Church History: Have we missed the main story?

While working through the Porterbrook Network module on Church History “2000 Years of the Great Commission” I have noticed a few trends:

1) A desire to control (even under the guise of theological orthodoxy) the work of the gospel both from within and without the church has often has as it’s fruit a domesticated church and a dead or dull orthodoxy.  Think Constantine, the Medieval Church,  persecution of the Anabaptists, Victorian England.

2) The reaction to which has often been a grassroots “simple church” reaction, resulting in a spontaneous “missional”movement of the gospel through “ordinary”, untrained men and women.   Key to this has been putting ministry and the Bible (in later post-printing press years) back in the hands of the people.  The Spirit it seems cannot and will not be contained in our structures when they reflect our desire for control and power.  Think the Early Church, the Lollards, the Waldensians, the Anabaptists, the Moravians, even some aspect of John Wesley’s Methodists.

The greatest missional impact has been through these ordinary men and women witnessing in word and deed to the gospel through ordinary life.  Most church history I have read has focussed mainly on the large institutional movements, the great preachers & dissecting the theology of all the main players.  I cannot help but wonder if perhaps we may be missing out on the main story…

3) The times of greatest impact for the church have ofen been the times when Christians have been awakened to their social conscience.  Caring for and loving the poor and needy in the community.  Think the early Church, the 18th Century Great Awakening, William Cary in India.  (This is a fascinating interview with Rodney Stark, a non-Christian social scientist).  Being as Steve Timmis suggests the neighbours everybody wants.

4) Where structure has worked well it has been more in the manner of “apostolic” oversight from roving elders who also allow a great deal of contextual freedom to those “on the ground.”  (The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission by Ralph Winter is very helpful read in this area).  John Wesley’s Methodism is probably the best example of this, although we can also learn from the Early Church

4) Professionalization of the clergy or theologians more often than not has the result of creating a dichotomy between doctrine (the realm of the church) and mission.  Here I would rather go with Newbigin’s assertion that all theology is missional theology in this one.  Missional in that the intent of the Bible is from first to last  about the Mission of God, into which he calls us and invites us to participate.  We cannot therefore teach the Bible, debate theology or do ministry except from a context of mission (local & global).

If you would like to check out some of the Porterbrook Training material, if you are in SA check out our local page or alternatively see the International page.


2 thoughts on “Church History: Have we missed the main story?

  1. Colin

    Nice one John. I have been reading lots as well … good discussions and once again out of my depth and having to re-evaluate my presumptions … Don’t you just love being immersed in a foreign culture!


  2. Pingback: The kind of man I want to be « a missional life

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