Monday, January 17, 2011

When the church forgets its mission

Richard Lovelace's Dynamics of Spiritual Life is one of the most interesting and edifying books I've ever read. I'm tempted to call it a magisterial work, but that would be going too far. I'll stop at saying it's a must read for anyone interested in church history, the intersection of theology and practice, revival movements of the past, and renewal of the church in the present. The figure of Jonathan Edwards looms large too.

Here's one of the scariest paragraphs in the book. Scary, because I recognize this danger in myself and in the Reformed tradition.

It is possible for both individuals and churches to become devoted mainly to personal spiritual culture and forget outreach, especially if the process of reaching out involves touching those who may contaminate us. Thus many Protestant churches have in effect become closed systems for the nurture and servicing of the inheritors of a denominational tradition. (p. 149)

Lovelace was "missional" before missional was cool, and what he's describing is a church that's lost an orientation toward mission. When this happens churches become "ingrown and socially apathetic" places for the faithful to hunker down.

Another kind of ingrown church is one that becomes a kind of country club for the successful to network. Churches where. . .

The main business of the laity of all persuasions was business and not the kingdom of God. The church and religion served as spokes on the wheel of life, the hub of which was personal success. (p. 150)

Lovelace is describing the Protestant mainline at a time when being Presbyterian or Methodist was essential to respectability, but the same danger exists for evangelical churches today, even those that have the "right" theology.

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