Monday, September 16, 2019

So, how did we get to be religious, Charles Darwin?

Before we get to this week's main fare, a couple of important articles to link to:

(1) Last Thursday Teresa and I had the extraordinary privilege of attending the ordination of Waitohiariki Quayle, the second Bishop of Te Upoko o Te Ika, first female Maori bishop and first Aotearoa NZ born woman as bishop in our church. Taonga has an excellent article here with lovely photos.

(2) Do we ignore Pentecostalism Down Under style at our peril? This article explores "How Hillsong and other Pentecostal megachurches are redefining religion in Australia." But as pretty much every Christian in NZ knows, Hillsong is hugely influential in NZ also! Lots to ponder for Anglicans used to small congregation: we can get (to put church growth crudely) bums on seats if we define the gospel in terms of God's plan for your successful life. That is not something Anglicans (and most other denominations want to do) ... but in the meantime is Christianity in the perception of society around us being redefined? What if Pentecostalism a la Hillsong is perceived to be normal Christianity and Anglicanism a weird little sect?

So to the main fare.

Inter alia at our recent Synod there was a challenge in terms of evolution: when do we hear the bishops of our church asserting their belief in evolution? Does believing in evolution define (or not) whether we are "conservative" or "progressive"? Does not believing in evolution make Christians very weird in the marketplace of ideas?

 The latest Church Times has a very interesting article here by Mark Vernon.

It begins by setting out the issue of explaining the development of religious consciousness in terms of evolutionary biology:

"EXPLANATIONS for the origins of human religiosity have not escaped the immense fecundity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many proposals address why people have believed in gods and other worlds as far back as archaeologists can see. To date, two ideas have tended to dominate.
One is that Homo sapiens needed “big gods” to survive. These deities threatened to punish people for their wrongs, with the upshot that large groups worked better together. It sounds plausible, except that our ancestors lived in large groups long before punishing big gods emerged; so the proposal nowadays is widely criticised.A second idea is that early humans were superstitious: they were readily inclined to interpret a rustle of leaves, say, as the movement of a spirit. They were wrong, it is presumed, but that doesn’t matter, because, every so often, a rustle of leaves had a real cause: it signalled the presence of predators. Evolution, therefore, selected for the superstitious because they survived."

But these two ideas have weaknesses, so:

"IN SHORT, the field is ready for a new hypothesis, and another is now gaining ground. Moreover, this hypothesis appeals not only to evolutionary biologists but also to sociologists and theologians. It feels less reductive than its predecessors, and may well cast light on human religiosity today, as well as in times gone by.Leading its development is the Oxford evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar. A recent meeting of the International Society for Science and Religion brought together experts in science and theology as well as archaeology and psychology. It made for a fascinating few days.The proposal might be called “the trance hypothesis”. In the middle palaeolithic period, perhaps 200,000 years ago, humans started to realise that they could induce altered states of consciousness. It marked a step change from the capacity to experience awe and wonder, which is something that we probably share with our primate cousins and other animals. The control of ecstatic states meant that what was revealed could be intentionally explored."

I will leave you to read on to get the further detail needed to complete the explanation of this new hypothesis. Moreover, Mark Vernon offers some striking thoughts about the difference between "spiritual/spirituality" and "religious/religion" worth noting in our age when we are concerned with how we reach people with the gospel or (so to speak) reach the gospel embedded in people already.

My question goes something like this (remembering that I am a bear of small brain and questions about how our faith developed in respect of the prophet Charles Darwin are at the edge of my linguistic, philosophical and theological competency):

If we accept that some such hypothesis as introduced above explains how, along the way of our biological development as homo sapiens, we reached a state in which we could consciously articulate religious thoughts and insights, on what grounds do we then discern that at least some of those thoughts and insights are "not our own" but come to us from outside of ourselves as a newly emerging community of religiously conscious people?

That is, how do we as evolving animals determine that we have received revelation, that God/gods are not our invention?


Anonymous said...

(1) I was surprised by the aggrieved and embattled tone of the ordination sermon. Does the consecration of women to the episcopate face any considerable opposition in ACANZP in 2019? If not, why might yesterday's controversy have been preached on an occasion of unity today? There is so much that one might say in a consecration sermon. Why that?

Of course, the blessed isles are yours, not mine. Kindly note that, as I am here and you are there, my query cannot be a criticism. It is an attempt to understand an artifact. Just as those down under might reasonably wonder how Donald Trump became POTUS after getting 3 million fewer votes than his rival, so I up yonder wonder why there is scolding for the ordination of women at a service where an admired woman is being consecrated bishop. From afar, both look odd.

(2) "What if Pentecostalism a la Hillsong is perceived to be normal Christianity and Anglicanism a weird little sect?" Postmoderns often turn to affect where moderns turned to what they imagined to be reason. Like Christian psychologists, Pentecostals understand that metanoia entails emotional change, and that worship is the heart's rehearsal for that change.

Dig into the evangelical Anglican past and you can find preaching that was no less emotional-- people crying and fainting, altar calls, etc-- but with Pentecostals it is the music that does this. Syrian hymn-writers similarly invaded the serene biblicism of the Byzantine ordo with their own passionate compositions a millennium and a half ago. If Luther discovered that preaching could act as a sacrament does, so Pentecostals have discovered that music too can do this.

The rich disrespect the poor for sport, and rich Christians sometimes disdain the *prosperity gospel* of poor Christians. But the promise that the God who knows the hairs on one's head also knows one's need for a new washing machine instills the same emotion of confidence in God that the music does. Is not trust in God the door to the kingdom?

Anglicans are hardly a weird little sect, even to the public eye. But in too many places they are upper middle class enclaves too stymied by the shibboleths of their kind (see below and maybe above) to put anything new on the ground. "Megachurches are the new dioceses," we often hear. Indeed. Why don't we build a dozen and see how this works out? It's just not what we do.

(3) This hypothesis would be stronger if we had more confidence that our ancestors 200,000 years ago had been reading, say Friedrich Schiller or William James. Why think that religion emerged with experience rather than with the sentiments of adaptive social cohesion? Jonathan Haidt put it well when he said, "the miracle is not that the Grand Canyon exists-- add wind, sand, and water to rock over a million years and that's what you get-- the miracle is that people were living there in this harsh desert landscape." That was an achievement of religious culture mediating the moral sentiments of community life.

"...on what grounds do we then discern that at least some of those thoughts and insights are 'not our own' but come to us from outside of ourselves..." There are none. But in fairness to those at Oxford, their hypothesis posits the emergence of ecstasy long before the fork from which the later religions of Jerusalem (which care about externality) branched from those of Varanasi (which do not). Too long, I think, to explain much about what we ourselves have known as religion.


Anonymous said...

Postscript-- Anglicans who happen to be theologically Pentecostal-- yes, they exist!-- would agree with the article + Peter links that those in Pentecostal churches find it MUCH easier to convene new assemblies on the ground than Anglicans do, and that entrepreneurial risk-taking naturally results in more wins for church growth. To fixate on the exoticism of waving hands, praise bands, and preachers of prosperity is to miss the proximate cause of their spread.

On the face of it, the comparative stuckness of most Anglican churches is counterintuitive. By definition, an episcopal church should have a streamlined process for authorising and overseeing missions. Well-formulated norms for worship should be easily portable. Anglicans have had great success with cathedral-sized ministries. But where is the synergy?


Anonymous said...

Postscript-- The hypothesis described in + Peter's (3) exemplifies a point that I made here last week: as minds adapt their thoughts to the scale of evolutionary time, the part of our past that we can know from documents suddenly seems quite recent. While medievals understood their present as a continuation of the historic past, moderns imagined that some infinite qualitative difference separated their own time from all that went before, and now postmoderns are beginning to see it all in the new scale of continuous evolution. The Church Times article closes with advice for churches in England today based on the wisdom of a hypothesised event 200,000 ybp.

Minds in transit are not consistent. A reader who, thinking as a postmodern, finds that advice thrilling may an hour later moan, as a late modern, that the Bible is too old to tell us anything about sex today. For just a bit longer, this will not look ridiculous, but theology progresses one funeral at a time, and the rising generation will presumably be less schizoid.

Minds that have arrived already look at the Bible differently. Where it posits an observable mechanism behind the variety of human adaptations to circumstances, evolutionary thought has made the human commonalities a bit harder to ignore as mere ideology. So on one hand, as last week, we look at the story of Tamar and Judah, not as an illustration of a bizarre ancient custom, but as a window into woman's perennial experience of maternity, kinship, and sexuality. On the other hand, as seen in the links supplied last week, we see that what seems bizarre to us makes perfect sense to the new majority of the world's Christians who live in cultures with not dissimilar customs. Moderns can only see these Christians as backward and their readings of scripture as marginal; postmoderns see them as true contemporaries and make room in their own hermeneutic for what they say. What sort of room is that?

Hans-Georg Gadamer explained interpretation as an exercise in which the reader learns new things about his own *horizon* as he reconstructs the horizon of the text. Where high moderns thought that such a contrast of horizons made old books illegible, Gadamer argued that it is only when there is such a contrast-- from the text's sheer richness, from a cultural difference, from a temporal difference-- that the discovery of the reader in her world is possible. Of course, the discovery of the reader is a necessary part of reading the Bible as God's word written. In the garden of our open bibles, the Holy Spirit asks why we are wearing fig leaves.

And so we can best read the Bible as scripture with partners who can see our own quarrels with the text from some third perspective. For that reason, postmoderns have already begun to read the Bible with interpretive partners from patristic and medieval times (eg SS Gregory of Nazianzus on Genesis, Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs). That doubles the work of understanding, but it deepens the text's exposure of ourselves and our worlds.

Exactly the same role is played for us by our own contemporaries in lands with mores different from our own. When say a Zulu interpreter sees an application for the story of Tamar and Judah that makes little sense in one's own world, it is in comparing the Zulu world to our own that we see more clearly why interpreters in our own world so struggle with that and similar texts that we cannot find any application for them at all. Thinking of all of these souls-- Tamar's and Judah's, the storyteller's, the Zulu's, our friends, our own-- as addressed by God in the same human way of being in the created cosmos, we have no honest reason to dismiss divine speech to any of them. Only prayer, the next step of *lectio divina*, then sorts out what it is for the reader to be in the will of God.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
That is a lot of (profound, good) matter to digest!
And very fair point about reading post modernism into pre pre ... pre pre modernism :).
Sermon: I understand it as a lament in the middle of celebration: that it has taken so long for the breakthrough the ordination of a Maori woman (in a Maori world which has strong, traditional, customary bias towards male leadership) represents; that still today the church, notwithstanding the feminist critique of power for several decades, is overweighted with men in power (e.g. of 16 bishops currently, 2 are women).

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter,

Having just viewed the Church Times podcast of a conversation between Dr Mark Vernon and a self-professed agnostic (see the latest item on 'kiwianglo'), I found myself questioning our sometimes 'isolationist' Christian dogmatism that seems to militate against other religious worldviews that entertain a more mystical understanding of God in Creation than we ourselves seem to offer to those seeking spiritual enlightenment in our modern world. We have a 'hidden treasure' that can be sadly obscured by our neglect of mystical spirituality.

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, I believe our Maori Tikangfa is to be heartily congratulated on the move to ordain its first woman bishop. This is a wonderful tribute to the deeply spiritual capacity of Maori women to share in the spiritual oversight of the membership of ACANZP. Welcome to +Waitohiariki Quayle, the second Bishop of Te Upoko o Te Ika.

cam said...

"Do we ignore Pentecostalism Down Under styles at our peril?"

Yes. Ignoring what attracts young people (Gens x,y,and others) to church is what we may have been culpable of. Thankfully God has seen fit for Pentecostalism 'Lite' ( I think I take the author's gist on this) to spring up as vehicles for the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. Thank God, for God.

However I also think that we seek to compete, and/or dismantle and employ the same 'style' at our peril also.

The demographics of such Churches is telling. The author himself suggests the founding baby boomers have left due to energy levels being too high. I think also the Prosperity Gospel, even in this lite version might be another reason 40 plus attendance is so low. Richard Rohr and his second half of life spirituality goes someway to explaining what I suspect becomes an issue for 'older' congregants eventually. That the energy and noise is too much for those 40 plus, I think is theological, as well as literal and sensory.

Population age structure projections for us here Down Under like for most of the developed world, make for interesting reading, particularly for anyone interested in bums on seats.

Many trad Anglican parish churches may well cease to exist as distinct entities in the coming decades. But not attracting young people is only part of the reality. Where are the 40-80 year olds' going to be? They're not, at least from my limited exposure, and research, likely to be in the Pentecostal churches.

Some wonderings?

-Is the Hillsong kind of worship and theology we might seek to adapt and employ in our parish churches an invitation to meet with Jesus, or a barrier for this ever increasing 40+ group within society? Are we as St Paul would have us being audience aware?

-How do we manage anything like inter-generational mission without being paternalistic - waiting for youth to 'mature into Anglicanism'. Or shoehorning an older, not necessarily wiser, but certainly different generation/s, into foreign, alienating, and potentially not altogether life giving territory?

- How much do we trust what God is doing in other denominations, branches, members of the body, in building up His kingdom? (second half of spiritual life question that)

- How much breadth can be allowed in New Zealand Anglicanism to ensure everyone is met and transformed by Jesus?

And I never got to main fare...luckily.

As to how society defines Christianity

Peter Carrell said...

Great questions, Cam.
And it is true that Anglican churches pick up adherents who have "dropped out" of church whose theological fare, in the end, is unsatisfying to the 40-80 years generation.
Nevertheless, when we have 80 people and the church down the road (or across the Ditch) has 800 or 8000 people, it is worth reviewing what we are doing: are we wilfully inhibiting growth?
And also worth asking, in what ways are we and they true or false or a poor mixture of true and false to the gospel?

cam said...

According to Aust. census Pentecostalism has held at around 1% of the population in the three decades 1986-2016. Despite the considerable economies of scale operating in the mega-churches with regards 'resourcing' and, as noted by the author of the article, the positive influence of migrants in this arm of the church (NB Australian migration statistics for the same period), there is little growth to be celebrated.

We may well lament over the same period the Ang.Chruch in Aust. stats have seen a decline from around 23% to 13% of the population. But its not that Pentecostal churches have picked them up, or raised new disciples at our 'expense'. The reality is Non-Religion has increased from 12% to 30%. I suspect and could google similar statistics for Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Faith and Belief survey is interesting when addressing the Non-Religious and their reasons for not seeking Christ. There are still 25% of non-religious who are either 'quite open' or 'would consider' exploring. That's much better potential dating statistics than I ever experienced. So what puts them off?

Well, the Top Three Repellents and the Top Five Issue Blockers read to my untrained eye in an overly generalised way, as a manifesto for Pentecostalism. If there is a silver bullet, the church stats from Aust.(1% and holding) and what the non-religious here say suggest it isn't going to be a full and open embrace of Pentecostalism by mainline churches. So again I repeat ignoring and full embrace as equally perilous.

Your final question is important. What I am pleased to say is I identify with a tradition where the issues of Gospel truth are explored by an increasingly diverse group of disciples, in communication with one another through processes designed to facilitate the reconciliation and unity which is God's design. I am not confined by a magisterium, nor the whim of a hipster and his/her exegesis of a particular text, and/or experience of revelation in their life.

I think the 'truth' of Anglicanism Down Under is this regard might be a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

Nothing in holy writ says that the Body in a place shall forever comprise a number of standard organizational units. Polities that assume that the local Body is a federation of uniform operations in within a narrow range of sizes each with its own territory seem to be unhelpful frames for thinking about Pentecostal assemblies in the C21.

Or John Wesley preaching in coalfields, or Second Great Awakening revivals, or the rise of parachurch organizations, or today's emerging and missional movements, or... Conversations that I hear elsewhere often get stuck on the assumption that *if the old cookie cutter is not needed so much then we need a new cookie cutter* when it may be uniformity itself that is on the decline. That would be, not so much a challenge to Anglican theology etc as to the viability of denominationalism as way of doing church. Anglicans in some African provinces have experience of members who believe that they belong for life to the church where they were baptised, and often return to it in a box to be buried, but who attend several churches of other denominations through the life span.

Cam's comment on the differing desires of persons at different stages of the lifespan is one example of a force that has disrupted the standard parish by taking away indispensible slices of its constituency.

Father Ron's comment, sensible in itself, can be taken foolishly or wisely. To appoint a synodical task force to implement a diocesan strategy to make every parish uniformly more mystical would seem to miss what is actually happening. But if it is the case that a contemplative spirituality has an ethos that needs a home in something less like the standard parish, then that may be worth exploring.

As Bryden will point out, the ecclesiological challenge is the difficult one. Westerners, never mind Protestants, especially Anglicans, have normally done church with a single template in mind.


Jean said...

As for the evolution question the mind boggles; I am still trying to reconcile Abraham being called to leave his home on the whim of an ecstatic experience 😊. I am still a creationist of the simplest variety figuring if evolution was true where on earth have all those half-creatures in process of evolving disappeared too, where are those half apes? But I am an annoying creationist as I don’t care enough (ie: it isn’t a factor intrinsic in my personal faith) to put a lot in the contending of ideologies. My only concern lies with those I know because of their strongly held evolutionary science beliefs rule out God completely.

As for Pentecostalism. Well I think Pentecostalism is as far reaching in its spectrum as Anglicanism. I so recommend a google of Father Cantamalessa and the YouTube of his experience encountering this stream of Christianity and his subsequent appointment as Preacher to the Pope. I strive to keep the opinion that God works through all his churches. My personal experience is I knew the Gospel and I prayed growing up in an Anglican Church. It wasn’t until I returned in my 20’s to an Anglican Church but one influenced by people who had come from the Navigators (very into scripture) and Pentecostals (into spiritual gifts) that I started reading the Bible for myself and growing in spiritual gifts and realising the relevance of God/Jesus to every part of my daily life. In my first years there Alpha of Anglican Roots was in it’s infancy and it was a critical part of my journey at that point.

Hillsong? Pass. The singer/songwriters they have embraced such as Darlene Zchech & and our own Brooke Fraser appear to be the real deal and I can’t glide over their obvious contribution to worship music. It seems to be a like/dislike with a lot of people when it comes to Hillsong as a Church. I will reserve my opinion until I experience it!

Cam’s comments are worth pondering. What is ‘missing’ in my current Church (and no passing on Peter 😊) is a lot of what I found when I encountered those other experiences earlier. There are people with more faith than me in my current environment yet I find myself the sole person on prayer ministry - held once a month, and recently we began a prayer meeting prior to church. I don’t mind a lot about numbers and it is mostly only the two worship leaders who join in. The irony I find is I am not in any of these roles due to any merit but because I value prayer, and actually I do not think we have one other person aside from me who would be willing to do either of these. This makes me curious, I am, unless a child turns up, usually the youngest there - telling in itself πŸ˜‚ - but how come those older than me many no doubt far more mature lack the confidence for this sort of ministry? There are of course many comfortable with corporate prayer. Is personal prayer and group prayer outside a service not an Anglican thing?

cam said...

The wonder Jean, is not so much that unlicensed laity don't front for prayer, as your worship leaders do.


All good things.

Jean said...

Oh... actually Cam if you had asked me what the daily office was to my chargrin I might have said the place you go to work πŸ™„ . I have been more influenced by extemporaneous prayer than prayer book prayer. So maybe I am doubly fortunate anyone turns up? Not in actuality 😊 the few who come do so with genuine motivation and participation.

I do get it, like with my own background, one has to experience something have the exposure so to speak to become comfortable, my curiousity then is has peoples opportunities for exposure to personal or corporate (not common) prayer been limited or is it truly not been a big part of the Anglican tradition. It is a simple curiosity as numbers do not bother me with prayer, the more the merrier but the few will do! Having my origins in a Church of England family one might πŸ€” I would have more insight into the traditions - although my Grandparents living out of faith was very centred on living it out in practice than in talking about it which I also take to be a reflection of the societal mores they grew up with also.

cam said...

Jean. I'd be grateful for your prayersπŸ”₯. Sounds to me like you have a vital ministry to offer the church, and if extemporaneous all the good. I stumble in the darkness (to borrow from ACNZPB) on such, but pray God would continue to bless you, and us through you.

Historically, at least pre 19th century Anglicanism was defined by its prayer. Holy Communion, Lords Supper, Eucharist what have you being shared/celebrated in English parish churches infrequently. Perhaps 3 or 4 times a year. Which begs the question what were we up to all the rest of the while? Prayer.

Like you say some congregations are not familiar with the type of prayer you offer, so the more faithful like yourself the better.

Interestingly Urban Vision in Wellywood, focussed as they are on outreach and gifts of the Spirit - particularly the prophetic voice in the public sphere, have developed their own 'common prayer'. They even have a wee book. In turns out when exhausted by a day of building the kingdom one of the first things they found was words for extemp. prayer just didn't come, or they were just too tired. Committing to rhythms of prayer where anyone could lead has sustained them over quite some time now. Perhaps ask your worship team how you might get hold of their 'prayer book'. All this by way of encouragement to you. Jesus seems to do a lot of praying in the bible, and although he gave us some instructions, we are not told how he prayed at all those times. But pray he did. Paul tells us we ought be ceaseless in our prayer. If like me you have things to do I think this a green light for all sorts of prayer. ☺

Peter Carrell said...

On one matter, Jean:
Anglicans pray and can never pray enough!
Sure: many Anglicans only pray through the formal means of prayer books; but many Anglicans pray informally/spontaneously ... and in groups ... including, and highly commended, prayer groups that meet before worship services.
Keep up the good praying work!

Jean said...

Hi Cam and Peter

Yes, I do know about Urban vision Cam they have an ... ministry. I didn’t know they had their own book of common prayer that would be good to get a hold of. I think pre-written prayers definitely have their place; as you say a green light for all sorts of prayer!

Thanks for the encouragement from you both. As said the lack of familiarity people seem to have with small group corporate πŸ™ in my current context is what made me wonder if it had something to do with the way/style of the Anglican way of doing things, but obviously not. It must just be what people are used to in my local Church. I don’t want to give the false impression I am the holier than thou pray-er..😬people definitely pray themselves and during common prayer in the service. It was returning from a Church where one-on-one and small group prayer was well, common, left me well missing or desiring those forms of prayer.

May you both have a good-Friday

Father Ron said...

I was struck, this morning, by this comment from Jean:

" how come those older than me many no doubt far more mature lack the confidence for this sort of ministry? There are of course many comfortable with corporate prayer. Is personal prayer and group prayer outside a service not an Anglican thing?"

Reflecting on Jean's experience - and having experienced the early effects of the 1960s charismatic movement in the Anglican Church in New Zealand (originally through Dennis Bennett, Graeme Pulkingham. Fr. Francis McNutt and other overseas visiting preachers at the annual Palmerston North gatherings) - I think many Anglicans - together with Roman Catholics and other Christians - learned a great deal about both extemporaneous, private, and public prayer, as well as the prayer of silence and of inspirational corporate singing.

For me - at that particular time - it seemed that the ultimate prayer situation was experienced in the commonality of Eucharistic worship in the very Presence of Christ, where prayers arose out of the context of both the music and the time of intercession. Music was a great and wonderful part of that prayer experience - a factor which was certainly employed in my own congregation at Saint Paul's Anglican Church in Symonds Street, Auckland - issuing in the formation of the 'Saint Paul's Singers' (of whom I became a member). This group met for practice, prayer and study every Friday night - in preparation for services on Sunday.

That level of commitment - mostly on the part of young university students - continued for many years and, I am sure, was the breeding ground for many a faith commitment for people of all ages, both in the Church and in the lives of many from outside, whose lives were radically changed by the prayer life that grew up in that community.

I remember, later, as a Franciscan friar, being present at a Roman Catholic Mass in Sydney, which was part of an ecumenical gathering, where a time of silence was kept before the whole assembly then spontaneously joined in 'singing in tongues' at the 'Agnus Dei' of the Mass. Father Francis McNutt (our Retreat Leader) afterwards described this as 'an experience of Heaven'. This experience of heaven still stays with me.

Perhaps we need a new 'Pentecost' - wherein Christ, in prayer and sacraments can once again become the focus and motivator of our deepened and justice-seeking spirituality.

Jean said...

Hi Father Ron

Perhaps we do! In recent years I have heard stories and whisperings from those around at that time, often with much astonishment - such a contrast to my generational experience. Father Cantamalessa who I mentioned above speaks of the charismatic influence as a reflection of the unity found in the Holy Spirit, as it was experienced by all denominations.

Anonymous said...

Dear enthusiastic ones, you are there and I am here, of course.

I had an uncle who was a Pentecostal author, broadcaster and pastor. I have experienced charismatic worship in Pentecostal, Catholic, and Evangelical congregations whose native tongues are English, Spanish, and Portuguese. I admire the Pentecostal focus on the working class, poor, and homeless largely abandoned by mainline churches. I read and correspond with Pentecostal theologians, mainly about ecclesiology and sacraments. I know a priest who migrated from TEC to the Vineyard and still says the Daily Office in a repurposed barn. I have even heard of Hillsong. But I cannot picture the assemblies that you have seen Down Under.

It has been said that Pentecostalism is a two-edged sword. Is that what you see?

At one edge, Pentecostal denominations are well adapted to organizing stable congregations around a simple experiential faith for the neglected bottom of formerly Protestant societies and for the rising middle of some Catholic ones. In that way, they illustrate a perennial truth that religious bodies spread when they are cheap to start in places of need and opportunity. (For comparison, late medieval mendicant orders spread rapidly in European cities because friaries were so much cheaper for donors in the emerging bourgeoisie to found than a Benedictine monastery). On reflection, it makes sense that if a worship experience has less need of a building to feel right, then it may even feel pretty good in school dining halls, hotel banquet rooms, vacant factories, unopened bars, etc.

On the other edge, the influence of charismatic worship on other churches has been a test of their theological integrity. Among Catholics, it is one of the several accepted styles of devotion held together by a robust magisterium. Among Protestants with no magisterium at all, the same influence tends to supplant the hymns, liturgy, and devotional habitus that formerly mediated some knowledge of God, however dilute and juridical, to congregations. Arguments over that influence have often been street-fights between those afraid that the inner life of the place will no longer be informed by knowledge of God, and those who never liked that knowledge and believe that as long as you sing "Lord, Lord..." you shall enter into the state of bliss and probably the kingdom of heaven too.

At an evangelical mega-church not far from this laptop, the pastors know enough and read well, their staff serve the community as our churches should be doing, and small groups meeting in homes do the interpersonal work of congregations, but the great Sunday assembly sings happy songs and sips lattes watching a praise band. Once when I was visiting, an elder jogged onstage, apologized that it was a communion Sunday, promised to get it over with quickly, and read the Words of Institution as the deacons hurried juice and wafers down the rows of theater seating. And then the screen lit up for more happy songs. Ten minutes later, he returned to preach, briefly, on the excitement of some upcoming youth work.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, that was not true Pentecostal worship, but it was the most common evangelical reception of the charismatic style here up yonder. Every part of the living Body is there-- even scripture and sacraments thrive in the house meetings-- but the Sunday time has become less a kyriakon-- less the meeting with the Lord that for the apostles gradually supplanted the Temple-- than a town meeting with music for any local citizens who think of themselves as Christians. When we hear it said that mega-churches are the dioceses of the C21, what is meant is not just that they have, however unconsciously, the C2-4 polity of a bishop, presbyters, and deacons, but also that the human commonalities around which people connect are civic rather than denominational. Unless a century of ecumenism has gotten everything dead wrong, such unity is flatly better than having the local Body in every place divided organizationally by the ethnicities, classes, or pieties of generations past.

+ Peter asks whether the influence of Hillsong endangers Anglicanism Down Under by so shifting the mass perception of what Christianity should be that the better integrated assemblies that he leads just look weird. The question is important, but to answer it well, I would have to watch that influence on the ground, as Cam is doing.

Answering recklessly from afar, I would *guess* that-- no matter how much eg Hillsong may itself act like a denomination-- it tends to make denominational identity per se seem passe, and that is a serious threat to churches where even the well-instructed do things, not because they make godly sense, but because they are the mumbo jumbo that their denomination requires. Where that rot has set in, leaders may either find their integrity again as ecumenical merger (eg Church of South India, CoE-MGC?) enables a fresh magisterium, or else watch their people choose between Rome and something more Pentecostal. Among Anglicans, the rival efforts to revive the influence of CoE tradition please me personally, but also look like an unwise bet that the denominationalism of half a century ago is still intact today and will remain so. Perhaps they should broaden their scope to include at least theological Lutherans, Reformed, and Wesleyans also seeking their roots?

Meanwhile, my Pentecostal friends ask a question that balances + Peter's: how does one lead people from being a bag of experienced marbles to being a bunch of mature grapes? In a more Anglican idiom: what does the high church Pentecostalism already sketched in theory look like in the dialogue of pastors and congregations about God? That we leave for another day.


Father Ron said...

A short response to your latest comment, B.W.

In my experience, I have found sacramental (catholic) worship to be greatly enhanced in a 'charismatice' (Spirit-aware) setting - where both clergy and people are open to the 'gifts of the Holy Spirit', including the use of good music. The musical inspiration of Hildegarde of Bingen bears testimony to this aspect of worship.

Jean said...

Hey B.W.

I too have, albeit removed from the Charismatic Movement downunder, have found Charismatic influence within the setting of mainline denominations to be most life-giving....

In kiwi-land at least mega-churches, Pentecostal, and charismatic churches are not always one in the same. For example the only mega-church (which wouldn’t rate in the US as a mega-church) I had any association with was open-bretheren so not a lot of Holy Spirit action, and we also have a number of small Pentecostal churches in NZ. Also there isn’t so much of a co-relation between Pentecostal or mega churches and necessarily being for ‘those at the bottom’ here - most people I have known who attend Pentecostal churches are reasonable well off financially speaking. In a wide generalisation it could be surmised there is more spirit and less theology in the Pentecostal churches and more theology and less spirit in the Protestant denominations.

I have to confess though some of your terminology did give me a good laugh.. In the past, attending a more charismatic Anglican Church influenced by the congregation which came from a multitude on denominations did influence me. It made me comfortable in attending services in most denominations. It made me refer to myself as a Christian who attends and Anglican Church rather than an Anglican. And it made me value the different strengths of each denominations style. Interestingly though it has added more depth to my worship and knowledge of God than it has got me too concerned about the ‘mumbo jumbo’ that is a part of worshipping in Churches of all backgrounds (that’s not to say I necessarily embrace all the mumbo jumbo!). After all even mega-churches have such traits too, like the constant repeating of what the preacher says, “now say it after me!”.... which can be all well in good depending on how long they go on for, and if you agree with what you are meant to be saying.

So yes, I remain enthusiastic! 😊