Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fresh expressions of church, and Galatians

At a conference last year on 'fresh expressions of church', one speaker raised the question of whether the Gentile church, or indeed the early church itself, was a 'fresh expression' - a new form of worshipping, witnessing community which took on a radically different shape from the old.

Preaching this evening on Galatians 2, where Peter has compromised with the 'Judaisers' and stopped eating with non-Jewish people, implying that the route to Jesus takes you through Jewish purity laws and circumcision. Paul is stridently against this, as you'd expect, insisting that the gospel is all about what God has done for us in Jesus, which means that the Jewish law itself is neither here nor there when it comes to right status with God.

But the fact still remains that for Peter (who had had a vision from God telling him to accept Gentiles, and had seen them come to faith at his preaching), fell back into his old ways under pressure from a group in the church. If he found it difficult, then it will probably be difficult in our day for the established church to accept and recognise new forms of Christian community as being authentically 'church', and will insist that they prove themselves by adopting some of the outward forms of religion and churchmanship that the rest of us will recognise. This will afflict our leaders too - people who started out as pioneers will become less adventurous, under pressure from vested interests and from people who are nervous of change.

I wonder how much of it we will come across as we try to start up missionary Christian presences on the new estates in this area as they are built in the next few years. How long will it be before the 'sending' churches demand something which looks more like the church they are used to, rather than letting these initiatives take their own form? How much 'detoxing' will we need to do with the people who take part in these things, to wean them off the way they have been used to corporate Christian life being done, to embrace something more radical? Will some of the pioneers and key thinkers (myself included), be tempted back to doing things which we find safer and more comfortable?

The pioneer missinoary Vincent Donovan talks of mission as going to a place where neither you (the missionary) or they (the people the missionary is sent to) have been before. The 'mixed economy' church of traditional and innovative forms of church needs the courage of Paul in the face of Peter, the ability to identify the key principles of the gospel and not be swayed from them.

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