I was talking to one of my colleagues at Methodist Church House today about the future of church. She mentioned new projects such as the church of saint pixels and the infamous ship of fools website. We were both alarmed at the consumerist nature and the lack of discipleship in such so-called ‘expressions’ of the Christian faith. It was her observation that when disagreements develop within ‘real’ rather than ‘virtual’ communities people are challenged to reconcile with one another as they will have to pray side by side with each other the following week.Our discussion then turned to inherited models of church and ministry. She observed the feudal nature of the Anglican Church and the modernist nature of Methodist church. Begging the question what will church look like in the twentieth century? I expressed my belief that in a world which is characterised by disposability rather than sustainability the church must be counter-cultural and draw closer together. I observed that within earliest Methodism class meetings provided this sort of togetherness (and discipleship for holiness).
My colleague picked up on my mention of the Methodist class system and commented on the tradition of itinerancy (both inherent within the local preaching system and the Methodist understanding of ministerial appointments). I expressed dismay at these systems, which I feel very often separate ministers and preachers from the local church. She did not contradict my position but made it clear that she felt much more comfortable with itinerancy than with the class system.
I was reading Stanley Hauerwas’ Sanctify Them In Truth yesterday and I realise this tied in with our conversation. In the introduction to the book, Hauerwas’ observes that sanctification and truth are very rarely linked in contemporary theology or philosophy. He then goes on to express his understanding of why sanctification and truth should be integral to one another.
Hauerwas is dismayed that theology too often seems to speak to theologians and it does not seem to be in the service of the church. He wants theologians to give up on producing the comprehensive book of abstract theology and instead produce theology that is in service of Church’s life and politics. This sort of theology is the reason for the odd shape of Hauerwas’ own writing, which appears to be part theology, part essay, part homiletics, and part ethics.
I guess that I want ministers to be steeped in the fellowship of the church. I want preachers to be held accountable for what they say by the community they are addressing. I want the community they are addressing to be held responsible for implementing the theological convictions they agree to. I want a living, breathing, feeling truth (not some cheap imitation).