Monday, March 26, 2007

What's the problem with Reformed Christianity in the UK?

In comments on a recent post, Martin Downes raised an important issue. We seem to be pretty adept at exposing the theological errors of others. But we are correspondingly inept at facing our own weaknesses.
I know that some, even many Reformed churches are vibrant and growing. But my impression is that the movement as a whole is inert and moribund. There are a number of matters that we need to face. I don't have all the answers, I'm not necessarily asking all the right questions. I would especially welcome your feedback on this post.
1) Lack of conversions
This is very basic. If people aren't being saved, are we doing the Great Commission? Why is it that we are failing to reach people around us? Are we failing to communicate the gospel in a contemporary way? Why do people find the thought of entering our buildings for services so off putting?
2) Fragmented and fractious
Reformed Christianity had been weakened by unnecessary controversy and strife. Is it not a crying shame that people will go to the barricades over Bible versions and hymn books? This state of affairs does not suggest that we are focused on the main task of proclaiming and embodying the gospel in our day. When believers will leave churches over such matters, is that a sign of principled spiritual maturity?
3) Traditionalism
Have we sometimes failed to distinguish between peripheral traditions and Biblical Christianity? Are we so afraid of innovation and improvisation that we risk being stuck in some kind of time warp?
4) Faddishness
Is it right to go for change for change's sake, however divisive may be the outcome? Are we sometimes too quick to try the latest quick n' easy church growth fad? When that doesn't work we just get disillusioned and give up.
5) Strategic self denial
How many gifted people in their 20's to 50's would be willing to get involved in a small church to help turn things around? I know that there is safety in numbers etc. But small churches often need outside help to get off the ground. Are larger churches thinking strategically in this respect? Are smaller works willing to be helped to grow by believers with fresh ideas?
6) Lack of prayer
Why is it that people do not make the Prayer Meeting a priority, or when they turn up, they don't pray? Have we been driven to our knees by a concern for the glory of God in our age?
7) Powerless preaching
Every Sunday 100's of doctrinally accurate, well structured, interestingly illustrated and well applied sermons are preached. But where is the fruit in terms of the transforming power of the gospel?
8) Revival
I know that some might say that revival would be a panacea. We certainly need one. We should pray urgently and persistently for a powerful outpouring of the Spirit. But we might be surprised at the shape a fresh revival may take. Would we really welcome it? Anyway, evangelism, discipleship and innovation are not the enemies of revival. They are the things that we should be doing now in anticipation of a time of awakening.
Am I asking the right questions? What answers would you give?

20 comments:

Vynette said...

As a person of Welsh descent, I'll be 'rebellious' enough to respond.

1. "Why is it that we are failing to reach people around us? Are we failing to communicate the gospel in a contemporary way?"

I suggest that with ever-increasing access to information, it is becoming ever-increasingly obvious to many that the doctrines of the Christian Churches are insupportable. We don't need to update the message - we need to return to the original and simple message of the New Testament.

3. "Have we sometimes failed to distinguish between peripheral traditions and Biblical Christianity?"

I suggest that Christians have certainly failed to distinguish between the teachings of the the Graeco-Roman church fathers and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles found in scripture. Tradition and unscriptural doctrine have ruled for almost two millennia.

8. "We should pray urgently and persistently for a powerful outpouring of the Spirit. But we might be surprised at the shape a fresh revival may take. Would we really welcome it?"

I agree - we urgently need an outpouring of the Spirit but I suggest it would not be welcome as this time its shape will be in the form of a purging of doctrines that should have been cast out at the Reformation.

The truth will out - it's only a matter of time.

Exiled Preacher said...

vynette

You don't have to be Welsh or even of Welsh extraction to comment here.

Thanks for your remarks. I agree that we don't need to update the message of the gospel. But we do need to communicate it in a contemporary way. We also need to subject our traditions to radical Biblical criticism.

Elijah the Strict Baptist said...

As usual you are spot on in your analysis Guy( at least in the part of the country it is like this).Our church is small and I am trying to persuade them to get Terry Martin of FIEC Church's Restoration Working Group involved to try and rebuild the work.Everyone(apart from me and my wife)is 65+ and unless something is done,the future is bleak.But try getting them to see that....where there is no visiuon etc....So many churches in this area think they are bing faithful just be speaking and dressing in a certain way and using a certain style of worship ( and I do like the AV and hymns)!

Exiled Preacher said...

"Elijah"

Our churches are small too. But we have taken risks and focused more on outreach. The result? Almost complete indifference in the community.

I suppose we can console ourselves that we are being faithful in spreading the Word. But that isn't good enough. We need to be soul-winning churches.

Martin Downes said...

Guy,

It sounds like you could host a conference on this too.

dp23 said...

Guy
In the life of the church, what answers would we get to:-

(1)does the average member of the congregation come to the meeting hungry to meet with the Lord? or is it habit and routine, "putting in an expected appearance"?

(2)does the average member of the congregation expect to worship in spirit and in truth - not a trite formula, but in REALITY?

(3)does the average church member expect to be encouraged from the application of the word of God preached faithfully (TRUTH! CLARITY! PASSION!) to live a Christ-exalting life in the midst of a sinful society? Does the preaching of God's word MOVE THE HEART? and then the will?

(4)does the average church member know ANYTHING about just being thrilled with the Lord? and His amazing grace and mercy?

Seems to me that if we are not living for the glory of God where we are, it is because we don't want to; and if we are not living as salt and light - NOT as a duty (which can never work, but because (like Moses)we unconsciously and yet glady radiate the love of God from within, being those who know the Lord,and long to know Him more - then nobody is going to "ask a reason of the hope that is within"; so they will not want to come to church (or another less formal meeting) to learn more.

Also, if the church is dead and boring, we will not want to invite anybody anyway.....

Much more could be said! but keep asking the questions! and thanks for the exhortation to "examine yourselves"

David

Exiled Preacher said...

David,

Thanks for those thought-provoking questions. I'm sure that our lack of genuine God-centredness is one big reason for our present malaise.

Vynette said...

Guy,

Even though I am of Welsh descent, I only mentioned it as an introduction to the Welsh 'rebel' type statements I was about to make.

On a serious note, what traditions would you subject to 'radical biblical criticism?'

I was thinking along the lines of the Trinity and the Miraculous Incarnation.

Exiled Preacher said...

Vynette,

I believe that the doctrines of the Trinity and the micaculous incarnation of Christ are fundamentally Biblical traditions. I'm not saying that something is radically wrong with Reformed confessional theology.

Jon said...

This is off-topic Guy but I was thinking that there are going to be a lot of bloggers at Aber this year so maybe one day we should meet up for a drink or something in a pub or cafe?

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Jon,

A mini blog conference at Aber. That would be great. Drop me an e-mail nearer the time (via my blog profile) and we can exchange mobile no's to make the arrangements.

I know that Gary Brady of Heavenly Worldliness will be there, but I don't know of anyone else.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Hi Guy

Your recent posts have been very helpful, and I do hope that this is the beginning of a series (?).

Thanks also for your clarifying comment to Vynette. What is being suggested is a radical reassessment of our 'peripheral' traditions in the light of Scripture, not a radical reassessment of Scripture's message itself.

Thanks for sharing your thinking on these issues.

Andrew

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks Andrew,

I'm just raising some questions. I wasn't planning to turn this into a series. But I think we need to reflect on the state of Reformed Evangelicalism today.

Jon said...

Martin Downes goes too doesn't he... We could try and get Geoff Thomas along too! It'd be funny...

Martin Downes said...

Jon,

I've been going since 2001. But I can't believe you suggested meeting down the pub...at Aber

Tell it not in Gath

Exiled Preacher said...

Jon,

Martin D goes to Aber, but he said that he might not be there this year, which is why I didn't mention his name.

Did you say a PUB? As in alcohol serving drinking establishment? I thought that Geoff Thomas had them all closed during Aber week.

A cafe might be better.

Jon said...

I'd love to try and get Geoff Thomas into a pub but maybe you're right... Maybe we'd better stick to a cafe?

Exiled Preacher said...

Cafe it is then.

Dave Shedden said...

Guy, with all the points you make, what's the point in getting involved in a smaller church to help try turn things around? I think that the issues and problems that you often describe on this blog would put me off going to a smaller Reformed church. You'd just be part of the furniture. What we need is a way of thinking that revives and empowers Christians to be better Christians - that's the only thing that will help the Reformed cause in the UK. Supporting a small church by attending would probably achieve next to nothing because the Reformed church today boils down to this: the preacher does the business while everyone else sits back and listens. That's one reason why it is struggling - a lack of dynamism.

Exiled Preacher said...

Dave,

While it may be true that some Reformed churches are little better than preaching centres, this is not necessarily the case. In the churches I serve, people are encouraged to use their gifts in the work of the gospel. This includes preaching, door-to-door outreach, women's ministries, children's work, building maintenance and so on. If we had more people, we could do more work than we are at present.

I certainly don't believe that I have to do everything, while everyone else just sits back and listens. My task if to equip the whole church to serve the Lord.

As you say, just attending a small church wouldn't do a lot of good. But being fully involved might help.

There are weaknesses in the Reformed Churches in the UK. We need to try to identify them and seek the Lord's help to put these things right.