Posts Tagged ‘ecclesiology

21
Oct
16

Reflections on my time at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre

It was a privilege to spend six weeks at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre as a Visiting Research Fellow for the summer of 2016. My work focused on early Primitive Methodism.

I am interested in the development of Wesleyan ecclesiology, especially as related to issues of renewal, unity and division. The Primitive Methodists are of interest as the first major revivalistic breakaway from Wesleyan Methodism. I focused my time primarily on the unpublished and published writings of Hugh Bourne, co-founder of the Primitive Methodist Connexion.  While his colleague William Clowes was the more charismatic personality and a more compelling preacher, it was Bourne who did most of the writing for the movement, particularly through his long tenure as editor of the Primitive Methodist Magazine.

Nazarene Theological College

Bourne and the other Primitive Methodists were very keen to clear themselves of the charge of schism. In doing this they stressed both their continuity with early Methodism and the novelty of their movement as a body of newly-evangelized people. In my ongoing work on this subject I am looking at the arguments Bourne used to defend against the charge of schism, and the theology of the church that underlies those arguments.

I am also considering the interesting mix of influences that can be seen in Bourne’s theology. As was the case with many later nineteenth-century Wesleyan revivalists, Bourne was strongly influenced by John Fletcher. But he was also shaped by his contacts with the Quaker Methodists of Warrington, the “Magic Methodists” of Delamere Forest and other Independent Methodists and revivalists such as Lorenzo Dow. His spirituality had a strong pneumatocentric focus, leading to a very participatory and egalitarian view of church and ministry. Bourne is a fascinating and complicated person, who certainly had his faults. Yet he was also ahead of his time on questions of lay representation and women in ministry.

John Rylands LibrarySome of Hugh Bourne’s writings are only available at the John Rylands Library, and those that are available elsewhere are still quite rare and difficult to find. I was very grateful for the opportunity to spend several weeks at the Rylands through the MWRC Visiting Fellow program, as it gave me access to numerous sources that I would not have been able to find at home in Toronto. I also appreciated the many connections I was able to make with other scholars from the UK, as well as those visiting from North America. At the MWRC and Nazarene Theological College I found a welcoming community and ideal base for doing research on the Wesleyan tradition. All in all it was a wonderful experience – I hope I’ll be able to go back and do further research in Manchester in the future.

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02
Oct
12

A brief follow-up on the early Salvation Army as “a church”

Just a quick follow-up to my last post, “When did The Salvation Army become a church?”   I was arguing that the SA started to “function” as a church from a very early date – once its members stopped finding their spiritual home and nurture elsewhere.

Thanks to the kind staff at the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, I’ve been reading through a scanned-image copy of the 1870 Doctrines and Rules of The Christian Mission.  

This document was endorsed by the first “General Conference” of The Christian Misison, which met in November 1870, and marked the transition of the movement into a Methodist-style polity.  This lasted until 1878 when the switch was made to a military-style government, although by then the role of Conference had already been minimized by Booth.  

To get back to the 1870 Doctrines and Rules: I find it interesting that under “Membership,” rule V.17 states:

Persons belonging to other churches seeking membership with us shall be admitted on presentation of their note of transfer, if such can be obtained.

The reference to transfer from “other churches” implies that the members of The Christian Mission, at that time, saw themselves as a “church,” or at least the equivalent of a church on the issue of church membership.

Although this document was later replaced by the 1875 and 1878 Deed Polls, it is an interesting window on a mission that was already dealing with movement / church tensions.

21
Sep
12

When did The Salvation Army become “a church”?

Of course, the question of when The Salvation Army became a church is a loaded question.  First of all, there are many who would debate whether or not The Salvation Army ever became a church.  Is today’s Salvation Army a church?  The key sticking point is, of course, the sacraments, and whether or not they are key “marks” of the church.  That requires a separate post, I think, and I’ll attempt that in the next couple weeks.

To put my own view in a nutshell, however, I would say that The Salvation Army is a peculiar hybrid of church and specialized movement. This will be part of the argument I put forward in my thesis.  On the one hand, it has always acted like a church in terms of the functions it performs for its members.  It is the spiritual home for Salvationists, the place where they are converted, the place where they are nurtured, where they fellowship and serve, mark significant moments in their life, and raise their children.  On the other hand, it has often maintained that it has a special vocation, to be something more than, or other than “a church.”  And for a long time, Salvationist leaders explicitly and publicly insisted that The Salvation Army was “not a church.”

William Booth insisted that their original design was not to set up another church or denomination, but to evangelize people, and then send them to established churches.   In an oft-quoted passage, he explains why this didn’t happen:

My first idea was simply to get the people saved, and then send them to the churches.  This proved at the outset impracticable.
1st. They would not go when sent. 
2nd. They were not wanted. 
And 3rd. We wanted some of them at least, ourselves to help us in the business of saving others.
We were thus  driven to providing for the converts ourselves (“How We Began,” in Boundless Salvation: The Shorter Writings of William Booth, 39)

So, from an early date, even before it was known as “The Salvation Army,” Booth’s movement was functioning as a “spiritual home” for its converts and workers.   This is what I mean when I saw the Army “acted like” a church from the early days.  It was functioning as a church.

How early did this start to happen?   Harold Hill, in his fascinating book Leadership in the Salvation Army: A Case Study in Clericalisation, suggests that 1867 was a “turning point” for the young movement, when it became established as a “distinct body.”   Drawing on Sandall’s official account, Hill notes a number of important things that happened in 1867, including the formal naming of the movement as the East London Christian Mission, the acquisition of headquarters, the hiring of workers, and the establishment of a system of processing converts.

But if 1867 was a turning point, Hill goes on to argue, it was the beginning of a decade-long transition towards something very much like a “denomination.”  1878, the year when Booth assumed full, autocratic control of the movement, and the year when its name was changed to “The Salvation Army”  marked the end of this transition.

Between 1868 and 1878, then, the process took place whereby an independent mission staffed by volunteers from a variety of church backgrounds evolved into a highly centralised, sect-like organisation, a people with a distinct and common identity, and its own full-time, employed leaders, analogous to clergy (Hill, Leadership in the Salvation Army, 49).

With a distinct identity as a Christian body, members who were not part of other churches, and a clergy-like leadership structure, the newly-named Salvation Army was certainly acting like a church, and therefore from the perspective of “function,” was a church (leaving aside those difficult theological questions which I’ll take up another day).

Yet, in the first Orders and Regulations, issued in the same year of 1878, William Booth wrote: “We are not and will not be made a Church.  There are plenty for anyone who wishes to join them, to vote and rest.”  Subsequent Salvation Army Generals continued to maintain this view through the mid-20th century.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that Clarence Wiseman publicly affirmed his conviction that the Salvation Army was “a church” while still affirming that it was “a permanent mission to the unconverted” and that it shared some features of a religious order.

So, while acknowledging that the question of when The Salvation Army became “a church” is a very complicated one, I would argue that, functionally speaking, it began to act like a church from as early as 1867, even if it refused to self-identify as a church.  Whether or not we should say that the early Salvation Army was a church from a normative, theological sense, will depend upon how we define “a church,” and specifically, whether we believe the observance of sacraments is essential to ecclesiality.

01
Mar
12

Israel and the Church: reclaiming the continuities

Generally speaking, most ecclesiological thinking has tended to overemphasize the discontinuity between ancient Israel and the church.  There are many reasons for this, some of which explicitly and intentionally emphasize the discontinuities, and some of which do so in an implicit way.  This overstress on the differences between Israel and church can lead to a static understanding of the church, which misses out on the dynamic, historical nature of the people of God, and thereby leaves us less sensitive to questions of renewal and reform.  I would suggest that thinking more intentionally about the continuities between the church and Israel can help to recover a more biblical understanding of the people of God.

My perspective on this question has been greatly influenced by George Lindbeck’s argument for an “Israel-like” view of the church.  I’m not going to summarize his work here (though maybe I should do that another time), but if you are interested in what he has to say, I would recommend reading the following two essays: “The Story-Shaped Church: Critical Exegesis and Theological Interpretation,” in Scriptural Authority and Narrative Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 161–78; and “The Church,” in The Church in a Postliberal Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 145-165.

First of all, why is it that Christian thinking about the church has overemphasized the discontinuities between Israel and church?  I would suggest four significant reasons, though their are probably more.
  • An idealized, platonic understanding of the church.  This is particularly true of ecclesiologies which place great stress on the “invisible church” (that is, the elect, known only to God) as the “real” church.  If the “real” church is invisible, then the historical, visible church can be undermined as “unreal” or unimportant.
  • A triumphalistic view of the church as holder of the keys to salvation.  If the church’s role in mediating salvation is stressed too much, such that the church itself is seen as possessing the fullness of the means of salvation (rather than serving as God’s instrument), then it becomes easy to play off the “triumphant” church against the unfaithfulness of Israel in the Old Testament.
  • Divisions among Christians leading to different groups claiming to be the “true” church.  The triumphalist tendency in the Christian church has only be exacerbated by divisions.  In a situation of division, ecclesiology has often become about proving that your church is complete and lacking in nothing, in comparison with other churches.  Again, this can easily lead to a presumption that we are above the failures of Israel.
  • Some forms of supersessionism and dispensationalism.  Obviously, supersessionism in all forms is going to stress the discontinuities between Israel and church, since supersessionists argue that the church as replaced Israel as God’s people.  The most extreme form would be dispensationalism, which, in arguing that Christians and Jews live under different “dispensations” of God, are able to justify strong discontinuities between the Israel and church.

So, what then, am I proposing regarding the continuities and discontinuities between Israel and church, scripturally speaking?  Clearly, from a Christian perspective, things have changed for the people of God post-resurrection.  But how much has changed, and what hasn’t changed?

First, what are the discontinuities between Israel and church?

  • Pentecost marks the beginning of a greater fullness of the Spirit, poured out upon all (Joel 2:28-32 / Acts 2).
  • Jesus Christ offers a more complete revelation of God than was available to the OT people of God (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 1:1-4)
  • The church is given a universal mandate to evangelize the world (Matthew 28:16-20)
  • The sacrificial worship and priesthood of OT Israel are replaced by Jesus’ work on the cross (Hebrews 10)
  • The church is not intended to be a nation with a theocratic civil government, but a dispersed community of exiles, spread among every nation (1 Peter 1:1-2)

What are the continuities that I believe should be re-emphasized?

  • The church is still a historical and visible community of persons.
    • It is not an “idea”; the church is a real, living human community, with a history of ups and downs, successes and failures, faithfulness and apostasy (Acts 5; Revelation 2-3)
    • The church is still a communal entity. Though salvation is personal it is not individualistic.
    • The people of God can still be seen as a people on a journey – a pilgrim people headed towards the new creation (1 Peter 2:11)
  • The church is still subject to judgment under the lordship of Christ. This judgment is not only a future event, but is reflected in the church’s historical life, here and now. Judgment begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).  NT Christians viewed OT history as their history, and took warning against unfaithfulness (1 Cor. 10).
  • The church is still a holy and priestly people, witnessing in word and deed to the world about the faithfulness of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).
  • The people of God still need a Saviour. The church is not, in itself, the fulfilment of Israel; Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Israel; he is also the fulfillment of the church; we find fullness in him, not in ourselves (Eph. 1:3-10)

If we take these continuities to heart, several implications will follow.  These are thoughts which I try to keep in mind as I think theologically about the church.

  • Though the church enjoys a greater fullness of the Holy Spirit, we are still fallible and capable of unfaithfulness, as was ancient Israel (1 Corinthians).
  • Because the church is historical, it always exists in a particular time and place, as a particular community embedded as a bodily presence in a particular culture.  Being rooted in a specific time and place, then, is an essential aspect of the church’s identity.
  • Though Christ has taken our judgment upon himself, he still disciplines his people as their Lord, just as the people of Israel were disciplined.  That is to say, all forms of “triumphalism” should be rejected.  Being “in Christ” and having the Spirit’s presence does not imply automatic blessing – it may also mean judgment, rebuke, and discipline (1 Cor. 11:32).
  • Finally, we should expect to see periods of decline and renewal in church history, and we should attune ourselves to these dynamics.  This is part of our journey as the living, breathing, embodied, historical and visible people of God.
14
Jan
11

Methodism as an Extraordinary Ministry

Some people have suggested that if John Wesley were born in another century, or another country – that is, in a Catholic time or place – he might have founded a religious order, rather than a movement which ended up becoming a new church.   Although he was not able to convince his followers to uphold his views on the matter, Wesley consistently argued that Methodism was a religious society within the Church of England, rather than a distinct Christian church.  The decisions he made which led toward separation (notably his ordinations of ministers for America) were done under necessity.  In other words, he did not want to compete with the Church of England, and only ordained ministers in places where the Church was not keeping up with the demands of the mission (and ignoring his pleas that it grant ordinations to his preachers to fill the gaps).

I came across this discussion of the issue by Gordon Rupp from 1968.  Rupp makes reference to Wesley’s remarkable 1789 sermon, “The Ministerial Office” (now identified in the scholarly literature as “Prophets and Priests”).  Here, as Rupp notes, Wesley does some creative exegesis in order to establish his claim of  a distinction between the priestly and prophetic ministries, while maintaining that Methodism must be understood as the latter.

The issue, particularly in the way that Rupp frames it here, raises classic issues that I hope my dissertation on “eccleisal charisms” might help to answer.  While I won’t be making my arguments in the same way as Wesley, my conclusions will end up supporting Wesley’s distinction between ordinary and extraordinary ministies.

Here then, is a claim to be called by God, to an extraordinary ministry of evangelism and of building up men and women to salvation (for John Wesley claimed that the doctrine of perfect love was the grand depositum of Methodism for which God appeared to have chiefly raised them up).

But the Methodists had a double pattern of spirituality. There were the ordinances of the Church of England, of Word and sacraments.  There was also the spiritual fabric of the Methodists, the intimate bands which were almost lay confessionals, the class meeting which was the essential cell, or koinonia, the love feasts and the occasional splendid eucharistic solemnities when thousands gathered at the Lord’s table and when Wesley and his ordained Anglican friends administered…

Wesley himself distinguished clearly between the commission to preach and authority to administer the sacraments: the first he thought a prophetic office, the second to depend on ecclesiastical authority.  He developed this in his sermon on “The Ministerial Office.”  He affirms that in ancient times the office of a priest and that of a preacher were distinct – from Noah to Moses “the eldest of the family was the priest, but any other might be the prophet”.  So in the New Israel, in the early Church, “I do not find that ever the office of Evangelist was the same with that of a pastor, frequently called a bishop.  He presided over the flock and administered the sacraments.”  In this light, Wesley goes on, are the lay preachers of Methodism to be regarded.  “We received them wholly and solely to preach, not to administer the sacraments…In 1744 all the Methodist Preachers had their first Conference.  But none of them dreamed that being called to preach gave them any right to administer sacraments.”

Whatever we think of Wesley’s strange view of sacred history in the matter of priests and prophets, and his sometimes eccentric exegesis, his distinction is important and deserve serious consideration, for it had important practical consequences.  While he lived, the Methodists who acknowledged his authority did not permit laymen to administer the sacraments…It was the failure of the bishop of London, despite repeated petitions, to provide sufficient clergy for North America, and the ecclesiastical chaos caused by the War of Independence, which led Wesley in 1784 to ordain four clergymen for America, and in later years a handful of clergy for Scotland and England.

At the end of his life, Wesley pondered the swift, deep extension of the revival to the very ends of the land.  Though he did not live to see it, the great work was to be repeated in the next generation in North America, the West Indies, Africa, Australia and the islands of the Pacific.  His own comment on it was: “What hath God wrought!”  and whether we take it affirmatively, or whether we turn it into a question mark, it is the question which John Wesley and his work ask of contemporary ecumenical theology.

From Gordon Rupp, “John Wesley: Christian Prophet,” in Prophets in the Church, Concilium 37, ed. Roger Aubert (New York: Paulist, 1968), 54-56.

30
Jul
10

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements: Conclusion

To recap, I’ve been presenting a series of posts on charismatic movements, outlining a typology of views, as follows:

  • Charismatic more fundamental than institutional (Leonardo Boff).

While this survey shows that there is a significant body of literature on the theology of charisms and charismatic movements (and a wide divergence of viewpoints), I would argue that numerous questions remain which need to be addressed.

Significantly, for the most part, the literature on charisms has not been significantly incorporated into discussions of unity and diversity.   Of course, Cullman’s argument attempts to do this, but I would argue that he has disassociated the biblical idea of charisms from its original vocational context and applied it too liberally to all confessions, thereby inappropriately justifying continued separation across the board.  Also, it is apparent throughout his argument that his major concerns are with the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and magisterial protestant traditions, but he offers no criteria by which we should distinguish these separations as “legitimate” as compared with more recent protestant schisms.  Would he support, for example, the continual splintering of pentecostal and independent charismatic churches on the grounds of protecting their particular charism?

Further, his model suggests that there is a charismatic gift at the root of all church divisions.  While I believe there are many confessions or denominations in the Church today that began with such a misapprehension of charisms, this is certainly not the case in every situation.  It seems nonsensical to speak of the English reformation, for example, being rooted an unrecognized charism.  We might speak of Anglican charisms that developed in the subsequent history of Anglicanism, but if the separation of the Church of England from Rome was not rooted in a charism, we must question the validity of using such post-division gifts as a reason for continued structural separation.

Other uses of the idea of “gifts” as a way of discussing diversity in ecumenical documents have not delved into the biblical theology of charisms, nor asked questions about the appropriateness of applying the term to traditions / denominations / confessions.  Though the idea of “complementary gifts” has been a helpful way to build ecumenical bridges, it should not be used to construct a positive vision for ecclesial unity which justifies continued “separation.”

Where the idea of charisms has been incorporated in a more sustained way into a vision of the unity of the Church is in Catholic literature on the religious life, but little work has been done in attempting to apply the insights of this perspective to protestant reform movements. The comparison has sometimes been made, but not explored in much theological depth (See, for example, Outler’s remarks on Methodism as an “order,” in That the World may Believe, 54).

The weakness of some Catholic approaches, especially those which stress the complementarity of charism and institution, is that they are not helpful in interpreting the divisive history of renewal and reform movements in the life of the Church.  The question is of paramount importance, particularly for the many evangelical protestant denominations which began as reform, renewal, or missionary movements, with no intention of starting new “churches.”  In evangelical circles, partly because of the prevalence of free church ecclesiology, the tendency has been to emphasize the significance of the movements and downplay the importance of historical continuity.

All this is to say that I think significant work needs to be done on the topic of  “group” charisms, and how this concept  fits into the larger discussion about the limits of legitimate diversity in the Church.

15
Jul
10

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements, Part 7: Charisms as Justification for Separation

One final perspective on charisms which needs to be discussed here is found in Oscar Cullmann’s 1986 book Unity Through Diversity.  Cullmann’s fundamental thesis in this work is that “every Christian confession has a permanent spiritual gift, a charisma, which is should preserve, nurture, purify, and deepen, and which should not be given up for the sake of homogenization” (Unity Through Diversity, 9).  Cullmann is concerned that the frustration of some with an apparent lack of progress towards unity is based on a “false goal” and a false hope of homogenization, which has no basis in the New Testament (14). The goal of unity should rather be a “union of all Christian churches within which each would preserve its valuable elements, including its structure” (15).

In making this argument, Cullmann claims to be drawing upon Paul’s understanding of the Church, which is “entirely based upon this fundamental truth of the variety of charisms” (18).  Basing his argument on the Pauline texts that deal with the charismatic gifts, he argues that unity can exist through diversity, rather than in spite of diversity.  The function of the Spirit in Pauline community is to create diversity, and yet “this does not cause fragmentation, since every member is oriented to the goal of the unity of the whole body” (17).  While he acknowledges that the Pauline image of the body and its parts was not originally intended to apply to churches, he argues that it is consistent with the meaning of Paul’s charismatic theology, and that Paul does, in other places, ascribe various “gifts” to different churches.

I expected to hear more from Cullmann on this point, but his sole support is a reference Romans 1:11 as an example of Paul ascribing a “particular mission to each of the different churches.” He goes on to argue that Paul views the one church to be present in each local church, a point which he believes underscores the idea of a “union of churches” where all are given equal ecclesial status (17).

Cullmann insists that he is not suggesting that things should simple remain as they are between the churches.  He suggests that relations between the churches should proceed on the basis of attempting to speak frankly to one another about the charism or charisms that we see in each other’s traditions (19).  He also notes that there are often “peculiarities” or “distortions” of the charismatic gifts that need to be weeded out by careful self-examination (16).  For example, Cullmann identifies essential charisms of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions as “concentration on the Bible” and “freedom,” but notes that these are often found in their corresponding distorted form biblicism and anarchy (20).

What clearly sets Cullmann apart in his proposals is that he speaks of a charism as being at the root of “every confession,” and that he argues that separation and autonomy might be necessary in order for these charisms to be safeguarded. The sinful element in these historic divisions is not the fact that churches are separate, but the fact that the separations have been hostile, rather than peaceful.

But in order to preserve certain charisms in their pure form, it was perhaps also necessary hat completely autonomous churches came into being (the Orthodox and the churches that derived from the Reformation). This would not necessarily and as such have led to a hostile separation which would have excluded every kind of fellowship (koinonia), the “right hand of fellowship” could have been extended here too, despite the aspect of continuing separation, as at the apostolic council (cf. Gal. 2:9; Acts 15:1-31) (31).

What Cullmann is arguing for, then, is a unity in continued separation, in which churches would remain autonomous but share in fellowship through a council or other structure of some kind.

The main thing is the achievement of a koinonia that is a true unity through diversity.  However it is developed as a conciliar organization, it should, without itself being the church as the body of Christ, guarantee unity through the fact that it brings to expression and awareness that in each of the individual churches that belong to it, and with its particular charisms, confessional structure, faith and life, the ONE universal church is present (64).

I’ll finish off this series (finally!) with some concluding thoughts on the typology in my next post.




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