Sunday, 15 June 2014

Church conflict isn't new!

One of the things that I find most encouraging about Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church is that it provides us with a clear indicator that church conflict is nothing new.  Paul, in these letters, is largely dealing with the problems with which the church was struggling, perhaps most notably the way in which they behaved at Communion services (1 Corinthians 11).  We sometimes think that church must have been wonderful in the past, not that it can’t be good now – but in days gone by we assume it just really worked. 

However, if you don’t want to go back quite as far as Paul’s Corinthian correspondence, listen to what the Congregationalist theologian Daniel Jenkins wrote seventy years ago.  In 1944 Jenkins wrote this: “The Church Meeting in a Congregational Church is an indispensable part of the Church’s life.  A Congregational Church does not make sense without it.  …..  But in many of our churches it has ceased to be a living force and is maintained, often only by a few faithful people, out of respect for a tradition which no one understands very clearly any longer.”  (Quoted in Reports to General Assembly 2014, United Reformed Church.) 

I have to say that I don’t know many churches where the Church Meeting is the vibrant centre of all they do.  I don’t know that I can say that I am encouraged to know that Daniel Jenkins faced the same issues that I do, but at least I know it is not a new phenomenon.  I often wonder what we can do to refresh the Church Meeting and give it the centrality and vibrancy that it ought to have.  Also I can’t help wondering what the church meeting attendance was like in Corinth in the days when Paul was writing to them.  Or did they just do things a different way?  I am inclined to think that business and worship were more linked and more likely to happen on the same occasion – but that is just speculation.  It is certainly clear that they had things to sort out – and I wonder just how they made their decisions?

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