During a previous discussion S: wrote: “However, I see the ‘new church movement’ as missing out a key component of what is means to be church” … “I like your idealist approach – I am somewhat inclined that way myself. Yet I think structure has a role. Those outside of structures will come up with 1001 reasons why they are outside, rather than inside some form of structure of visible church unity”.
Our communication often suffers in that we come from communities tracing their concepts in long histories and see things quite differently. I think I have the general shape and context of what we might call institutional churches relatively clear, while S: is launching towards our charismatic planet to search out new worlds exciting or otherwise? (I’m a Sc-Fi fan).
The observations by S: prompted me to briefly outline the history and structures of various streams of the ‘British New Church Movement’ and its concepts – so here we go.
Origins of the British New Church Movement
The Charismatic movement of the early/mid 1960’s led to the expulsion or exclusion by distancing of many, often unsought, from former generally non-conformist churches. These people met in house churches, leaders emerged and networks/streams with trans-local leaders developed. Alternatively the leadership of a local church accepted the charismatic renewal grew, planted sister churches and attracted a network of churches that associated with them or a gifted teacher/evangelist was asked by a few believers to form a team and lead them in evangelizing and church planting with similar end results. Most of these streams are now international with full time workers and short term missions in many nations.
Sadly some of these movements early leaders were not up to the spiritual challenges; there was the development of what became called ‘the shepherding movement’ with restrictive dictatorial attitudes and in a few cases abuses use of power. The result of which was a quick return to institutionalism and the hierarchical power recently left behind. All streams did not fall into this problem and these matters have generally worked themselves out amongst those who did or the stream in question broke up with churches finding new alliances.
These churches have a high view of the corporate nature of the church. Generally the greater problem in the ‘British New Church Movement’ was this over emphasis on authority and the consequent structures rather that the lack of them.
These churches in some cases bridge divides that evangelicals traditionally preferred left as they were. This resulted from the effects of the charismatic renewal across the denominational spectrum from RC to Salvation Army or Plymouth Brethren.
The definition of ‘Local Church’ in many ‘New Church Streams’ can be expressed as “All those in the locality gathered around Christ – whatever their denomination or none”. The visible unity of this church can only be built amongst true disciples through relationships of mutual respect and love. The basis of such relationships is the shared life of Christ rather than any particular denominational ‘light or perceived lack of it by one or the other’. The future hope is to see the visibility of this type of church unity to continue to increase and for churches to be mutually supportive and concerned for fruitfulness in each other’s participation in Christ mission.
Amongst these ‘British New Church Streams’ there is generally two structures of charismatic team leadership that serve and lead the churches the ‘trans local’ and the ‘local’. Leadership is relational, ideally servant orientated, inspirational, charismatic in the sense its base on proven spiritual gift and calling, it is plural.
Trans Local Church Leadership
Trans local leadership might openly be understood as an apostolic team or function in that manner and carrying a sense of responsibility for the churches established or associating with the team. If I were to use a Latin term and say the UK is in desperate need of a vast number of ‘Missionaries’ to re-establish the Christian faith in darkest Britain few would disagree. However if I were to use the Greek term ‘Apostles’ for these companies that we need the Lord to raise up and send out eyebrows will rise in many quarters.
The apostolic gifting to the church illustrates the first consideration for inspirational/charismatic churches which is that every ministry can only be ordained/commissioned/sent by the Lord Himself. The church simply recognizes and acknowledges them rather than ordains them.
Local Church Leadership
Local congregations will generally have a plurality of elders (Biblically synonymous with overseers or bishops), of which one may be a first among equals but not always recognized as such in an official manner – all local leadership is recognized by the local church and in some cases officially acknowledged by the trans-local leadership such recognition in both cases will be a function of relationship and discernment.
Models of Church Gatherings
Church may have a two or three tier model of gathering
a) i) House churches with responsible individuals and ii) periodic gathering of the whole church or
b) i) House churches, ii) gathering in area congregations, with a main emphasis to organize evangelism into their area and iii) periodic gatherings of the whole church.
The church may receive ministry from gifted Ephesians 4:8-12 type servants who may or may not carry responsibility as elders in the church – whether they be home grown leaders or visiting from other churches within the same church stream or from another stream or institutional denomination. A church I was in of this type for 20 yrs frequently received ministry from a charismatic high Anglican Priest and a church my wife and I were instrumental in initiation had the benefit of an evangelical Anglican prison chaplain as a church member following our calling on him the day he moved into our city.
Frequently within the house church setting the ministry is from the body of believers which may also be so at times in larger gatherings.
The Emergent Church and Deconstructionism of the Church
This is another phenomena being advocated – while some meet in house churches their ideas are dissimilar in relation to structure from the movement I have described.
‘Robes or Overalls and Servant Leadership by Roger T Forster & Marian Marticek – available at http://www.ichthus.org.uk/’ This small concise booklet provide an understanding of the church leadership of those churches that reject the concept of ecclesiastical ordination.
‘Restoring the Kingdom by Orthodox priest Dr. Andrew Walker’.
Walker was born into a Pentecostal family his book is an examination of the ‘British New Church Movement’.
‘The Normal Christian Church Life by Watchman Nee’ Watchman Nee – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nee To-sheng of Fuzhou 1903 – 1972 initiated local churches throughout China during his thirty years of ministry, founding one of the largest Christian groups in Chinese history. Following the communist revolution Nee was persecuted and imprisoned for his faith and spent the last twenty years of his life in a Chinese labour camp until his death in 1972. The numbers of Christians in underground Chinese churches tracing their faith to the movement is probably in its millions see Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China.
Nee’s numerous books were generally produces from lecture notes and transcribed messages to his students. Many English titles resulted from translations by Angus Kinnear a member of Ichthus Christian Fellowship London. Nee met T. Austin-Sparks in the 1930’s at the church later attended by Roger Forster the founder of the Ichthus movement with which I am associated http://www.ichthus.org.uk/, Austin Sparks was still in ministry and so influenced both Nee and Forster. ‘The Normal Christian Church Life’ presents a view of ecclesiology held by many in the ‘British New Church Movement’.
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