Monday, September 17, 2007

The Wisdom of George Lings

George Lings, at the Church Army, is one of the top mission thinkers in the UK, and his Encounters on the Edge studies are one of the few things that arrive on my doormat and actually get read properly.

The last two have been on Cafe Church, something I'm interested in as we run a monthly cafe service, and the next-door Anglican church runs a weekly one. He concludes the 2nd booklet with the following:

"I know of one case in the West country where a promising home-based cafe church that grew out of an Alpha group was eventually stopped by the pioneer leader because it became an event in which the style and demands of the Charismatic Christians made it no longer suitable for spiritual seekers or young Christians with a non-church background. It seems that the early church problems of the Judaisers are still with us. Paul's response is a robust rebuttal of this down-drag back into previous exclusive cultural expressions of church; made worse by the passion for this external form, they turn out to be the dead hand of law with the essential priority of grace abandoned."

The comparison to the early church Judaisers is a new one on me, but it rings very loud bells. It's pretty striking for charismatics to be called the 'dead hand of the law' - having defined themselves (let's be honest, ourselves) for a long time over against forms of church life and worship that are lifeless, but I think Lings is spot on.

It's a big issue in our own cafe service - all the more so as an increasing proportion of the regulars are those who aren't core members of the church, and for many the cafe service is their only regular 'church service'. We've consciously shifted the teaching content recently away from the (pretty random) set Bible passage towards looking at issues raised in the Sunday papers and media generally, in an attempt to make it more relevant, and to raise conversations that both Christians and not-yet Christians can engage with. We found that trying to discuss Elisha with some folk who'd never even heard of him put the newer folk on the back foot, and immediately excluded them from what was going on. The hope is that reflecting on media stories from a Christian viewpoint will not only make the teaching more accessible to those who know less of the faith, but it will also give the Christians some tools to relate their faith to the real world.

At the same time, we're also convinced that worship has to be central. But maybe we need to think more about what we mean by 'worship'. Just as a recent meditation (in place of the normal sermon slot) in a normal church service had a big impact on several people as a new way of encountering scripture, so we have to find ways of helping people encounter God without having to negotiate a set of cultural barriers first.

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