Any one who has read this blog knows of my tremendous admiration for the Puritans. But they could be wrong at times. Their interpretation of Romans 8:26-27, which they consistently read as the Spirit’s inspiration of the believer in groaning prayer, is a case in point. Another would be the presupposition that the New Testament contains an ecclesiology as accurate as an architect’s blueprint. The emergence of Presbyterianism and Congregationalism—both espoused by Puritans who treasured the Word of God—reveals that such a presupposition did not necessarily yield one ecclesial model. And while I have definite predilections in one direction, who am I to say that a Presbyterian like Samuel Annesley, the grandfather of the Wesley brothers, was not used by God?
Also wrong, I believe, is the further presupposition that spiritual vitality is yoked to one ecclesial model. I am a convinced Baptist and Congregationalist, but any fair reading of Church History forces one to realize that God, for instance, has used moderate Episcopalianism as found in the eighteenth-century Church of England or Puritan Congregationalism or the semi-Episcopalianism of the Arminian Methodists of the eighteenth century or the interesting structure of the Moravian Church—that “exotic plant” as one recent history has described the Moravians of England—to extend his kingdom.
In the recent resurgence of the doctrines of grace, it seems to me that some Reformed folk have learned this lesson, hence the appreciation for others of a different ecclesial ilk. Others, though still tie spirituality to ecclesiology with the consequent negative impact on the virtue of humility and usefulness in the Kingdom.
Most recently, this arrogance can be seen in those who would argue that one type of model of church growth is guaranteed to produce the goods. Some urge a model of church growth à la Willow Creek, others cite Emergent as the only way to go. Some embrace a business model with the pastor as the CEO—to be honest this I find the strangest of all recent church growth models—and tout this as the sure fire method of spiritual revitalization. How utterly mistaken!
God is sovereign and ecclesial prosperity his right alone to grant. To be sure, there are paths that must be followed, but they are ways of piety and morality, not this type of structure or that. I have been closely following the path of one denominational grouping here in Canada that have recently endorsed one model of denominational governance with the conviction that this is the pathway to spiritual vitality and renewal and growth. It is a model that outrightly rejects the heritage of this group of churches, for whom I have a deep love, and I fear that they have been sold “swamp land in Florida” and will have a rude awakening! I hope I am wrong, but the weight of church history is against the claims of those who pushed this body of churches down this path.
As D.A. Carson, whose life and writings have been a tremendous inspiration to me personally, has rightly said: “We depend on plans, programs, vision statements—but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning.”
O Lord, humble your people, make them a people of prayer and just practice, zeal for the gospel and the salvation of sinners, and above all a passion for yourself and your glory—revive them wherever they are. Amen.