17; 1 Cor 1; Eph 2; 4; Rom 12 and many more). A point that is rarely demonstrated among believers. I’m not suggesting that we sacrifice the freshness that new movements bring to the universal body, but that take the command of unity seriously. Here are some quotes that might challenge us to strive for unity:

“The time is always ripe for re-union. Divisions between Christians are a sin and a scandal, and Christians ought at all times to be making contributions toward re-union, if it is only by their prayers.” –C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, “Answers to Questions on Christianity, p. 60

“Spiritual unity and visible unity are not truly alternatives: the alternative to visible unity is visible disunity, and that is a witness against the gospel.” (Geoffrey Wainwright, from Grenz, Renewing the Center, 303)

Unitive ecumenism…needs to be reconceived. It can no longer be thought of, as I have done most of my life, as a matter of reconciling relatively intact and structurally still-Constantinian communions from the top down. Rather, it must be thought of as reconstituting Christian community and unity from, so to speak, the bottom up.” (George Lindbeck, “Confession,” 496, quoted in Volf, After Our Likeness, 19)

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