Thursday, April 13, 2017

Benedict-Dreher Versus Parris-Anglican

It is the great struggle of twenty-first century Christianity.

The Benedict-Dreher Option (enclave? ghetto? distinctive community? Christianity modelled on Orthodox Judaism?)


The Parris-Anglican Option (enculturate? osmosis? blurred overlap church/culture? indecision?).

Of course Anglicans can and do opt for the former and steer away from the latter.

But both arguments have powerful points to make, do they not?

In a declining church, in a post-Christian era, when the last vestiges of Christendom in the West are being farewelled (if even noticed), do we Christians, following Rod Dreher and his increasingly well known "The Benedict Option", need to review, clarify and reassert those things that externally demonstrate what we are internally committed to believing? Do we need to make visible daily which community of believers we belong to?

Our identity as a community (tribe?) is at stake and some of us do not know how to present that identity to ourselves and to the world. Or, we know bits of a complete identity but not what the whole might look like (so we go to church but we are not sure what to wear to church, or we offer hospitality to others in our homes but we wonder if we should display a cross at our frontdoor).

Yet, rightly, as Matthew Parris astutely points out, there are distinctive communities of believers in the world, some of which are just plain weird, some of which are biologically dangerous to themselves, and many of which have no growth plan apart from, well, generational fruitfulness. Meanwhile the world changes at 100 kph and reasonable questions of adaptation of belief are asked and answered in communities (such as Anglican ones) which survive in their own peculiar way!

So, at the heart of Christianity's annual calendar, Holy Week, it is worth asking which option will take us forward as those who remember Jesus' death and proclaim it until his coming again?!

Answers in comments of a brief kind ... longer answers in your next book ... :)


Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

I have purchased Rod Dreher’s book, in part because I’m a regular reader of his blog and appreciate the way he engages with cultural trends from an orthodox Christian perspective.

Reading Romans 12:2 again this morning I’m conscious of how easy it is for us as Christians to be ‘conformed to this world’, to find ourselves embracing its mores and norms seemingly without question. Dreher challenges our comfortable assumptions and causes us to ask ourselves once again if we are really living in transformational communities of faith, love and hope, or are we something else.

I intend to read the book over the next couple of weeks. I have a couple of friends who have also purchased the book and we plan to get together and discuss his insights.

I suspect one of the reasons Dreher’s book has gathered so much publicity and so many reviews, both critical and affirming, is that Christianity is presently being marginalized in ways many of us never once thought possible. How we best respond remains an open and unanswered question.

Dreher attempts an answer through the Benedict option.

Father Ron said...

Brendan, may I ask you a question - in the light of your coment on the sectarian nature of Christianity.

When you were the Pastor/Leader if you own House-Church; what made you abandon that, in favour of joining a branch of the local Anglican Church? Was it a subconscious fear that house-churches do not meet the standards you seem to require for a more universal 'Body of Christ' structure with a greater visible membership? Or did you feel that there might by something missing in the witness of the smaller, home-based, theologically sectarian community? This is a serious question for yourself - a person experienced in both milieu - and now a commentator on the larger issue of an Anglican witness in Aoteroa.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Ron

Always happy to answer a serious question.

(part 1/2)

Briefly, I was raised a Catholic, abandoned what faith I had as a teenager and at 20 years of age surrendered to Christ. What followed was a profound spiritual and whole of life transformation. I experienced what it means to become a ‘new creation’.

We joined a Pentecostal church (Apostolic), but also met weekly with a group called ‘Judah’ in Christchurch. Became involved in leadership, moved to Wellington, became an elder in the local Baptist Church, moved back to Christchurch, became an elder in the New Life church, now Life Church in Riccarton.

After 18 years at Life Church I felt a growing disconnect. This was more about what God was doing in my life at the time than any ‘fault’ with those in the Church whom I deeply respect.

We eventually left to pioneer a house church in the city, which grew into three house churches. Our heart was to establish a more relational form of Christian expression. It became a place for those who were over-churched, de-churched and some un-churched, although I always hoped for more of the latter. It worked well for a decade, but for me a few things happened. The earthquakes, the pressure of running our own business, as well as the church (we had 30 regular folks in our own gathering) plus, a growing awareness of how easy it is to take people out of the institutional church, but how hard it is to take the institutional church out of people. It’s easy for people to default to the leadership. This is not a criticism, it’s just human nature.

I was heading for burn out, and decided to train up those who displayed signs of leadership, and then to hand the house church we were running over to them, while the other two house church’s continued with their existing leadership, which is what we did about four years ago.

For a couple of years we did nothing church wise except connect informally with Christian friends and maybe at Easter time attend a local church service somewhere. Which is how we ended up at our local Anglican Church a couple of Easter’s ago. We liked what we saw, felt an affinity with the leadership and have stayed.


Brendan McNeill said...

(part 2/2)

I see strengths and weaknesses in all expressions of Church life / denominational structures.

I loved house church. We had people from nine different nationalities attending at one time. Prior to last Christmas we had a reunion with more than 40 people attending, which is virtually all of those still living in Christchurch. We are attending a wedding in India later this year where the groom, a young unchurched Indian man who walked off the street into our house church meeting one day looking to borrow some battery jumper leads, and ended up staying (long story). We always shared a meal together, often the best times of ministry took place informally after our more ‘formal’ times of worship and teaching. Lifelong friendships were made amongst many people from disparate nationalities and backgrounds.

There were a surprising number of mature Christians who were part of the three house church’s. An ordained Presbyterian minister and a graduate from a Catholic seminary just to name two. The risk was not a lack of a robust theological framework as you might expect, in fact perhaps surprisingly, I would say this was one of our strengths. People would often say to me, how do you know you won’t go off the rails, to which I would reply, ‘oh you mean start dressing up in robes and burning incense’?

It’s surprising what you see with fresh eyes when you step outside of a denominational structure for a couple of years!

The weakness was how best to manage young children and the general chaos that comes from a large ‘family’ gathering when we wanted to engage with Scripture and ministry. We tried various formats and were probably only partially successful any of them. On balance, I don’t think it mattered, as the gains considerably exceeded anything that might have been lost.

I am learning to (re)appreciate the familiar liturgical expression of the Anglican service, the affirmation of Scripture, the humility of confession of sin, the adherence to a church ‘calendar’ and the weekly celebration of communion. There is much to appreciate in 500 years of Anglican history which contributes to the blessings we enjoy today on many levels, both spiritually and culturally.

There are weaknesses as well of course, some of which I have rehearsed on this blog, but these will be resolved eventually… should the Lord tarry. As a newcomer with fresh eyes (and here I take a Lenten risk) I believe we are in danger of elevating our aspiration for church unity above the mandate of Scripture. If we cannot agree then it’s far better to fail at unity than to fail at faithfulness and obedience.

Finally, and to answer the detail of your questions, none of our church ‘moves’ have been motivated by fear of any kind, nor a concern over the size of our corporate witness. With some wry humour I note that remnants seem to be a feature of the Biblical narrative. Who knows, post synod 2018 I may have left one to become part of another!


Father Ron said...

Dear Brendon, thank you sincerely for your account of a fulsome and interesting pilgrimage of Faith. You certainly have experienced more different settings for your journey than most - certainly myself. I have always been an Anglican - for 87, coming up to 88 years - in different countries in differenty communities but always in the high-church Anglican ethos. If I had not been raised an Anglican and had come fresh to the faith in my adult years, I might either have chosen the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church, which, for me, satisfies my need for liturgical and theological cohesion.

However, in old age, I have come to realise that my spiritual home is the Anglican Church - with all its eccentricities and doctrinal differences - it has become my alma mater, both by inheritance and by choice. One of its endearing qualities, for me personally, is its capability to hold together extremes of doctrinal beliefs, while yet focussing on the Word and Sacraments of the Church as inherited from its early apostolic beginnings.

Tonight at SMAA, we entered into the Solemn Triduum, the Great Three days of the Pasche, and I was reminded of the humility of Jesus when washing the feet of the disciples. Also, experiencing the joy of the Institution of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, which, we, at St. Michael's, celebrate on a daily basis, in order to constantly re-member the Body of Christ which Jesus brought into being with his incarnation, living testimony and dying breath. Their will be an all-night Vigil with Christ in a representation of the Garden of Gethseman in the Pilgrim Chapel. My hour with Him went quickly.

Have a Blessed Good Friday and EASTER.

Out of the darkness comes the Light of Christ. Alleluia. He is Risen!

BrianR said...

A fascinating read, Brendan, and warmly encouraging to read of the investment you have put into the lives of others. I think it is true that in Christian ministry the more important thing is not the precise words we use in 'teaching' others (as if our souls were the mere repositories of information) as the example and incarnation of godly living and loving we strive to be, seeking always to be signposts to the Master.

Bryden Black said...

I sense it is really important to place this current debate/discussion re Rod D's B Option in its wider historical context.