reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Homogenous church

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |
Ok, so I have no wish to start a mudslinging dogfight between parties of people here.

But recently the august organisation for which I work has come under some criticism for supplanting and doing the work of the local church when it really shouldn't be.

Thus the argument says: the local church is the place for mission and maturity, it is the vehicle of God's blessing to the world, and parachurch organisations are therefore unbiblical and worse, have the effect of weakening the local church because they encourage the individual to have a spiritual commitment above and beyond that of the local body.

Now, I have, actually, some sympathy for that argument. I am a big fan of the local church, and think it's precious standing in the sight of God should, by no means, be undermined.

However, some of the people who are making these criticisms are offering a very strange alternative model. What they want is basically a group of students meeting on campus under the authority of the local church but still gathering as a group of students. Thus they would do away with the CU and set up an homogenous church. Where a churches like this already operate that's often what they do they have a "student congregation" and a "family congregation". They run student Bible study groups, have a student worker who runs that side of the operation and encourage mixing only with other students. If a student should go to the other congregation's prayer meeting, Bible study or family service eyebrows are raised left right and centre.

I believe that this concept is called "homogenous church"; running a church aimed at a particular dmeographic so to reach that demographic particularly. It has lots of advantages; indeed I benefitted hugely from such a student Bible study when I was an undergrad. However, I'm beginning to question the wisdom, and even the Biblical nature of it. This is not just because that group of people has had a go at my organisation, although that has led the whole issue has to come under consideration.

You see, it seems to me that one of the defining marks of the local church, is supposed to be that the barriers set up between people are, in the church, broken down. If a church isn't travelling towards diversity of social background, race, sex and educational status, it seems to me that the local church isn't actually fulfilling it's God-given role in Ephesians 2 of modelling the effect of the Gospel - homogenous church is church done badly.

The real issue, it seems to me, with the critics, is that what goes on in CUs is not under their authority, not that it isn't a proper church (as their alternative model, in my humble opinion, isn't a proper church). It isn't enough, it seems, that CUs operate under the authority of the Bible, but we seem to be heading down the strange pseduo-Catholic route of things not being done properly unless they are under the authority of the church. Weird for the children of the reformation.

Whatever the reasons, it seems to me that the critics are right that CU shouldn't pretend to be a church. But frankly, I can also very much do without the church pretending to be a CU.


Blogger Sean Clokey said...

Maurice! Thats really interesting. Me and the Stanton have been talking about this at the Scottish team Days this year. I am planning to do my elective reading after the holiday on Ecclesiology. Could you froward me any articles or links you have found helpful? Also who's been knocking UCCF? If you dont want to say on the Blog thats cool but would appreciate if you could let me know so I can read what they have been saying. Hope your good!

11:53 AM  
Blogger Martin Downes said...

Agree totally. Weird unbiblical ecclesiology.

Saddened me when I saw it during my brief stint in Durham. Very bad for students as it is theology that they will have to unlearn.

The homogenous principle is helpfully critiqued in David F. Wells latest book "Above all earthly powers".

Is this student congregation thing exclusive to anglican evangelicals? That would make sense to me given that there is a diminished sense of the gathered church.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Mo - your comment on homogenous church demonstrates that it really is a homo-genius (man-thought) idea, demonstrating the stupidity of the human heart (like the pun?). Pinpointing it to the sin centred approach to church order and structure is brilliantly put, incisive and all's I can say is, let those who have an ear LISTEN.

Secondly - it really is staggering that those who are promoting the idea have neither known the history of British evangelicalism nor can they see past their very Anglo-Saxon noses to the wider context.

The reality is that without evangelical students holding to the gospel in direct contradiction to those in church authority; we may well be looking at a very different church scene in Britain.

You would think that those who espouse this dogma would let history humble them slightly. The call to CUs and CU leaders is to eschew models of church and to look for the dynamic realities of reaching their peers with the saving authority of the gospel; which is God given rather than church deriven!

Brilliant and timely post, Mo. Thanks

7:39 PM  
Blogger mallangong said...

Found a brilliant church at Uni that treated Students like all of its other missionaries, ie. You are a member of this congregation and your mission field is campus/students, therefore feel free to come here to receive and then go and serve in your mission field. It meant that students were able to do loads of evangelism with their friends with great support from the rest of the church.

(Not intending to be a pragmatist, but to encourage peeps that it can and is done!).

9:15 AM  
Blogger andyd said...

Interesting thoughts Mo...very much in line with my own thinking. Like you working for a parachurch organisation (albeit a different one) this conversation shows up from time to time.

In my view a homogenous church is not a Biblical picture of what church is or should really isn't possible to receive the blessings that come from being part of the church without a cross section of the body of Christ meeting together. It really bothers me to see the church go in this direction of splitting the congregation into homogenous groups. Who knows what the answer is though?

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Phil Evans said...

Thanks for the article; as a leader of a 'man-thought' church I have to be careful not to shoot from the hip here. I see all your commentators so far are all in accordance with you.

I think the problem church leaders have with the Christian Union model is that although UCCF is an inter-dominational model, it does default to discipling students in a certain expression of Christianity; if CU is about cross-church mission

John Wimber always said that you shouldn't do evengelism with another denomiation; he wasn't hostile to unity, but he realised that different people have different ways of doing things, and by uniforming everyone, you suffocate diversity. This has certinaly been my expereince of CU's. Charismaniacs such as myself often become marginalised, and non negiotiable aspects of our everyday walk with God suddenly become redundant in a CU context.

Regarding your points about homogenous church; I beleive very strongly in mission shaped church; we need to see more and more Christian communities created indigeneously to reach spheres of our society.

12:56 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Gosh, what a lot of comments to deal with.

Sean, Martin and Shuda. Hello. I agreed with what you said.

Andyd. What are we to do about it? Believe the Gospel, which teaches us that the dividing walls of hostility have been broken down. If our congregations start to move apart because they like different types of stuff - get them together and tell them the Gospel!

Phil. Hi! Nice to meet you. Thanks for popping by. I'm going to leave your comments on CU for the mo if that's ok. And also flag up that it wasn't me who used the phrase "man-thought" church.
On "mission-shaped church", I couldn't agree more. My point is, that being heterogeneous is being mission shaped. If we set up churches full of one type of person to reach that type of person we are doing the Gospel a dis-service, selling Jesus short - because one of the amazing things the Gospel does is to bring totally different people together under the Lordship of Christ. That models God's wisdom (the Gospel) The local church's "job" is to model that. If it doesn't, or at least try to, I am afraid to say it is not truly and accurately presenting what Jesus is all about. It can't, in any real sense, be "mission shaped."

11:19 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

sometimes I'm too clever for my own good - I meant the idea is more of the human imagination than Biblical revelation.

It is a critique not a condemnation. I've reread my comment - and want to soften it with a smile: can you do that to written text. It should be there.

Phil - I'm thinking through what you said, but I do think its not about charismatic issues as both ends of the spectrum are proposing age/culture specific expressions of church. I'd be more at your end of the spectrum theologically, but ecclesiologically I'm not convinced that homogenous church is either biblical or even a pragmatically functional model of church.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Phil Evans said...

Hi guys; thanks for getting back to me on that one. I agree that to fill church with one type of person would be detrimental to the gospel, but I don't quite know if this would ever happen. I presume you mean one generation of people. From my experience we've had young people (16-28) coming into our meetings amazed at how many young people are gathering in a church building. This has been the one overwhelming factor that has led many people to continue with their journey; it replaces the mindset that suggests church is old fashioned and behind the times.

Would be good to hear from you guys on scriptures that support your perspective; I havent seen many that are conclusive on this subject.

Human imagination is not that different to man-thought, but you win some and you lose some. Nice to dialogue with you anyway. I came to you through Dave Bish's website..

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But isn't Christ Church simply just full of students/young professionals?

9:23 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Hello anonymous - I usually delete anonymous comments, but I wanted to answer this one.

No is the answer to your question. Christ Church has a number of families, a number of post 40 folk, and a huge range nationalities who come, as well quite a range of social backgrounds.
We'd LOVE it to be more diverse and are putting things in place to achieve that. And that's the point - aiming for a homogenous church, to the point that certain groups ONLY are targeted and invited, seems to me to be unbiblical.

Phil - I guess Ephesians is the key text that got me thinking about this - but that probably needs another post!

2:56 PM  
Blogger peterdray said...

Had a number if interesting chats at Word Alive with people on this one. One particular line of thinking which I'm keen to pursue in my own mind is the broad NT categories of 'assembly' and 'body'. Whereas an assembly is any group of Christians that meets in Jesus' name (including a CU), there are a whole lot of other functions attributed to a local body. And so I wonder if it might be more helpful to encourage CUs to be assemblies and not bodies; and to encourage churches to be 'bodies' (with all the diversity and all of the other local church functions outlined in books like Ephesians) and not just pragmatic gatherings.

As you can tell, this is far from settled in my own mind but I think it might be worth pursuing further...?

1:51 PM  

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