Thursday, 19 June 2008
Ironies of the Contemporary Church Part 1
It is one of the ironies of the contemporary church that churches suspicious of, or that flatly reject, the traditional structures of the church have a tendency toward their own particular version of the straitjacket they believe they have rejected. The irony lies in the claim that they eschew the traditional structures to give voice to the freedom of the gospel or Spirit, yet can end up a good deal more narrow and exclusive. Traditional structures, for all their problems, often have embedded in them ways of including those who might otherwise be forced out, and provide sensible ways for participatory decision making and conflict resolution. For example, take many of the self-designated ‘Spirit-filled’ churches. These churches are often characterized by features antithetical to the Spirit. I include here the tendency toward uniformity and exclusion. And having leadership that is 'charismatic' seems to have just as much chance (if not more) of attracting and embedding craziness in leadership as traditional structures. Nepotism is virtually non-existent in traditional structures, but not so amongst Pentecostal churches. Recent church surveys suggest that pentecostal and charismatic churches that eschew traditional structures lack the means for sensible conflict resolution. It is more the case that if you disagree with the pastor you are out! The Spirit, contrary to this impulse of uniformity and exclusion, forced unanimity and erratic leadership, is the Spirit that gives diversity for the unity of the body and provides for the life of the church through structures that facilitate good decision making and inclusion. Well, sometimes anyway!